Master the Push Press with these Points of performance
Massive overhead strength is a hefty goal to chase. Since it’s one of the more difficult aspects of strength to develop, holding a fat stack of plates overhead always looks impressive, feels epic, and establishes dominance over your enemies.
Master the Push Press for strength, size, & explosiveness
In Strict Press: A How-To Guide, we mention that there are a lot of different names and variations for getting a weight from your shoulders (front rack) to above your head. These exercises require strong shoulders, a stable spine, and a sturdy core. Every overhead movement variation falls into one of two categories.
- Category 1: strict press, overhead press, military press, shoulder press
- Category 2: push press, push/power jerk, split jerk, squat jerk
The lifts in category one are all essentially the same movement, while category two has a couple of nuances. The basic rule is this: initiation of the movement is different between the two categories and the same within each.
What’s the key differentiator? Leg drive.
For category one, the basic press is initiated by bracing your core and pushing the bar vertically without bending your knees or using your legs for momentum. In category two—push presses and jerks—the lift starts with your legs.
It’s that simple. And that complex when it comes to technical force production. The differences in these overhead lifts seem confusing at first, but with enough practice, they become second nature.
The push press is like a middle ground between strict pressing at lower weights, and doing jerks, which allow for the heaviest overhead weight. Push presses are a killer strength builder and shoulder burner for hypertrophy too. (Skeptical on that one? Try a TABATA push press with a light weight and thank us later.)
Here’s your guide to push presses with a barbell. Remember, the same basic movement mechanics apply when using dumbbells, kettlebells, soup cans, or whatever weight you’ve got in your hands.
How to do the Push Press
Points of Performance
Setup: Stance & Grip
Set your barbell in the rack at about mid-chest height—the same height you would use to squat. Find your front rack position by gripping the bar overhand, just outside shoulder width. Your forearms should be vertical, not too wide (avoid making a “W” shape with your body).
Drive your elbows under the bar to the other side and let the bar rest across your shoulders, supported by the meaty heels of your palms. Your elbows should be pointing slightly in front of the bar. Keep your chest upright and hold tension in your shoulders so the bar doesn’t sag down.
Step out of the rack with your bar and find your feet anywhere between shoulder and hip-with stance.
Dip & Drive
Take a breath to brace your core before initiating the lift with a movement called the dip and drive.
Dip straight down by bending your knees and sitting slightly. The key for generating power from this position is to control the dip. Keep your torso upright. Don’t lean forward and let the bar travel out in front of you—that’s no bueno for your balance. And don’t dip too far down so it turns into a quarter squat, just a slight bend in the knees is all it takes.
From the bottom of the dip, use your legs to drive aggressively into the floor and accelerate the bar upward. You’ll come up onto your toes a little if you’re driving hard enough.
Good timing comes into play here. As you straighten your knees, push up on the bar with your arms until your elbows lock the bar overhead.
Pull your head back and out of the way as the bar passes in front of your face, then bring your neck back into neutral alignment when the bar moves past your forehead. This way your bar path stays in a straight line over your midfoot for the whole lift.
Coach’s Tip: Don’t let your knees re-bend once they straighten! That’s a totally different lift, the push jerk. Once your knees lock, they should stay in place. This is when most of the “work” is done—push hard with your arms and upper trunk to finish the press.
Bend your elbows and return the bar back to your shoulders with control. Tuck your chin again to move your head out of the way and use your legs to catch the bar with a slight bounce.
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Variation: Behind the Neck (BTN) Push Press
If you want to practice some dynamic spatial awareness without having to move your head out of the way of the barbell, try BTN push presses.
Setup and execution are essentially the same except the barbell is loaded behind your neck, resting across your traps (like for a back squat). Make sure your forearms are vertical, so all you need to do is dip, drive, and press the bar directly overhead.
Pressing from behind your neck ensures the proper bar path and allows for easy balance training.
Lily is TrainHeroic’s Marketing Content Creator and a CF-L1 with an English background. She was a successful freelance marketer for the functional fitness industry until being scooped up by TrainHeroic. An uncommon combo of bookish, artsy word-nerd and lifelong athlete, Lily is passionately devoted to weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, dance, and aerial acrobatics. Find her showcasing her artist-athlete hobbies on IG @lilylectric.
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