Years ago if you wanted to know how strong someone was you didn’t ask them how much they can bench, but rather, how much can they press? That was the measure of true strength sixty years ago.
The term “press” specifically is in reference to the standing overhead barbell press. If you think this is an entirely isolated upper body exercise, you’re wrong. Pressing a bar overhead develops core strength and the heavier you go, the more it requires (and develops) your abs and obliques.
- Your grip should be just outside the shoulders, hands should be about 18-22 inches apart. Your thumbs should be around the bar and the bar should rest on the heel of the palm and away from the fingers.
- Your wrists should be tight and flexed.
- You can start the movement one of two ways: either by grabbing the bar at about shoulder height from a rack then taking one step back or by power cleaning the weight from the ground.
- The bar should rest on your shoulders with your elbows slightly in front of the bar. This will encourage the correct bar path.
- Your stance can be wide: feet shoulder-width apart; toes at a 30-35 degree angle.
- Look straight ahead and stare at a point on the wall in front of you that is level with your eyes.
- Lift your chest by tightening the muscles of the upper back, then take a big breath, hold it, and drive the bar up over your head.
- Hold your breath while the bar is moving. This will help support the back and chest.
- Lean back very slightly with your torso and drive the bar up, keeping it very close to your face.
- As soon as the bar passes the top of your head, move your body forward under the bar. This motion will help the bar lock out by straightening out the shoulder.
- In the lockout position, the bar should be directly above your head and right over your ears. Your elbows should also be fully locked out (straight) and your shoulders should be actively shrugged up engaging your traps.
- In a controlled manner, return the bar back to your shoulders and repeat.
Start with the empty bar and do a set of 5-10. Don’t make huge jumps in weight, small increases can go a long way! Depending on your size and strength start with 5-20 pound increments for sets of 3-5. The important thing is to maintain good form and once the bar speed starts to slow, stay at that weight for two more sets.
You can also try different variations of the standard barbell press:
- Dumbbell press: a standing press done with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Military Press: heels together, no torso movement, and sometimes with the back against a wall.
- Push Press: this is done with the help of the legs and hips. Start in the same position as the strict press, but dip straight down into a quarter squat position, then extend your legs and hips, while also pressing on the bar. With this added momentum you will be able to lift 30% or more in weight.