Strongman Shoulder Workouts: Mastering the Overhead Press

Aug 4, 2022 | Strength & Conditioning

Strongman Overhead Press
The overhead press is the crux of many strongman competitions as it demands the ultimate strength of your shoulders, core, grip strength, upper back, AND traps.

Andrew Watsford is a strongman competitor, coach, and co-owner of DNA Strength and Performance in Australia. He is an ASCA level 1, World Rugby advanced S&C coach, and he holds Rugby Australia level 1 coaching accreditation. In this piece, he’ll teach you to master pressing movements in any commercial gym (no special equipment needed) and achieve strongman shoulder status.

Andrew Watsford - ASCA level 1 Coach
Andrew Watsford

Strongman Competition Basics

The overhead press is a staple in any strongman competition. It can come in many shapes and sizes, from max weight to max reps in a specified timeframe.

Its variations include the log press, viking press, axle clean and press, circus dumbbells, kegs, sandbags, stones and even a heavy rectangle block, which is called the block press. (Strongman athletes aren’t known for clever names.)

I want to focus on two of the main strongman overhead press events: the circus dumbbell press and the viking press. I’ll coach you through these lifts and how to modify your gym equipment if you don’t have access to strongman equipment.

Circus Dumbbell Press

First, let’s focus on the circus dumbbell press. If you don’t have access to conventional circus dumbbells, you can use regular dumbbells from the rack and foam drop blocks. Using Fat Gripz will make the lift feel similar to using actual circus dumbbells.

This movement can be broken down into three different parts.

First is the clean to the shoulder. Grab the dumbbell with either one or both hands (if you need the extra stability). Keep your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly further out for more stability.

Starting Point of Strongman Overhead Press
From here, bend your knees and pull the dumbbell to your shoulder, using the momentum from your hips. Take your other hand off the dumbbell and use it as a counter weight.
Using Arm as Counterweight in Dumbbell Overhead Press

Once you have yourself steady, take a breath to brace your core, then press the dumbbell overhead and lock out your elbow. As the weight of the dumbbell goes up, you will need to adopt a push press or split jerk stance. I would recommend a push press unless you have a solid Olympic lifting background.

Strongman Overhead Circus Dumbbell Press

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Viking Press

The viking press is usually a rep-based event in a given time frame, typically 60 seconds. It’s a neutral grip press, meaning your hands face inward.

It’s hard to find a gym with equipment specific to the viking press, even in strongman gyms. But fear not! You can easily mimic this movement with a power rack, two barbells and safety bars.

At your power rack, set one side of the safety pins at shoulder height and the other side at the next lowest setting. On the lower setting, sandwich the safety pin between two 5kg (10lb) plates with collars on each end. There will be a space between the two plates where the barbell sits on the safety bar. On the higher side, stand outside the power rack and load the plates for your desired weight.

From here, use the ends of the two barbells as handles. You can either strict press or push press the weight up. A “good lift” is given once the body is straight, elbows locked and head through.

Viking Press Stance

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Using Strongman Presses in Your Strength Training Program

You can do these two exercises in almost any commercial gym. There’s no reason why you can’t give them a try. These movements build your shoulders, core, grip strength, upper back, and traps.

Be sure to train both arms for the circus dumbbells as it’s common for one to be stronger than the other. But don’t fret – both the viking press and circus dumbbell press are amazing tools to address your imbalances. Alternatively, try swapping out your usual barbell presses for the more unique viking press.

These movements are just two of many awesome strongman events that could massively improve your strength training. Strongman work also includes a number of deadlift, pulling, and carrying events that will take your cardio to the next level.

So, don’t be scared of the strongman style! Give these lifts a try at your next training session.

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