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Bodypart Workouts

Overhead Press Clinic

Jack up your overhead press game by improving performance on these three key lifts.

Big, strong shoulders are important for athletic performance, shoulder health, your appearance, and they also provide the foundation for most lifts. They are important for bench pressing, rowing, pulling and even for deadlifts and squats. While a lot of people realize that formidable shoulders are important, most people have forgotten how to achieve this. This article is going to give you three critical exercises for developing an alpha set of shoulders and will give you advice to help you maximize these exercises.

1. Standing Military Press


This exercise was once widely used and is critical to developing a foundation of strength and muscle mass. It develops all three heads of the deltoid, strengthens your triceps, develops many of your trunk muscles, and even trains your core. It’s also an exercise that you can become very strong with in very little time.

To perform it well, take a shoulder-width grip on the bar. With the feet hip-width apart, rest the bar on the front of your shoulders and stick your chest out. From here, inhale and forcefully press the bar up — and slightly behind — your head. At the top of the press, the bar should be in line with your hips and both of your arms should be even with your ears. Lower and repeat for reps.

>> Don’t go too heavy with this exercise until you develop strong proficiency with the movement pattern. Also, make sure that you are thoroughly warmed up before attempting your first working sets.

2. Kettlebell Press

Thanks to the shape of the kettlebell, this is a very natural movement and very shoulder-friendly. This works one shoulder at a time while still developing great strength and size for your shoulders, triceps, trunk muscles and core. To perform, stand up with a kettlebell in your right hand. Grip under the kettlebell so that your palm is facing up and the kettlebell is resting on the outside of your forearm. With your feet shoulder-width apart, inhale and stick your chest out. From here, punch the kettlebell up and slightly behind your head so that it is line with your hips. Lower and repeat for the desired number of repetitions, then switch arms.

>> In lieu of kettlebells, you can substitute single-arm overhead presses with dumbbells. Unilateral work forces the smaller muscles of your shoulders to work harder to stabilize the weight throughout the required range of motion. Also, working one side at a time allows you to generate up to 20 percent more force with the active limb.

3. Push Jerk

This takes a shoulder exercise and turns it into a total-body exercise, which is an important stimulus to make your body grow and become stronger. The more muscle you work, the greater the caloric burn and resultant hormonal response.

Begin this exercise exactly like the standing military press. From the starting position, quickly move into a quarter squat. Without pausing at the bottom, drive up with your legs and allow the momentum generated by your legs to “push” the bar off your shoulders. As the bar reaches its sticking point, finish the movement by pressing the bar up and slightly behind your head as you “jump” under the bar. Brace your core and come to a full standing position.

Training in Context

Both of the presses should be done for three to five sets of six to twelve repetitions. The push jerk, because it relies on speed and technique, should only be done for sets of three to six repetitions. Rest for two to three minutes between each set on all three exercises. Note that all these can be done at a percentage of maximum. In that case, they should be trained at 70–85 percent of one-repetition maximum.

For your shoulder training, pick one of these exercises to perform at the beginning of each shoulder workout. If you train shoulders with the rest of your upper body, then pick one of these movements and do them after chest presses and rows and before any isolation work.