Exercising is on the list of things you need to live a healthy life. The best part of exercising is that there are many different types of workouts and whether or not to do each one depends on what your goals are. In other words, there is truly something for everyone. The overhead press is an exercise that is not talked about enough nor given the props it deserves. With that said, in this read we shall illustrate how to do the overhead press as well as other important information you should know about this great exercise.
Overhead Press 101
The overhead press is an exercise where you stand with your bar at your shoulders and press upwards ending with the bar overhead hence the name overhead press. This workout is also referred to as the shoulder press hence if you ever come across the name ‘shoulder press’ just know that the person is talking about this workout. The main reason for it being called that is from the fact that the workout mainly engages your shoulder muscles. This does not mean that only the shoulder muscles are engaged in this workout as this exercise works other muscles like the lower back muscles and the abs, but more about that later.
The overhead press is a full body compound exercise. A compound exercise is an exercise that works more than two muscles and joints simultaneously. The fact that it is a full body workout means that you get to experience the benefits of this workout in all the parts of your body and not just your shoulder and this is a good thing. When categorizing the type of exercise the overhead press is, it is very clear that it is a strength-training exercise and that is why most people use it to build muscles and strength. It is also the go to workout if you want bigger arms.
How To Overhead Press
Knowing how to do a workout in the correct manner and holding the right form is quite important. This helps prevent injuries especially with intense workouts like this one. The overhead press is not an easy workout so any person attempting to do it should always be careful, do it correctly and hold the correct form. Knowing exactly how to do an exercise also helps one to get the most out of the workout, which is usually the reason that most people do the exercise. With that said, here is how you do the shoulder press (3):
- Take the bar from the rack and stand with it on your front shoulders. You should make sure you have a narrow grip on the bar, make the grip just a little wider than the shoulder-width length. You should also make sure your wrists are straight and your forearms are as vertical as they can be. Then lock your knees and hips. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart.
- The next thing to do is to lift your chest. You do so by lifting your chest towards the sky and arching your upper-back. The position should look as if you are trying to touch your chin with your upper-chest.
- Then inhale deeply, hold your breath and press the bar vertically. Be sure not to press the bar above the front of your head or above the back of your head. Make sure to press it over your head.
- The next step is to move slightly forward as you lift. Stay as close as you possibly can to the bar while you press the weight up. Once the bar passes your forehead, move your body back under the bar by driving your torso forward and back to the standing position.
- At the very top of the lift, shrug your shoulders slightly and lock your elbows.
You should make sure your body is tight throughout this entire process. Keeping your body tight helps you not to miss the lift hence the reason as to why that is very important. The key is to engage as many muscles as you possibly can and this can be achieved by doing the following things. For starters, when you hold the bar, try and squeeze the bar tightly as if you are trying to bend it upwards (3).
Doing that helps to engage your latissimus dorsi muscles. While doing all that, you should also try to squeeze your elbows towards your body as if you are trying to keep the insides of your biceps touching your chest during the whole process. When you are just about to lift the bar, you should take a deep breath and hold all that air in your stomach. Brace your abdominal muscles, squeeze your glutes and then start pressing up. Only release the air once you get at the top of your lift.
The Perfect Overhead Form
In this section, we shall look at the form you should hold while performing the shoulder press. We shall also look at everything else, including where different body parts should be, how you should be holding the bar, and much more. As we begin you need to know that your body form determines the perfect overhead form for you. For example, if you have wide shoulders, you should grip your bar a bit wider, as compared to people who have narrow shoulders. If you have very long forearms, your wrists might try to bend when you try to rest the bar on your shoulders.
This is just to show that the form depends on your body type and you should try not to imitate other people’s form unless you have the same build as they do. The best way to know the best form for yourself is to seek advice from an expert as this will make you avoid the whole trial and error phrase until you get your perfect form. The good news is, if you cannot consult an expert, by following the guidelines we shall give below on the form, together with the experience you will gain while overhead pressing, you will be able to determine your perfect form quite easily. With that out of the way, here is the perfect form for performing the overhead press (2):
- Stance – You need to make sure your heels are hip-width apart, your feet should be flat on the ground and they should be pointing out slightly.
- Legs – In terms of your legs, you should make sure your knees and hips are locked from the start of the exercise till the very end. If you bend your legs at any time, you are pretty much cheating yourself, so that should be avoided at all costs.
- Grip – You need to fully grip the bar. This is for obvious reasons of securing the bar. You should make sure the bar is in the base of your palm, close to your wrists. The bar should also be squeezed at all times.
- Grip width – In terms of the distance between your hands, make sure it is just past the shoulder-width length. Your hands should not be too wide apart.
- Wrist – Try as much as possible to make sure the wrists form a straight line from the bar to the elbows. If your wrists bend back, there is a likelihood that you will injure yourself so try to avoid that from happening.
- Elbows – Your elbows should be under the bar or as close to that as they can be.
- Forearms – Your forearms should be vertical to the ground from all angles.
- Upper arms – Your upper arms should not be parallel to the ground, they should be vertical.
- Shoulders – You should first hold the bar on the front muscles of your shoulders and then shrug your shoulders towards the sky.
- Chest – You should make sure you lift your chest. You can do that by arching your upper-back, to be in a position where it seems like you want your upper chest to touch your chin.
- Upper-back – Just as mentioned above, you should arch your upper-back as this enables you to lift your chest up.
- Trapezius – You should shrug your trapezius muscles at the top.
- Head – Your head should be in a neutral position. This means you should not be looking at the sky or at the bar. You should be looking towards the front.
- Lower-back – Just like you head, your lower-back should also be in a neutral position. You should not arch it like your upper-back nor should you hyper-extend your lower spine.
- Torso – In terms of your torso, you should lean back just a little bit at the bottom and move the top forward.
- Way up – When pressing the bar upwards, you should press it up in a vertical movement. You should also make sure you are as close as you can be to the bar. You are able to achieve this by moving the top of your torso forward as we have just discussed.
- Lockout – Make sure to hold the bar over your shoulders, shrug your shoulders towards the sky and lock your elbows.
- Way down – Gently lower the bar back to your shoulders. While doing this, you should make sure you have control over the bar and that your shoulders are not flaring.
- Breathing – You should breathe in just before you press up, hold your breath at the top and exhale when you come back to the bottom.
- Bar path – The path the bar should follow should be vertically from your shoulders, over to your head and above your shoulders.
- Between reps – While you are between your reps, you should breath out, raise your chest, put your forearms vertical, take a big breath and press up again.
That is the correct form for you to hold when you are doing the shoulder press. Make sure all the movements are as instructed, the body parts should be in the positions described and you should use the breathing technique instructed. When you follow that to the letter, your overhead pressing will be effective and you will soon start seeing the chances on your body, especially on your hands.
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Overhead Press Muscles Worked
As mentioned earlier, the overhead press is a full body compound exercise and that means it works different muscles all over the entire body. Although the shoulders and your arms altogether are seen as the main muscles involved, as long as you maintain the correct form, you are able to engage all the different muscles across your body. When an exercise engages most of the muscles in your whole body, you are able to have equal gains and you are also able to utilize your gym time effectively. Here are the muscles that are engaged when you do the shoulder press (2):
The muscles in the shoulder are the main muscles worked. You are able to work these muscles when you raise your upper-arms so that you can lift the bar. That movement works the muscles of your shoulders. That is to say it works your front, side and back deltoid. These three muscles are able to develop evenly, leading to wider shoulders.
The process of straightening your elbows to press the weight overhead is what engages the muscles in your arms. The arm muscles engage are mostly the triceps which are found at the back of your arms. This workout makes your triceps bigger and this results in bigger arms altogether.
Read More: Overhead Press Benefits You Need To Know
Rotator Cuff Muscles
The shoulder press also works the different rotator cuff muscles. These are usually the small muscles that cover your shoulder blades. The act of balancing the bar overhead is what engages these muscles.
Your traps are worked when you shrug your shoulders at the top of each repetition.
These are the muscles mostly found in the core. All movements start from the core and since the workout involves a lot of movements, that means the core is heavily involved. The abdominal muscles help to stabilize your body while your arms and shoulders are doing all the heavy lifting. Stabilizing your body helps you from falling under the bar and in this process the various abdominal muscles, the obliques and the lower back muscles are all strengthened.
Your legs are needed to maintain balance while you press. The shoulder press works your hips, ankles, thighs and calves. Do not expect the shoulder press to work these muscles as much as other exercises that involve more leg movement do. Remember, while doing this exercise your legs don’t move.
Those are the muscles that are worked when you do the shoulder press.
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Benefits Of Doing The Overhead Press
Just like most workouts, doing the overhead press comes with some advantages that make it a go to exercise. The benefits of doing the overhead press are:
Building Muscles And Strength
The shoulder press is a strength-training exercise and what this means is that it’s primary purpose is to build strength and it does that effectively. This training is mainly responsible for building upper body strength. Building upper body strength also enables a person to build upper body power and this increases your ability to build even more muscles (1). Being strong has advantages as it makes doing things, especially everyday activities quite easy.
Building muscles also helps to improve your metabolism and this helps with weight loss. Muscles increase metabolism from the fact that they are metabolically active tissues and what this means is that they burn calories even when you are resting.
Help Strengthen Your Core
As highlighted in the previous section, the overhead press engages different abdominal muscles and this helps strengthen them (1). Strong abdominal muscles means a stronger core. A strong core is quite advantageous. Since most movements originate from the core, a strong core makes everyday movements and tasks like walking up a flight of stairs, bending to tie your shoes and so on quite easy. A strong core also helps improve your posture (1).
This is quite expected due to the fact that the shoulder press primarily engages the different shoulder muscles (1). If you want those big shoulders that make you look like a real life ‘Johnny Bravo’ then this is the exercise you should be doing. By also working the triceps, this exercise also translates to bigger arms altogether.
In addition to the benefits mentioned, the overhead press also improves your athletic performance, which is an added advantage especially for athletes. Those are the benefits you are likely to enjoy from doing this workout.
The Bottom Line
We have comprehensively looked at how to do the overhead press. When you want to do this exercise, do all that you can to maintain the form that has been discussed. If you maintain the correct form, you will be able to engage all the muscles mentioned and this will result in better results. Before you get all excited, you should know that the overhead press is an intense workout and so you need to ease yourself into the exercise to avoid getting injured. When trying the overhead press for the first time, start with less heavy weights and have an expert by your side. As you become good at the exercise, you will notice that your form will keep improving and you will keep getting more out of the exercise.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 5 Benefits Of The Overhead Press (2020, barbend.com)
- How to Overhead Press with Proper Form: The Definitive Guide (2018, stronglifts.com)
- How to Perform the Overhead Press: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide (2019, nerdfitness.com)