Strict Press: A How-To Guide
Strict Press, Overhead Press, Military Press, Shoulder Press – Points of Performance
For some reason, the lifting world has several names for the exact same movement. Overhead press, strict press, military press, and shoulder press all refer to one exercise: pressing a barbell or dumbbells from the front rack position (resting across the shoulders) to directly above the head using only the upper body and core, no leg drive. As far as we can tell, there aren’t any other lifts with this many aliases.
On behalf of the strength and conditioning community, TrainHeroic apologizes to anyone new to fitness who finds this fact confusing. We don’t make the rules.
We like the term “strict press” since it differentiates a key movement pattern from other pressing exercises like the push press, push jerk, and split jerk. Those movements all involve bending at the knees and using your legs like springs to help get the bar overhead. The strict press keeps your knees straight and legs steady, generating power from your upper trunk and using the rest of the body to stabilize.
Since it primarily uses the shoulders and arms, for most athletes strict pressing is the “weakest” compound lift in terms of overall poundage. But that makes big numbers all the more impressive, because your technique has to be dialed in and your shoulders have to be strong like bull.
Here are our top points of performance to land your strongest strict-overhead-military-shoulder press.
How to do the strict press
This is your step-by-step guide on how to perform a standing strict press with a barbell, but there’s plenty of carryover when seated or using dumbbells, too.
Setup: stance and grip
Starting with the barbell in the J-hooks of your rack, adjust the height so your bar comes to about mid-sternum—the same height you would use to squat from the rack.
Set your grip just outside shoulder-width so your forearms are vertical. Avoid gripping so wide that your arms and body make a “W” shape. This front rack position is important, so pay attention to the details.
The bar should rest on the heels of your palms, the meaty part, right over your forearms with your elbows slightly in front of the bar (not all the way up like you would use to secure a front squat).
Step back out of the rack with the bar and fix your feet at hip width, or about the same stance as you would use for a squat.
This part is so essential for the strict press that it gets a section all to itself. With the bar resting across your front delts, gaze straight ahead, brace your core with a breath, and lift your chest up by squeezing your shoulder blades. Tightening your upper back like this creates a stable base for the load.
With your chest up, tuck your chin to move your head slightly back and out of the way. Now you’re ready to go.
Coach’s tip: With lighter weights the brace will feel easy, but as the weight gets heavier, generating power with zero momentum is a huge challenge. This is where most athletes let their form fall apart and miss the lift. Getting these mechanics down is essential to a strong overhead press.
With your chin tucked and core tight, drive your arms up to move the barbell directly overhead. The bar path should be a straight line right over the middle of your feet.
When the bar passes your forehead, push your head through your arms to bring your neck back to its normal/neutral position. Slight shrug of the shoulders when the bar is fully extended overhead to lockout the movement.
Coach’s tip: Remember! Don’t bend your knees or bounce into your legs. Keep your torso and lower body engaged and stable.
Return the bar back to your shoulders by bending your elbows and bringing it down with control. You’ll need to tuck your chin slightly again to move your head out of the way.
If the weight is heavy, you can use your legs to “catch” the bar on your shoulders by bending your knees and using a slight bounce.
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Common Faults to Avoid When Strict Pressing
The strict press is more than meets the eye. There are a handful of easy mistakes to make when it comes to pressing technique. But once you start to actually feel how the movement is supposed to go, keeping these things in check becomes more natural. Make sure to film yourself or have a coach eyeball your form when working on your press, so you can avoid these common mistakes:
Taking too wide a grip or too narrow a stance
See our recommendations in the steps above for your stance and grip and find those sweet spots.
Letting your core collapse and your back arch
Keep your pelvis in a neutral position and your core braced through the entire lift.
Letting your chest fall forward
Squeeze your shoulder blades back slightly so your chest stays upright.
Letting the bar rest on your fingers
Remember to keep your wrists straight and the bar on the palms of your hands before you initiate the lift.
Pressing around your head instead of tucking your chin
Don’t shift the bar path out and around your head. Tuck your chin to pull your head out of the way.
Leaving your head back instead of shooting it through the arms
Once the bar passes your forehead, remember to drive your head through your arms to reach lockout.
Dropping the bar too low on your chest after the first rep
Be sure to keep your chest up and return the barbell back to your original setup position for the next lift.
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.