It seems like more and more videos pop up every day showing careless lifters at the gym completely failing or snapping up their spines when they go for a manly, one rep max.
And maybe you’re worried that could be you next!
In many cases, stretching is considered an easy step to take to prevent lifting injuries, but the problem is… not everyone agrees.
That’s why, if you keep reading, I’m going to share some benefits and negatives to doing a few stretches before your next gym session, and whether it’s the right choice for you.
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What Is an Overhead Shoulder Press?
The overhead shoulder press is the granddaddy of all shoulder exercises.
It covers any exercise where the weight is pressed straight up overhead. There are a number of variations, such as:
- Military (Thumbless Grip)
- Hammer Strength
- Behind the head
Here’s a great explanation by Jeremy Ethier over at Built with Science.
These exercises, and others like them, are the most effective way to develop the shoulders. This is because, despite being quite a small muscle, these are big, compound movements that allow you to move considerable amounts of weight.
While many people let their shoulder training take a back seat compared to some of the other, larger muscles, it is still absolutely essential for two reasons.
- Firstly, shoulder strength isn’t just important on its own—it’s vital when training other muscles. The shoulders connect everything on the torso to the arms, so how much effort you put into them will also show up when it comes to training back or chest.
- Secondly, no physique is complete without a good pair of delts. No matter how good the rest of your body is, if you let your shoulders lag, all that hard work will be for nothing.
The Inevitable Overhead Press Plateau
Just like any other muscle, at a certain point, you will hit a plateau. This is a seemingly immovable wall that stops you from progressing any further.
Thankfully, while daunting, plateaus can be overcome with dedication, a little knowledge, and thinking outside the box.
If you’ve got the first one of those things, my 7 tips will give you the other two to smash through that barrier to success.
1. Warm Up Your Rotator Cuffs
Sometimes, what seems like an inability to do something is actually just discomfort deterring you from doing it.
While you may think the strain you are feeling is your shoulders giving up, in fact, it’s often your rotator cuffs that are struggling.
Little webs of ligaments and tendons that hold the shoulder joint together, the rotator cuffs are among the most notoriously injury-prone areas in the entire body.
Before you start your next shoulder workout, spend a little time getting them nice and mobile. You might be amazed at what you can do when they aren’t playing you up.
A rotator cuff warm-up can be something as simple as doing light sets on the shoulder press or front raise or dynamic stretches like arm circles or crossover arm stretches.
2. Perform Push Presses
A push press is a variation on any type of standing overhead press.
Here, instead of strictly pushing with the arms and shoulders, you begin each repetition with a little drive from the legs. This allows you to move more weight than you could on a strict repetition.
Here’s a demonstration video created by CrossFit.
While I wouldn’t suggest doing this as part of your normal routine, it can be great for overcoming plateaus. This is because it gets both the muscles and the connective tissues used to moving weights heavier than normal.
Although a lot of the extra weight will be moved by the legs, the shoulders will deal with some of it themselves. And when it comes to plateaus, sometimes it only takes a tiny push to get you moving again.
3. Work On Negatives
People often forget that muscles contract both concentrically and eccentrically. While they put everything into lifting the weight, lowering it again (eccentric) often amounts to nothing more than an afterthought.
Ironically, this is often the part of the lift where you can manage more weight.
When performing a negative, select a weight greater than you could normally use and get a spotter to help you raise it to the peak of a normal lift.
Now, in a slow and controlled manner, lower the weight down to the normal starting position.
Do this 2-3 times per set.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly this improvement in your eccentric strength translates to your regular lift.
4. Use A Rack
One thing I regularly see is people beginning their overhead presses by cleaning the weight from the ground to shoulder height.
While cleans are important in their own right, they are an incredibly large movement that uses a lot of energy. Therefore, performing one before your presses means you aren’t starting your set with a full tank of gas.
Try starting with the weight on a squat rack, already loaded, at the correct height. You’ll be impressed by how much more weight you can press almost immediately.
5. Do Dead Presses
When you’re moving heavyweight, it’s easy to underestimate the strain your body is under between reps. This can drain your energy and limit how hard you can push.
Testerone Nation shows a good demonstration in this video.
Get yourself to either a power rack or a Smith machine and set the safeties where the weight would usually rest at the bottom of a shoulder press rep.
Now, on each rep you will press the weight from the safeties, returning it for a split second between each rep, like you would a deadlift.
The extra strength you’ll have to put into your pressing will help you up your weight in no time.
6. Prioritize Partial Reps
While you normally want to train through a full range of motion, sometimes you have to break the rules to overcome a plateau.
With any pressing exercise, the nearer the top of the exercise you get, the more the triceps begin to take over.
When you’re trying to add extra power to your shoulders, try doing only the bottom ⅔-¾ of the lift.
This will limit the involvement of the triceps, increase the time under tension of the delts, and force them to grow whether they like it or not.
7. Train Past Failure
Training past failure is one of the oldest and simplest tricks in the book but still as effective as ever.
Grab yourself a spotter and begin your set of overhead shoulder presses. Once you can no longer carry on, have them help you perform an additional couple of reps.
Providing this support will allow the muscles to train past a point they naturally could, and squeeze every last ounce of energy out of them.
No matter what advances we make, nothing will ever help you smash through a plateau like pushing your muscles to their absolute limit and beyond.
Bonus Tip – Wear a Belt
If your goal is to push up as much weight as possible, then at some point you’re gonna need to wear some weightlifting gear to stabilize your core.
The simplest solution is to get a high-quality weightlifting belt made from genuine leather, nylon, or neoprene material.
Our top pick is the Dark Iron Fitness Genuine Leather Weightlifting Belt because of its premium materials, heavy-duty design, and awesome customer support.
There you have it. 7 proven tips to help you increase your overhead shoulder press.
No matter how much you may be struggling or think you’ll never improve, with these tips, I guarantee you’ll smash through those barriers.
Even the greatest bodybuilders come up against plateaus and use the exact same methods I’ve outlined to overcome them.
The important thing is never giving up and always having faith in yourself.
Like Journey famously sang, “don’t stop believin’.”
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