By Dale Barr
Are you reading this sitting at your computer? Maybe hunched over reading on your phone, or flipping through the magazine while on the couch? I know you’ve probably spent some time driving today too. Our modern lifestyle has us doing all of these activities for far too many hours and every one of them has us in poor posture. Shoulders rounded forward, upper back hunched and head forward. These all tend to weaken our shoulders, traps and upper back. Throw in our day to day stress which most tend to carry in the shoulders and we’ve got a mess.
I love the overhead press. I think it’s integral for most people to press overhead in some fashion whether using a barbell, kettle bell, landmine press or other variation. The type of press will be determined by the individual and any history of injury. If you haven’t had any shoulder impingement issues or A/C joint issues in the past, you’re most likely OK to start pressing. One simple mobility test is to lie down on your back, feet flat, knees bent, low back pressed to the floor and raise your arms overhead. If you can reach overhead and touch your upper arms to the floor you have the mobility to start pressing. If not, you may need some mobility drills and an alternative to barbell pressing until your normal range of motion returns. Remember, if it hurts, don’t do it, plain and simple. We can always find a way to strengthen that area without pain.
OK, so assuming you’re healthy and have the mobility required to press with a barbell let’s dig into that a little deeper. Technique is the name of the game. As I’ve gone over with the Squat and Deadlift, the Press is one of the best “bang for your buck” lifts you can do. It’s not just a shoulder exercise. You need to use your glutes, thighs, abs, lats, arms and have the tension, mobility and stability to move the weight from our starting position to lock out.
Your starting position is barbell in front of you at shoulder height or under the chin. The main points of emphasis here are: keep the shoulder blades back and down, forearms directly under or in-front of the barbell and perpendicular to the barbell. Once there, it’s all about tension, squeezing the glutes, thighs, abs, fill your belly with air and hold it, as you lean your face back slightly and punch toward the ceiling. As with the squat and deadlift, we are after a vertical bar bath. For this to happen we MUST get the face out of the way! Don’t smack yourself in the chin, mouth or nose by leaving your head there. Not a great way to start your day!! The finish or lockout position should have the barbell even with the back of the head in-line with the shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles. Actively reaching for the ceiling allows your shoulder blades (scapulae) to rotate and be directly underneath your upper arm (humerus). This is our strongest position, you should feel like you could walk around with the weight in this position, but don’t, at least not yet!! Now, returning the bar back to our starting position we just reverse the movement starting with leaning the head back slightly and pointing the elbows forward as the bar descends. This will keep the bar on the most vertical path. Now repeat as necessary.
That’s it. That’s the Overhead Press. It’s one of the best exercises for developing upper body strength. It’s extremely functional and is an essential lift along with the Squat and Deadlift. It’s a great way to counteract our current sitting epidemic and the poor posture, shoulder and back issues that go along with it. The feeling of accomplishment anytime you press something overhead is worth it, too.
Dale Barr is a devoted father of two young boys and has committed himself to staying active and fit, while helping others do the same. For more information on Dale Barr’s fitness program, visit d3fitness.com.