The Real Reason Your Overhead Press Sucks

“My overhead press sucks”, “Maybe I’m just bad at pressing”, “This exercise is too hard”

Ugh…if I have to hear one more person complain about overhead press that isn’t actually properly training the movement…

Tough love tends to be the most honest and fair kind of love there is. So in the case of “why your overhead press hasn’t increased in the past 3 years?” it’s time for some tough love. While it’s true that progress in the overhead press can be slower than that of the other main lifts (squat, bench, and deadlift), if your overhead press isn’t increasing, it’s your fault. I don’t say that to be mean, I say it because it’s the truth.

I never see people who are diligently training this movement complain about lack of progress. What I do see is a bunch of individuals who will train overhead press once for the week, call it a wrap, then wonder why the gains aren’t flooding in for them. Here’s the issues you need to address (and be outright honest with yourself about) to be on your way to a stronger overhead press.

(For additional overhead press tips check out this video!) 

1. You Don’t Train Your Overhead Press:

“HEY! I do train the overhead press and I’m still not seeing any progress!”

Do you though? 

Can you be honest and tell me that you are training to improve your overhead press, diligently, multiple times a week? Or maybe…maybe you only train it once per week. Maybe when you train it that one time per week, it’s as an accessory movement to your bench press. Oh, and you were running out of time for your gym session so you didn’t get all your sets in…

The overhead press needs the same amount of your time and attention to increase as you would give to your squat, bench, or deadlift. Any lifters past the skill level of a novice are going to have an incredibly difficult time making serious strength gains with the overhead press training it once time per week. Bare minimum shoot to train twice a week, once with the strict press as a main movement, and then pick any pressing variation you’d like for the second day (up to individual preference here). If you stop seeing progress with training it twice a week, it might be time to come back to the drawing board to add a third day, or at the very least increase your overall pressing volume.

This isn’t some tiny bicep exercise that you tack on to the end of your training as accessory work when you are already tired. It’s a main barbell movement to the same level as the squat, bench, a deadlift. Start treating it as such.

2. You Lack Respect For the Movement:

Of your big 4 barbell movements the strict overhead press will tend to be the lightest…that doesn’t mean you should treat it any differently.

I think the relative load that you can place on the bar for a proper strict press (compared to that of the squat, bench, and deadlift) is the reason it mistakenly get’s programmed as accessory work all the time. Additionally, for that very same reason, I don’t think lifters tend to take the overhead press quite as seriously as they would say…a heavy deadlift.

The overhead press is difficult. There’s no getting around that. Training without full intent and focus into the movement is only going to make it more difficult. You should be going through all of your cues and bringing that same “deadlift energy” to your overhead press sessions. If you’re not…maybe don’t be so shocked that your deadlift progress outpaces your pressing progress…

3. Your Technique Needs Work: 

“Just put the bar over my head how hard can it be?”

Harder than you’d expect. 

Much like deadlifting can be simplified down to “picking something up off the floor” despite the incredibly detailed technique that goes into a proper deadlift, overhead press usually doesn’t get the technique attention it deserves. Good mechanics in the overhead press can make your life so much easier, and make what felt like an impossible to press weight move like butter. So, if you have distinct technique setups for your squat, bench, and deadlift but don’t pay attention to what you are doing on overhead, it’s time to start.

On your list of things you should look into and constantly be working on:

-Your Overhead Press Walkout

-How You Grip The Barbell

-Your Grip Width and Rack Position

-Your Stance Width and Stability

-Overhead Press Bar Path

4. Your Confidence Game is Lacking:

If you can get your training on point, lock in your technique, and attack this movement with some intensity and focus, the last piece of the overhead press puzzle is confidence.

Strict pressing is hard enough at moderate intensity ranges like RPE 7 and 8, but you will seriously be challenging your grit when you come up against harder RPE 9 or 10 set’s.

At no point can you be doubting your ability to press a certain weight when it comes to max effort pressing. Additionally, you have to have the willpower to continue pressing even when weight feels heavy. Overhead pressing has a distinct sticking point which can mentally feel like the weight is too heavy for you so most people just give up. Thing is, it’s just a sticking point. When athletes gain that confidence that all they need to do is stay in the fight and continue pressing they can put up some seriously strong numbers on overhead press.

If your overhead press volume work and your max 1RM for your press aren’t quite lining up. If may be time to work on that pressing confidence.

(For even more ways to increase your overhead press check out this article!)


Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.