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?
A 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
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
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
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
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
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