A couple of weeks ago we looked at the bench press and discussed its value in training. One of the most underrated and under-utilised exercises is the overhead press. Although we do see a lot more overhead pressing work in gyms these days, it is still woefully under trained. And yet for the stability and strength of the shoulder girdle, overhead work remains vital.
CrossFit, and Olympic lifting, have helped increase the popularity of the shoulder press in general, but the damage was actually largely done in the 1990s. In the 90’s working overhead was considered dangerous, just as working in large ranges was considered dangerous. The latter argument basically being that full range is more likely to expose a weakness, which was more likely to cause an injury, and therefore should be avoided. This is absolutely the wrong approach to take in relation to resistance training. You should work on trying to control load through ranges you should access.
In the early part of this century this attitude started to change, largely in part of CrossFit and the re-found popularity of resistance training. Yet although we have seen a lot more uptake in squatting, deadlifts and even bench pressing, the overhead press remains something that I rarely see.
Perhaps that is in part because so many people struggle with the technical aspects of the lift. Whilst it is possible to modify a squat or a deadlift to make it accessible for those with poor mobility it is much more challenging to do so with an overhead press.
A lack of shoulder mobility has a huge impact on being able to maintain spinal and core stability during the lift. Add to this that the body has a tendency to recruit the chest into any overhead pressing action where the strength of the shoulders are lacking and its quite common to see people leaning way back to press the weight up, with their chests under the weights to give themselves a mechanical advantage. This puts a lot of pressure on the lower back, and doesn’t allow the shoulder girdle to be worked in the way we want.
Sitting, or going into a standing split stance, can negate this somewhat. These positions at least allow the lifter to feel where the movement is compromised, as they lose contact with the bench behind them stop the body from arching as a compensation. But as I said avoidance of the movement is still most common. I believe this is because when it comes to overhead pressing work you have to work on your range and technique before you can load the movement, and therefore most people tend to avoid it because other exercises enable people to work around their issues without addressing them for longer.
Overhead pressing should form a core component of most people’s resistance training work. There is no other upper body action which puts your shoulder stability under such demand, and from an ascetic standard strong shoulders are very desirable, as they are an advertisement of a lifter’s strength and vitality. Let’s unpack these two points in more detail. For anyone with shoulder issues working on an overhead press action will increase shoulder stability and should be considered at the end of a rehab process but before normal resistance training has begun. Equally, working the shoulders for both men and women gives them definition and fully formed shoulders gives a better impression of your posture, regardless of the true actual state of your posture!
So don’t neglect overhead press work, it is vital for shoulder health and look, and should form a staple exercise in your regular training arsenal.