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The Overhead Press will let you move more weight than any other shoulder movement and is therefore the ultimate for building shoulder strength and should be included in any well rounded workout plan! Until 1972, the overhead press was one of the three Olympic lifts and was recognised as the definitive measure of upper body strength. It was eliminated due to difficulty in judging what was “proper” technique as flexible athletes would arch their back excessively in order to lift more weight.

Performed properly, the overhead press will help to strengthen and stabilise the shoulder joint which can help prevent the dreaded rotator cuff injuries that plague many lifters who bench press excessively. Before overhead pressing however, it is important to ensure you have the required flexibility to perform the movement to avoid injury.

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Flexibility Tests

Perform the flexibility tests described below to determine whether you have the overhead flexibility to perform the overhead press correctly. You can use these same exercises to increase your flexibility as well as shoulder dislocations with a wooden pole or resistance band.

1. Supine Shoulder Flexion

Lie on the floor with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Ensure your lower back is in contact with the floor and raise your arms above your head. You should be able to bring your upper arms in line the head without arching your back. If you can touch the floor, you should have the required flexibility

Shoulder Flexibility

2. Standing Shoulder Flexion

Stand with the glutes tensed to ensure your lower back remains straight. Raise your arms and try to move them as far behind your head as possible without arching your back. You should be able to hold your arms overhead without arching your back or pushing your head forwards.

Shoulder Flexibility 2

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How to Overhead Press?

Set up the bar on squat stands  so it is level with your sternum and position your feet shoulder width apart. Grip the bar with hands just wider than shoulder width and turn the hands outwards so the bar rests close to your wrists in the ‘heels’ of your hands (more info on the grip). Secure the bar in place with your thumb and fingers. Unrack the bar with it resting against your upper chest and front delts with the elbows pushed slightly forwards. Lift the chest upwards and breathe in before each repetition.

Clench the glutes and keep your abs tight throughout the movement. Begin by pushing the hips forewords to lean back slightly so you avoid hitting yourself in the face with the bar. Push the bar off your chest with the elbows forewords and close to your sides and keep the bar close to your face as this is the most efficient path. As soon as the bar is clear of your head, move your body underneath the bar as you continue to push it upwards. Extend your arms as far as possible and shrug your traps at the top of the movement. Lower the bar to the starting position ready for the next rep!

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Why Perform the Overhead Press?

The overhead press is a great way to build functional strength and size – the shoulders, triceps and upper chest move the weight while the abs, back and legs stabilise. If you lift weights, chances are you are bench pressing on a regular basis. The bench press works the front shoulders more than the rear shoulders, the overhead press works all three heads of the shoulders. Performing both the bench press and the overhead press prevents muscular imbalances which can lead to injury.

Before the bench press came into fashion, the overhead press was the common measure of upper body strength. This functional movement should be more useful in a real world situation than the bench press – just try pushing against a heavy object and you will instinctively put yourself into a position similar to an overhead press. Coupled with the bench press, the overhead press builds a solid foundation of upper body pressing strength which should have a positive impact on your upper body results!