Developing the Overhead Press

In case you guys missed it, I had a new article thrown up over at T-Nation a week or so ago on the overhead press. Here’s the link:

Long Live the Overhead Press

The premise of the article is simple: I like the overhead press and I know people enjoy training it, but it’s not for everyone.

Some people have biomechanical issues, such as poor thoracic spine extension, while others may have crappy upward rotation or a weak rotator cuff.

Some people just have crappy genetics, like a Type III acromion.

And some unlucky people have all of the above!

The bottom line is you need to qualify yourself to overhead press. It’s a privilege, not a right.

Now as a few people mentioned in the comments, it wasn’t all-encompassing. I think what a few people fail to understand is that most articles are about 2,000 words in length, which doesn’t always allow me to explore the innermost depths of any topic 🙂

So to help me cover my bases, here are a few things that I would add to the article if I would’ve had more space!

Improve Soft-Tissue Quality

It goes without saying, but if your tissue quality is horrible, you’re going to struggle with overhead movements.

The key muscle groups that you’ll want to focus on are listed below, as well as why they’re important:

  • The Pecs. Short/stiff pecs will draw the shoulders forward and internally rotate them.
  • The Lats. Short/stiff lats also internally rotate the shoulders, narrowing the subacromial space.
  • The Subscapularis. This is the oft-forgotten internal rotator of the shoulder.  Unfortunately, this one is virtually impossible to get at on your own – find a qualified soft-tissue or ART practitioner and let them do their thing.

If you have no clue what SMR is or how to perform it, this short video should help:

 More Rotator Cuff Strengthening Exercises

As I outlined in the article I really like dynamic rotator cuff stabilizing exercises, especially rhythmic stabilization variations.

Another option in your arsenal is PNF variations. I’m a huge fan of these upper body variations because they work to tie together thoracic spine extension, scapular upward rotation, and dynamic ‘cuff stability.

While the version below is done in tall-kneeling, these can also be perform in half-kneeling, standing, or done unilaterally (one side at a time).

At the bottom of the movement the thumb will be pointing downward and the palm facing the body. As you lift the weight, you’ll turn the hand over so at the top your thumb is pointing upwards and your palm is facing away.


Not a ton to add, but I hope the above will expedite your progress and get you back overhead pressing with a quickness.

Good luck!



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  1. Great article Mike. My only question is do you prefer a regular overhead press or a push press and why? I don’t do too much overhead with my clients on a regular basis but I do add push presses every once in a while to a well rounded program.

    • See the answer above – push presses could definitely be less irritating, assuming loads are approximately the same.

      It’s typically 4-6 months before I have most trainees overhead pressing.

  2. I think they’re both viable exercises, but for different reasons.

    If I want more pure shoulder/vertical pressing strength, I’ll use the traditional OHP. If they’re an athlete or maybe someone who needs to integrate/tie-together the upper and lower halves, I may use push presses.

    Regardless, you could make a case for either.


  3. I have yet to hear from anyone on how one goes about finding out what scapular type a trainee is. Can you shed some light on this Mike? Thanks!

  4. Do you feel that sticking to a neutral grip is a “safer” option for most people?

    Also, I was seen by a ortho specialist, had an MRI done on both delts, as i had been experiencing pain when lifting and one delt showed tendonitus in the rotator cuff, the other delt showed same with possible tear (though hard to tell on MRI according to this Dr.) and a bone spur. I laid off the OH lifting and no longer do dips, which have ALWAYS hurt my delts.

    Now, over the last month, I decided to be experimental and have been doing some push presses (not heavy, about 55lbs or so…FYI, I am female!), and some neutral grip DB OH presses, and seriously, for that whole month, I have been PAIN FREE in the shoulders.

    Could this be coincidence???? Would love your feedback.

    Thanks, Mike! Always look forward to your articles.


    • Yes, I like a neutral grip for most people, especially in the beginning.

      Kind of like the OLY question, push presses might not be as irritating because you’re using the hips and thighs to get the lift started and then your upper body “finishes” the lift.

      It could also be the combo of laying off irritating lifts for a while, and then adding in something that’s less irritating as well 🙂

  5. Thanks for the informative article Mike. I was wondering how the DB/ KB/ Barbell snatches should be viewed: do they fall in the same category as overhead presses, for someone with lacking genetics and other issues? Many thanks!

    • It’s not the exact same. In an overhead press your upper body muscles are needed to physically “press” the bar overhead. In an Oly version, your hips and thighs generate the power and you don’t really “press” it overhead, you just catch it overhead.

      The trade-off here is that the weights you’re handling in a OLY version is probably going to be greater than in a traditional OHP. So I’m not really sure one is “better” than the other.

      I would say that if you have crappy mechanics, you need to address those first if you’re going overhead – REGARDLESS of what you’re doing there.

  6. Do you find that overall shoulder development (from a strictly aesthetic viewpoint) is the same, whether you are OH pressing with a neutral grip/DB’s or a traditional grip/BB?

    Also, I see what you are saying about there maybe not being much diffence b/t the OH Traditional Press and the Push Press, since even though you are using a bit more weight on the PP, you are getting lower body assistance. So, all things being equal, would you recommend one over the other, again, from a strictly aesthetic viewpoint, where one is looking for that “capped” look and overall shoulder development?

    • I am interested in this as well. I am thinking about getting a log bar for my pressing work and am curious as to how it will affect the aesthetics of the shoulder.

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