When you’re looking to build bigger shoulders, it’s essential to add some form of overhead press to your workout routine. Stick with the strict overhead shoulder press and you’ll be amazed at the results you can produce while using relatively light weights.
However, sometimes you want to use heavy weights, and sometimes you don’t want the word “strict” to appear anywhere in your workout description. That’s where the push press comes in. By generating momentum with your lower body, you’ll be able to press heavier weights overhead than you can with the shoulder press. It’s also a relatively simple move to master.
The push press not only increases your shoulder and upper-body strength, it also conditions your rotator cuff – an area of the body that needs looking after if you want to keep hitting the weights room hard. It also works your core as you drive up and then hold the weight overhead with your arms outstretched.
It brings with it a whole lot of benefits, in short – and you’ll notice those benefits in everyday life as well as the gym, because every time you effortlessly lift a bag up to pop in an overhead locker you’ll be using the muscles the push press helped to develop. Here’s how to do it.
Push Press Instructions
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and grip the bar with your fingertips, elbows pointing forward. Rest the bar on the front of your shoulders. Drop down into a shallow squat, centring your weight under the barbell. Press up through your heels. Drive the bar directly above your head until your arms are straight. Lower the bar down to your chest. Maintain a neutral arch in your spine throughout the move.
Push Press Form Tips
Get the grip right
Basics first: unlike the strict press (where you’ll want to use a thumbless grip to keep your wrists in a more favourable pressing position), you’ll want to wrap your thumbs around the bar. Keep your grip fairly narrow and your forearms vertical underneath the bar. And grip the bar hard – an effect called irradiation means you’ll activate the surrounding muscles more if you squeeze before you lift.
The biggest beginner mistake in the push press is to squat too low. You only need to descend as far as it takes to let you explode up and into the movement. Bend your knees just slightly and then drive up as powerfully as possible. With light weights, this should be enough to send the bar skyward without any conscious pressing from you. Once you’ve got the movements down, up the weights and press that weight up.
Push Press Variations
There are a multitude of tougher shoulder moves you can do to challenge the front of your shoulders – the anterior deltoids – even more.
Dumbbell push press
This is essentially the same move but it’s tougher because you have to stabilise the same weight in each hand. This makes it better at building muscle in a more balanced way because you can’t distribute one weight across one side more as you can with a barbell.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell held over each shoulder with palms facing forwards. Lower into a shallow squat and then drive up through your shoulders pushing the weights overhead as you go. Finish with your arms fully extended then return under control to the start.
This is tougher than any variation of a push press because it doesn’t allow you to use your legs to power the move – it’s all about shoulder strength.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a barbell held against the upper part of your chest with you palms facing forward. Press up powerfully until your arms are fully extended. Return carefully to the start.
In this ultra-strict shoulder builder you have your feet together, which means you have to use your core a lot more to stabilise the movement. It’s the toughest of the bunch because you have no leg drive and a less stable base to drive from, so lower the weight and don’t let your ego tell you otherwise.
Stand with feet together, holding a barbell at chest height with hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Squeeze your glutes and core muscles so you don’t go soft in the middle. Press the bar overhead, pushing your head forwards as you straighten your arms for full range of motion. Lower the bar, letting your head move back as you bring it back to the starting position.
Named after the Austrian Oak himself, this Schwarzenegger favourite includes a lateral movement, increasing time under tension and allowing more of your deltoid muscle to get in on the action.
Sitting or standing, hold dumbbells in front of your face so your palms face you and your upper arms are parallel with the floor. Rotate your shoulders to move your arms out to the sides so that your palms face forwards. Continue the movement to press the weights overhead until your arms are straight and your biceps are close to your ears. Reverse the move back to the start.
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From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.