the joy of strength training


March 30th, 2008 at 11:37 am

How-to: Push press

Overhead pressing is not often seen in gyms but it is a valuable and functional skill. The popularity of the bench press has made lifting a weight overhead while standing on your own two feet a rare event outside of olympic weightlifting. Let’s bring it back!

What is the push press?

Push pressA push press is a press from the shoulders to a locked-out position overhead, using a dip – a bend in the knees – to help drive the weight upwards. The push press can be performed with the weight across either the front of the shoulders or the back of the shoulders. Most people perform the push press with the weight across the front of the shoulders.

Why is it such a great exercise?

There are three main overhead pressing exercises: the shoulder press, the push press and the push jerk. These three form a continuum of overhead pressing that starts at one end with absolutely no leg involvement (shoulder press) and finishes with quite a lot of leg involvement (push jerk). Crossfit has a useful video that shows the differences between these exercises side by side

Crossfit video: tri panel of shoulder press, push press and push jerk (wmv)

I think the most useful exercise is the push press, although it is fine to practise the others too. The shoulder press is pure upper body, particularly shoulder strength with no involvement from the legs. A push jerk is more technical, as there is a re-bend of the knees in order to receive the bar with bent legs before pushing up into the final locked out position. The push press gets the best of both worlds. Because there is involvement from the legs, heavier weights can be pressed than would be possible in the shoulder press and it’s more of a full body movement (although of course much of the effort comes from the upper body). However, it is not as technical as the push jerk, so it is easier to perform.

How to perform the push press

The key to the push press is to drive aggressively and get your torso right underneath the bar for maximum stability. At heavy weights you are more likely to be a bit wobbly so keep everything tight and use your abs to keep your body stable.

Step 1: Starting position

Push press starting position

Take the bar out of a rack or clean it to the racked position across the front of the shoulders. Feet should be shoulder-width or slightly wider apart.

The hands hold the bar just outside the shoulders and elbows should always be forward of the bar. They do not have to be pushed right up as they would be in a clean or front squat, but having them forward of the bar keeps the bar in the right position. If the elbows drop, the bar drops and not only is it less stable and harder to hold but you also have to lift it that extra inch further.

Step 2: Dip and drive

Push press bend

Dip down at the knees and use that momentum to drive the bar upwards. Bend your knees to a quarter squat and as you drive back upwards, press the bar up with your shoulders and arms. Make sure that when you bend down at the knees, you don’t push your hips forward. You want to maintain that hip angle so that you can use the power that comes from extending (straightening) the knees and hips. It’s a fast, snapping motion.

Step 3: Lockout with bar overhead

Push press finish position

Finish with arms straight and the bar locked out overhead. Poke your head through the window made by your arms so that the bar is over your hips. When you press upwards, the bar should be as close to your face as possible without bashing yourself, so you will probably end up tilting your head back slightly before driving your head forward as the bar clears your face. At the same time, the hips come back slightly so that there is a slight curve in the lower back at the end. This helps to give the drive some extra oomph when the weight gets heavy.

Be careful not to re-bend the knees after the initial dip and drive. This would make the exercise a push jerk, if you received the bar with bent knees.

If you can’t quite get your head around the notion of the hip drive, take a look at this video by Coach Mark Rippetoe, where he talks about this aspect of the exercise. He is teaching the shoulder press rather than the push press, but the principle still applies.

How to use the push press in your training

The push press is a great exercise for upper body and core strength, and probably more functional than the bench press. It can be used as part of a strength routine, for example on the same day as squats. It also builds strength for the Olympic lifts.

You can push press anything, not just a barbell. An uneven or instable weight such as a sandbag or water barrel makes a good training tool in this exercise.

The press or push press can also be added into a routine involving other exercises. A popular combination is the push press added to a front squat, known as a thruster.

You can also add a push press to a Turkish get-up from the standing position halfway through the exercise.

Further information and related posts

Crossfit push press instruction wmv mov

The clean: common problems

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  • 1

    I tried this out today, I found it a lot more fun than the bench press, I’m looking forward to adding some weight to the bar once I’ve got my form right. Reading back, I don’t think I straightened my arms as much as I should have done, I also had a bit of paranoia that I was going to topple back, does this pass with confidence? Despite this, my arms are like jelly!

    Also, a strange thing happened at the gym today. 2 other women were in the free weights room! 3 women, in the free weights room, at the same time, using heavy weights. I was so happy I could have wept 😀

    Rooroo on March 31st, 2008
  • 2

    Yes, I find it more fun than the bench press. Benching is one of my least favourite exercises.

    If you feel like you might fall backwards, just make sure that your head is through the window and your body is under the bar. You do learn what that balanced point feels like though.

    Re women in the weights room. I am joining a new gym and there are quite a few women doing free weights – mostly mature women (over 50). They don’t lift anything heavy but at least they are lifting! It’s good to see.

    gubernatrix on April 1st, 2008
  • 3

    That is a really cool exercise. Your dip is a little bit too deep here.

    Steffi on April 21st, 2008
  • 4

    Thanks. I think this post basically helped me improve my form. I was having trouble with the hand position and the elbow alignment.

    Parth on April 24th, 2008
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  • 9

    A very fun variation of this is the powerclean to push press, I was surprised with the ammound of weight I could push with this variation 🙂

    cbrown on February 9th, 2011
  • 10

    Push presses are an awesome exercise.I just hit 190 for a single.I rotate them from week to week with strict presses.I wish I would have focused on overhead work like I did on Bench Presses.The important thing for people who weight train is to use free weight basic exercises and stand on their feet when they train!

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