Overhead Strength

one of my goals right now is to improve my overhead pressing and am looking for any advice/techniques/help that might help…i do not train on any less than four reps and that would be on my last set(sets ussually are 10-12, 8-10, 6-8, 6-4) as singles is not the route i’m on right now…

this is what i will try beginning with my new training week which starts next friday since i’m half way through this one but would also like to hear more options…

choosing an adjustable incline bench starting on chest day will perform incline dumbell pressess, which will be adjusted from workout to workout by raising the incline but will still be pressing the same weight, which at the end will go from being an incline press to an overhead press. This should take month and a half, maybe two months, but will turn out a nice increase in my overhead press.

would like to list my stats for anyone willing to help:
height 5’11, weight 220lbs, current overhead: 125x7(62.5 in each hand, not barbell)


for variety you can try some push presses, jerks, push jerks…you can seriously overload on those movements compared to straight overhead pressing since your hips get a little involved

[quote]nw-big wrote:
choosing an adjustable incline bench starting on chest day will perform incline dumbell pressess, which will be adjusted from workout to workout by raising the incline but will still be pressing the same weight, which at the end will go from being an incline press to an overhead press. This should take month and a half, maybe two months, but will turn out a nice increase in my overhead press.[/quote]

In theory, this would work wonders. Hell, start with a decline press of 315, and every week increase the grade slightly. You’ll be overhead pressing 3 plates in no time. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.

There’s nothing wrong with using high incline presses and they will help your overhead press, but just raising the incline each session won’t quite cut it. It’s the same theory with board pressing – “since I can 5-board press 405, I’ll just work on that and remove a board every couple of sessions. Pretty soon I can full-bench 4 plates.” I wish it was that easy, but it just isn’t.

…i do not train on any less than four reps and that would be on my last set(sets ussually are 10-12, 8-10, 6-8, 6-4) as singles is not the route i’m on right now…[/quote]

Why do you not do singles? Or any less than 4 reps? If you are going to make overhead pressing a priority, than I strongly suggest variety and using low reps as well.

What exactly is your goal for overhead strength?


bent over rows help overhead pressing strength alot

See CT’s response to this type of question in his 8/15 thread in the Strength forum.

the technique i mentioned is proven and does work…but obiously not to an extreme degree, it’s not intended to go from 120 lbs to 300lbs…but more like going from pushing dumbells in the 50’s and endidng up with 70’s followed by a period of adaptation with your new weight, than you start again …

…as to why i don’t do any less than four reps: i’m more of a bodybuilder than a powerlifter, my goal is to build more, and better muscle…and i find any less than four reps doesn’t work for me…having said that, i still love to push weight:) (i squat 500+ for reps, icline 320+ for reps, dip b.w plus 90lb for reps, etc…)…so i would love to overhead 200+ as one one of my many personal goals that make up the big picture…

anyways, thanx for the advice guys and i’ll look into that article:)

Handstand push-ups. When you get good, do them on blocks or push-up handles.

Another suggestion: start with your target weight, jerk it overhead, then do partial OHPs for however many sets/reps. Each workout, go slightly lower until you are doing a full OHP.

substitute snatch presses or a sots press for your regular oh movements and throw in some turkish get-ups, side or bent press for some supplemental work

wow…great suggestions guys…thnx a bunch:)

A question: you can only overhead press with two 62.5 pound dumbells, but you can incline bench 320 for reps??? That’s a little hard to believe.

[quote]cap’nsalty wrote:
A question: you can only overhead press with two 62.5 pound dumbells, but you can incline bench 320 for reps??? That’s a little hard to believe. [/quote]

I agree. That doesn’t sound right at all.

I"m doing the same as you at the moment so good luck with that.

You may need to build the strength utilizing singles and doubles before you can start repping the weight 4+ times as you are used to.

Louie simmons reccomends higher angled incline presses for OH press max attempts. (safer in general)

If you can incline press 320 for reps but can only manage 60 somethin pound dummbbell presses.

SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG. I don’t know what but that just has bad mojo written all over it. Regardless in your avatar you seem pretty yolked so good luck. It might just be a technique issue, let us know how it goes.

here is CT’s reccomendations from his recent prime time thread:

Old time lifters knew it best: to press big, you have to press often!!!

If you want to focus on overhead strength you should perform overhead work 3 times per week.


Triple menace press:

Start with the overhead barbell press; gradually work up to the max weight you can handle for 5 reps, this should be done over 3-4 progressively heavier sets.

When you cannot complete 5 good military presses, continue to add weight but switch to the push press. Continue to add weight on each set until you cannot complete 5 good push presses.

When you reach your top for 5 push presses, continue to add weight on each set but switch to push jerks. Add weight on each set until you cannot perform 5 good push jerks per set.

A workout could look like this:

Set 1: 115lbs x 5 (press)
Set 2: 125lbs x 5 (press)
Set 3: 135lbs x 5 (press)
Set 4: 140lbs x 4 (press)
Move on to push press
Set 5: 145lbs x 5 (push press)
Set 6: 150lbs x 5 (push press)
Set 7: 155lbs x 4 (push press)
Move on to push jerk
Set 8: 160lbs x 5 (push jerk)
Set 9: 165lbs x 5 (push jerk)
Set 10: 170lbs x 4 (push jerk)


A. Overhead press
5 x 5 with a weight that you can easily get 5 reps with (2nd set weight of your DAY 1 workout for example)

B. Bradford press
3 x 4-6 reps (1 rep = from the clavicle, 1/2 press to behind the neck, 1/2 press back to the clavicle)

C. Reverse grip military press
3 x 8-10 reps


A. Overhead press
10 x 1 with a weight you could get 3 reps with

B. Overhead support in power rack
Work up to the heaviest weight you can support 5-10 seconds.

drop snatches, and squat presses for supplemental work if you really need it… (sit in a deep ass to grass squat position and do military presses)


*I have posted this article before, but will do it again in response to your question. kw

Improving the Overhead Press

By Keith Wassung

The overhead press has always been the premiere shoulder exercise for strength and development. Few exercises are as satisfying as the overhead press. I believe that if you could find a remote, primitive island in the world and left a loaded barbell on the beach in the middle of the night, within a week, the men of the island would be trying to lift it over their heads. The heaviest recorded weight that has been pressed in an overhead manner was 535lbs by Ken Patera, in the early 1970?s. Patera, who became famous as a professional wrestler, may have been the strongest man ever to compete in Olympic lifting, but he lacked the technical proficiency of his competitors

Pressing big weights is a real kick and it is rare to see in most gyms. Many years ago, I visited the original Golds Gym in Santa Monica with some friends. We were dressed in street clothes and were wandering around, watching all of the bodybuilders train. We came to a seated press unit and my friends coaxed me to do some overhead presses. I did not want to do this knowing that I was amongst people who routinely pressed 300lbs for 8-10 reps, or at least that is what I was led to believe by reading the various magazines. I started warming up and as I added weight, I began drawing on-lookers. By the time I had 315lbs on the bar, about three-fourths of the gym members had gathered around to watch (talk about pressure) I did 4 hard reps with the crowd enthusiastically cheering me on.

One of the most common questions that I am asked is what is the best combination of sets and reps to do in order to achieve increased strength and development. My answer has always been that it really does not matter as long as you are training in a progressive manner. Progression and overload are two very important principles that must be followed, yet are often overlooked in many people?s training program. Strength and development is as much of an art, as it is a science. You have to experiment, keep track of your numbers in a training log and make adjustments as necessary. I have always believed that the best way to make consistent, long-term progress is to do a wide range of repetitions in your training,

In order to increase your standing overhead press, you have to develop near perfect technique, strengthen your weak points and get your body physically and mentally prepared to lift heavy weights over your head.


The body has to work in harmony with itself as a unit. Each muscle or set of contracting muscles has an opposite set of muscles, which are referred to as the antagonistic muscles. For example, the triceps are antagonistic to the biceps when doing barbell curls. To maximize your training, the antagonistic muscles need to be set or balanced against the contractor muscles. When standing in the traditional upright stance, there is little balance and once the lifting begins, the antagonistic muscles actually begin draining the contractor (the ones used in the exercise) muscles of strength and energy. To place yourself in the strongest standing position, you should place one foot approximately 3-4 inches in front of the other in a staggered stance. This will place you in a much stronger stance permitting more work to be performed. Boxers, martial artists, baseball players and track and field athletes also use the staggered stance. If you ever see pictures of past Olympic lifters such as Vasily Alexeev or Paul Anderson, you will notice that their feet are staggered when elevating weights overhead.

Practice with a somewhat narrower grip-many people use the same grip on their overheads that they do on the bench press but bringing your grip in just a bit will give you a stronger and faster press. Take the barbell from the uprights and get set into your stance, maintaining tightness in the mid-section and lower back. When you begin pressing the bar, you want to be looking at a very slight up angle. This will take your head slightly back and will allow the bar to pass in front of your face without having to change the trajectory of the bar. As the bar clears the top of your head, you will want to push the bar up and slightly back in a straight line so that you end up with the bar directly over the center of your head.

You would be surprised how many people perform this movement incorrectly. Instead of pressing so that the weight ends up overhead, it ends up actually in front of the head. The leverage that your shoulders have to work against when you?re in this adverse position can really put undue and unnecessary stress on your shoulders-the joints, not the muscles, and will inhibit you from pressing the maximum amount of weight in this exercise.

Lock the bar out, lower back to your shoulders and repeat for the desired number of reps. It is important to start each press from a stopped position. It is easy to develop a habit of lowering the weight and then rebounding off the shoulders to start the next rep. By starting each rep from a ?dead? position, you might initially have to reduce the weight you are lifting, but you will be much stronger in the end, especially when performing maximum singles.

Strengthening Weak Points

One of the limiting factors in the overhead press is the strength and flexibility of the lower back and mid-section. Train your mid-section as hard as you train anything else. Mid-section weakness is very common among lifters. It is not that the mid-section is weak, but it is weak in comparison to other parts of the body that are worked in a progressive manner. If your goal is strength and power, then traditional abdominal isolation exercises, such as crunches and leg raises will only take you so far in your quest for optimal strength and development.

The purpose of the mid-section is primarily for stabilization and therefore this area needs to be worked in a static manner. Do as much of your mid-section training as you can while standing on your feet. Perform overhead lockouts, overhead shrugs and learn to do overhead squats ( Use a search engine and type in overhead squats, Dan John to learn this valuable exercise from the master himself) I like to elevate objects such as dumbbells or a keg over my head and then go for a walk around the neighborhood or up and down the stairs. I walk until I cannot keep the weight overhead, then I place it on the ground, rest for 20 seconds and then keep moving again. These types of exercises will build your mid-section and have a tremendous impact on your overall strength and physical preparedness.

If you have been working hard on basic exercises such as squats, dead lifts or rows, you have no doubt experienced either a stiff back or overworked lumbar muscles to the point where you cannot relax or tighten them completely. Your back can become as “stiff as a board” with the lumbar muscles so hard to the touch or so fatigued that they are like a steel spring that has been overstretched. It is essential to have the back properly stretched and warmed up prior to performing any type of overhead presses. Hanging from a chinning bar for a minute or two each day will decompress the lumbar spine and increase flexibility. I also like to do some hyperextensions and some very light bent leg dead lifts in order to prepare the lumbar spine for overhead presses.

Overload & Adjunct Exercises

Marathon runners traditionally trained by running in excess of one hundred miles each week always at or near marathon pace and speed. The legendary running coach, Arthur Lydiard of New Zealand was one of the first coaches who realized that long distance runners could improve their race times by performing sprint training in their workouts. He used to have his marathon runners compete in the sprint events at the club level. All of his runners hated sprinting but they all loved setting records and winning world and Olympic championships. Coach Lydiard improved his runner?s performance by employing a form of overload. The first principle of weight training is overload. Overload refers to placing greater than usual demands on the muscle group being worked. In essence, to increase muscular performance, a muscle group must be worked harder than it usually works to complete everyday activities. As muscle strength and/or endurance increase, the amount of resistance or repetitions necessary for overload must increase as well. The Overload Principle is a concept based on “overloading” the muscles by lifting more than it is use to doing.

The primary method of overload for the overhead press is the seated overhead press. This exercise will allow you to work the pressing muscles of the upper body, while minimizing the stress on the lower back. I have found that by alternating the standing press with the seated press, I can use heavier weight and train with a much greater frequency that if I were to only perform standing presses.

When performing the seated MAKE SURE that you do this with the back braced-do not do this movement sitting on the end of a flat bench or on a stool as this places a great deal of stress on the lumbar spine, which is what we are trying to avoid in the first place. The design of the seated press machine if very important.

You don?t want the back of the unit to come up in higher than your shoulders-if it does, you can?t get your head out of the way of the bar. You also want to be sure that you can brace your feet against something in order to drive the low back solidly against the backboard of the unit. If you do not have the ideal apparatus as your gym, then might have to mix and match some equipment pieces in order to achieve the desired effect. This is why you should always keep a roll of duct tape in your gym bag!

I also suggest doing the seated presses starting from the bottom position and not where someone hands it to you from the overhead position, and then you bring it down and back up-you want to mimic the mechanics of the standing overhead press as much as possible. For some variety, you can do a seated 80-degree incline press as a core exercise. This also takes the lower back out of it and really allows you to get used to lifting heavy weights overhead. I believe that if I had never done the seated presses and the 80-degree presses, I would have never exceeded 300lbs in the standing overhead press.

The next movement is a heavy push press done in the power rack. Use a weight that is roughly equivalent to your best single rep in the standing overhead press. You put the pins 4-5 inches below the starting position. squat down and get set with the bar, explode up elevate the bar to just over the top of your head, and then slowly count to 4 on the way down, set it on the pins, explode and repeat for 6 total reps-this is the most brutal thing I have ever done for the upper body-you will likely need a spotter (just to yell at you, rather than for safety reasons) and if you feel like or want to do a second set, then you did not use enough weight on your first set. This will do as much to improve your overhead strength capacity as anything I know.

If you need to improve the strength of your triceps then consider doing some overhead presses while using a narrow grip. I use the same grip that I would for a narrow grip bench press with the index fingers being on the smooth part of the bar and the middle finger on the knurling. You will find that your arms may prevent you from lowering the bar all the way down to the upper chest/shoulder region. Use whatever range of motion works for you. As an added twist, you can use this same grip to do overhead lockouts. Place the pins in the power rack so that the bar is even with the top of the head and then press the weight to lockout.

Barbell bent over rows are an excellent adjunct movement for the overhead press. It is safe to say that barbell rows are an excellent adjunct movement for just about every lift. Work this movement hard and don’t be surprised if you see increases in all of your lifts as well an increases in muscular development. One of the great aspects of the bent-over row is that there is a wide variety of techniques and variations to chose from which means that just about anyone can find a method of performing this movement regardless of their body structure. The important thing is to ensure that your technique is consistent so that increased poundage is the result of strength gains, not in favorable advantages in the biomechanics of the lift.


The frequency in which you train the overhead press is entirely an individual decision. If you are focused on improving the bench press, then consider adding in the overhead press about once a week. If you want to specialize on the overhead press, then you can do it as much as twice per week. I personally always did best training the overhead press about three times every two weeks. I would suggest doing nothing but standing overhead presses during one workout, then the seated presses and the adjunct work on the second workout. Make sure you are keeping your shoulders healthy with proper warm-ups and rotator cuff training.

It’s not the best athlete who wins, but the best prepared."

  • Arthur Lydiard,

Keith Wassung

keith that is a ridiculously good article, thank you!