Ask The Super Strong Guy: How Do I Increase My Overhead Press?

Can't add weight to your overhead press? You're not alone. Improving your overhead press takes time and effort. Here are four tips.


Hey Strong Guy, how can I increase my overhead press?

The overhead press is a great movement—it's weightlifting's ultimate form. You can't half-ass it. You either get the weight over your head, or you punk out. End of story.

Because it's a demanding movement, it's easy to get stuck. Overhead press gains come much more slowly than gains from squats or deadlifts. Once you've hit a sticking point, adding even five pounds to an overhead press means you've done your damndest to strengthen and grow your shoulders, chest, traps, and arms.

With that said, increasing your overhead press isn't impossible. Here's what I suggest:

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Incorporate the Bench Press

Bench press and overhead press go hand in hand. If you want to increase your bench press, a great assistance move is the overhead press. Then again, great overhead pressers like Derek Poundstone and Mike Jenkins use the bench press as an accessory move. That might seem bass-ackward to most of us, but these guys make their living from their overhead presses. They're not too concerned with how often or how much they can bench.

Instead of doing overhead work every week, do it every other week. On off weeks, bench press. Try using sets of 6-8 with good form to build strength and hypertrophy. You can also use what I call the "jacked-and-tan method" and do a heavy single or triple on the first set and then reduce the weight for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.

If you're not doing bench presses because you're worried about injury, you have a valid point. Let's face it: the bottom of the bench press is an unnatural body position. The human body isn't designed to lie down on a bench and then have its arms moved past the midline of the body under extreme loads. It puts a lot of pressure on the front of the shoulder.

If you're concerned about doing the bench presses, do incline presses, board presses, or floor presses. You can also invest in a Sling Shot for a safer movement. (Disclosure: This is my product.)

Do Assistance Work

Keep in mind that whenever you're talking about trying to increase the strength of a movement, you need to increase the size and strength of the primary movers and of all the surrounding muscles, those upstream and downstream.

If we're increasing the strength of our overhead press, do you think some side laterals would help? Do you think some rear delt work would help? Of course it would! All assistance work will make for more stable shoulders, a set of shoulders so big and jacked it needs its own stable.

"Some of the best accessory movements are those old school methods most young guys haven't even heard of."

Bigger, stronger muscles create bigger, stronger leverages. The stronger your biceps, triceps, and forearms are, the more strength you'll be able to leverage coming out of the press. You want your arms to shoot that weight overhead. Assistance work can help with that.

Some of the best accessory movements are those old school methods most young guys haven't even heard of. Remember the Arnold Press? Have you ever run the rack? Try using some of those classic methods. Just because they're old doesn't mean they're not good.

Drop the Barbell

If you've been working with a barbell, try swapping it for some dumbbells for a little while. Doing overhead presses with heavy dumbbells can be a bitch. It really works your stabilizers. Doing overhead presses with dumbbells also offers variation. You can do them unilaterally, change the grip, or change the path of motion. With dumbbells, you have the freedom to make the lift go the way you want it to. You can also try using kettlebells for some extra fun.

You'd also benefit from doing overhead presses with barbells of different thicknesses. Try using an axle, or add some fat grips. Lift sand bags, atlas stones, kegs, or any other tool you may have access to.

Keep your Shoulders Healthy

There's no way you'll get more weight over your head if you wreck your shoulders. Take care of them. Work your rotator cuff; get full range of motion; and stretch. If you're constantly pressing, your shoulders will round forward and you'll look like a hunchback ogre. Stretch and open those pecs, and do some incline flyes.

Balance is also important. So do some pulls!