The Overhead Press

Like many, if not most weight trainers, I have a love-hate relationship with the Overhead Press. I love it because nothing builds more confidence, nor strokes the ego like pushing a heavy weight over your head. When I was a kid, I was always fascinated by the Olympic weight lifters and their heavy presses, these men and women were so strong and fit. Hoisting a heavy weight over head has always been a display of strength that I wanted to emulate. However, as much as I love this particular lift, I also hate it.

Why do I hate it?

Simply because it is the hardest lift to progress on. It is the lift that every lifter will fail on first in their training. It is the lift that will kick your tail with the least amount of weight when compared to the Squat, Dead Lift and Bench Press. This is a tough lift to master if you have a desire to continue increasing your workout weights because it uses small muscle groups when compared to those other big lifts. With smaller muscles being utilized to complete the lift, it is only natural that you are not going to be able to lift as much weight. Yet, because this lift is such an important one to master, it is included in every lifting program I use. These smaller muscle groups play a role in assisting other muscle groups for functional strength, and lets face it, strong shoulders on a man or woman are far more eye appealing that weak, drooping shoulders.

Which muscles are used with the Overhead Press?

The Overhead Press is the perfect lift you should incorporate into your lifting routine in order to build up and strengthen your shoulders. You will find that it is also fantastic for our upper traps, upper chest, triceps, posture, and even our abs, making it one of the best lifts for improving shoulder girdle,  and developing more appealing aesthetics while also strengthening your hips, and building stability through the legs.

You will find the Overhead Press to be an excellent exercise for developing stronger abs and obliques. While it is somewhat inferior to the chin-up, it does do a much better job of stimulating your abs than the Bench Press, Squat, and Dead Lift. In fact, if you’re doing both chin-ups and overhead presses, your core will get a fairly solid workout, you may not even need ab isolation exercises.

How To Overhead Press

The movement begins in the bottom (start) position.

Stand with your entire body tight and rigid.

Hold a barbell just above your upper chest, hands slightly wider that shoulder width.

Now think of an imaginary straight line drawn from the elbows through the wrists and hands and into the ceiling.

Press the bar up along this path as the elbows extend, taking the same path back down to the starting position.

Standing Vs. Seated

You could find in your home gym that you do not have clearance enough with your ceiling to properly execute the Standing Overhead Press, and this is fine since you can also preform this lift from the sitting position. In fact, some people prefer to be seated during their Overhead Presses. Though the movement itself is nearly identical whether you’re sitting or standing, there are some important differences between doing this movement when standing. The standing barbell press builds more total-body strength than the seated overhead press because it requires more core stability and tension from the hips and legs. Seated presses don’t require the same stability because the body is taking stability from the bench. However, you can typically lift a little heavier when seated because of the stability provided by the back rest if you have one.


Start light with barbell overhead pressing and concentrate on form. When beginning, leave 5 reps in the tank at the end of each set and focus intently on each rep. For example, if you choose a weight with which you can do 10 reps with good form, don’t do more than 5. If you feel your back arch harder as you press, or you can’t finish with your arms parallel to your ears, the weight’s too heavy.

Progress by adding 5 pounds to the bar each week. Your body will safely accommodate this hike in load. Strive to do 15-25 total reps, which is the accumulation of all your working sets.


NOTE: There are a few different variations of the Overhead Press. I will be addressing these separately as I build upon this menu of basic lifts.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Very useful information.

    1. David Yochim says:

      Hi Susie! Thank you for the feedback. I’m slowly but surely going to get all the basic lifts and body weight exercises included. Besides what I do on my website, I work 60 plus hours a week.

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