The final of the Big four movements I am going t take you through at this stage. The Overhead Press. The Crowning glory of strength. The Old Method. How much can you lift above your head. Can you hold the weight of the world in your hands, above the crowd of on lookers, victorious in your battle, triumphant over your doubts, champion of the arena? This is it, this is the challenge and it all comes down to power, stability and technique, fail on any one of these three pillars, and your attempt will come crumbling down around you.


Taking the barbell and pushing it overhead is a great exercise, activating everything from your deltoids, triceps, forearm flexors, abdominals and obleaks, your lower back, your traps, lats, hip flexors and much more as you hold it overhead. But what, other than practicing the movement can we do to add more weight to the bar and improve our strength, technique and explosive power over this range of movement.

My typical Overhead Press Routine:

  • Overhead Press 4 sets of (5/3 or 1 rep)
  • Assistance movement 1 – 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions
  • Assistance movement 2 – 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions 
  • Possible 3rd assistance movement – 2-3 sets of core work

The Assistance movements I use:

  1. Pull ups – Some of you are probably thinking ‘hold on its a press exercise why are you doing pull ups?’ So I will tell you. Having a strong back helps on a number of fronts, it helps stabilize the barbell overhead, it allows for a smoother range of motion through out the movement, it helps grip strength and it is the mirror opposite of the movement (a vertical pull after the vertical push). I don’t always use pull ups but they are becoming a more regular exercise in my overhead work , especially if I use the dead lift and mobility only workout as it kills 2 birds with 1 stone, so to speak. I normally set up for weighted pull ups and aim for 6-10 reps with 8-12kg added by cupping a dumbbell between my calves. This allows me to drop it once I cannot complete a rep and then get a few extra body weight reps to make up the 10 reps. I normally put this right after the barbell work if i am using it.
  2. Single arm dumbbell presses – This is great for three things, balancing power across each arm and shoulder, improving core musculature and control, aiding range of movement to ensure a nice bar flight path when you press overhead. Take a shoulder width apart stance, with one dumbbell in your hand, and keeping your core braced, press it overhead 8-10 times and repeat on each side. It may surprise you how different each arms strength is when you try it standing like this. This can be used as assistance movement 1 or 2.
  3. Push Presses – Very similar to the overhead strict press we are trying to improve but this allows you to be more explosive and use your leg muscles to help you. Hold your bar under your chin or resting on your chest and do a tiny front squat about 1/8th depth or a few inches ans then drive up with the legs and push the bar overhead as fast as you can. You should be at least 10kg stronger with this variation and it lets the arms get used to the weight and your body get comfortable holding it overhead and feeling the weight in your hands. I usually aim for  reps here and do 3-4 sets.
  4. Side raises – A fairly common shoulder exercise but good for building more muscle mass in the deltoid muscles and giving you more muscle to push with long term. I wouldn’t use it every week if your goal is mostly power and strength oriented but it is a good variation and a nice alternative for a deload week. 3-4 set of 10-12 reps tend to be my go to.
  5. Plate raises – Another isolation movement but a bit more beneficial, it will add more bulk to the shoulders, but also ensures a full range of motion overhead, if you do it right. Take a weights plate and gripping it firmly raise it from your waist to the ceiling, keeping your arms straight and your core braced. Then lower it in a controlled fashion and repeat. I normally go for 3 sets of 8-10 as the second assistance movement after the dumbbell press or pull ups. It also tests your grip especially with bumper plates.
  6. Core work – A good idea to include in every workout or programme for strength but this exercise requires particular balance and control. I tend to go with movements that will be focused into keeping the core strong and my spine in a neutral position so I tend to avoid crunches, and the like on this particular workout. I mix it up with things like planks/ plank variations, ab wheel roll outs or farmers carries in this workout. Aiming for 3 sets of failure or for a certain distance with the farmers carries.

Try these out and see how much of a difference you can make to your own strength and physique with a few small changes and some good assistance work thrown in when needed.

That concludes our assistance movement series for now, but there will be much more strength an conditioning coming in the future with everything from endurance to mobility. Also if you missed any in this short series, make sure to go back and read the tips on squat, bench and dead lift and leave a comment if you have a particular topic you would like to see us talk about next.

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