Multi-joint compound movements like the Overhead Press make for the best mass and muscle building exercises. They strengthen joints, recruit more muscle, improve coordination and stimulate the nervous system in a way that forces the body to grow and adapt. Using more muscles throughout the body allows you to lift more substantial weight than with isolated exercises, and as you progress to heavier weights you develop even greater overall strength.

The Overhead Press is an often overlooked compound exercise that is not only the best choice for training your shoulders, but it is a full body exercise that hits all three heads of the deltoid muscle (shoulder muscle). The shoulders receive assistance from the triceps, upper chest and upper back muscles and your core and lower body muscles provide support and stabilization. Head to toe your full body is involved in this lift.  Like the Deadlift and the Squat, the Overhead Press is a true strength and size builder with benefits that will spill over into all your other heavy lifting and should be a high priority in your training program.

In addition to all that, the Overhead Press is just a badass exercise. There is something primal about lifting a weighted bar over your head.  Badass as it is, the Overhead Press requires technique and practice to perform the lift safely and effectively. Here is a link to a great article and video with detailed instructions and additional info on how to perform this lift and its benefits:

As usual, I have some METALBOB tips and suggestions for you:

  • Healthy Shoulders – With any heavy movement involving the shoulders, be careful to avoid injury. If you are prone to shoulder pain or injury, proceed with caution. Start light and if this exercise hurts, STOP! There are other variations using dumbbells or machines that might provide better stability or range of motion for you. Having said that, stronger shoulders are healthy shoulders and this lift could benefit you if you start light and progress slowly.
  • Go Light – If you have problems letting the bar go all the way down to your upper chest, the weight is probably too heavy and your body knows it can’t control the weight. As much as I like to encourage people to lift heavy, this is an exercise where it is better to be a little too light (and do more reps) than it is to be too heavy and not complete the full range of motion. Beginners especially should go light. See if your gym has a rack of lighter weighted barbells under 45 lbs. Once you are familiar with this exercise and if you are pain free, slowly start going up in weight (5 lbs at a time).
  • Sets & Reps – Use a Power Rack or Squat Rack with the bar set at the same height as you would for squats (same height as your armpits).  Use the safety pins in the power rack set just below the racked weight.  Warm up with a couple very light sets of lateral raises and front raises.  After warming up, I suggest using a pyramid set structure starting with lighter weight for 12-15 reps, then adding weight between each set for 10-12 reps, 8-10 reps, and 5-8 reps. Finish off with your heaviest set for 3-5 reps. Another option is to borrow from the 5×5 program and do 5 heavy sets for 5 reps each.   I’ve been doing 5×5 for this exercise and think it works great. For beginners and intermediate lifters I’d suggest the pyramid set structure. If you are comfortable with this exercise and starting to lift heavy try the 5×5.
  • Head & Back – As you lower the bar, move your head back just enough to lower the bar straight past your face and down onto your upper chest.  Avoid arching your back too much at the bottom of the lift.  Squeeze your butt muscles and tighten your core to help keep your back straight.  As you raise the bar back up past your face, move your head forward into the hole between your arms.  As you lock out the bar at the top, the weight should be directly over your head.
  • Arms – Use a slightly wider than shoulder width grip.  At the bottom of the lift your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor.  Lock out your elbows at the top of the lift.
  • Legs – Use a shoulder width stance.  Keep your legs locked and your butt clenched.  For the last few heavy reps, I say its ok to use a little leg thrust to give the bar momentum.  Just make sure you are out of gas before using any extra leg thrust.
  • Shoulder Training – If you do full body workouts, the Overhead Press should be your go to shoulder exercise (See “The Golden 6 Workout”). For split routines with a shoulder day I suggest you hit the Overhead Press either first or early in the workout when you have the most energy. The Overhead Press hits all three heads of the deltoid with the anterior (front) and lateral (middle) delts getting hit the hardest. The posterior (rear) delts could stand more of a beating so be sure to include an exercise or two that hits the rear delts as well (see face pulls and rear delt raises).
  • Bench Press – The Overhead Press works the same upper body muscles as the bench press, hitting the muscles from a different angle and emphasizing the shoulders.  Building strength in the Overhead Press will benefit your Bench Press directly.

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