Top 3 Tips for a STRONGER Overhead Press

There’s no two way’s about it, getting a stronger overhead press is HARD.

This lift (while starting to gain some traction in the fitness community) remains highly underrated.

In my opinion the overhead press is the TRUE test of raw upper body strength.

Having a big bench is cool. Get’s you run of the mill gym street cred. But having a big overhead press will gain you outright respect. That’s because everyone know’s how much hard work had to go in to get there.

There simply is no cheating your way to a stronger overhead press. There’s no secret technique to add 10lbs instantly. Wide grip and bench arching aren’t here to save you. Even gaining weight on your frame won’t help you the same way it would with the bench press. You simply have to pay your dues.

The only way you’ll ever get better at the OHP is putting in the proper amount of time and work.

That being said, I want to share with you the tips that will guarantee your strict press is as efficient as it can be so all your hard work isn’t in vain.

(Interested in Strongman Training? Check out this article!)

BEFORE WE BEGIN:

If you truly want a stronger overhead press it has to be a priority.

That means, if you are currently rocking 3 sets of 10 reps once per week as some back-burner accessory exercise and wonder why you aren’t seeing any progress I won’t be able to help you.

Likewise, trying to make leaps and bounds in progress in both your bench press and the OHP at the same time tends to be a fools errand. You can do it. It’s just painfully slow.

You tend to see the best progress with either lift when you give it full attention.

The reason strongman competitors become so dominant with the overhead press is because it’s trained so frequently and as a main competition lift. Whereas a power lifter would have many bench days in a given week with OHP as a possible accessory. Strongmen will have many pressing days in a week with bench instead acting as a possible accessory.

This all just comes down to what is a priority for YOU. Just don’t be surprised if your OHP isn’t going anywhere because you aren’t showing it enough love.

TIP 1: GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF THE WAY

The first step to making the OHP as easy as it’s going to be is understanding the most efficient bar path.

Ideally, the bar starts somewhere between the bottom of your chin to just above your collar bone. (Exception here for weightlifters who may start ON their collar bone to mimic competition positions). You then drive the bar back on a slight diagonal line until you are locked out. The bar ending up above your head over your shoulder joint. Not pushed out in front of you. Not so far behind you that you are an inch away from popping your shoulder out of it’s socket.

There’s one…minor…issue.

Your head is in the way.

So if you were to follow the correct bar path…and do nothing but follow the correct bar path…you’ll be waking up to your concerned gym partner who just watched you KO yourself with a barbell to the chin.

What most people will do to avoid this problem is curve the bar around their head (because no one likes being KO’ed) the problem is this makes the press dramatically harder.

Instead of curving your bar path to solve the problem, just get your head out of the way.

If you’ve ever scrunched your head up to give yourself a double chin for a silly selfie you already know what to do.

Drive the bar straight back and tuck your chin until the bar clears your head. As soon as it’s clear immediately drive your head through like you are looking through a window made up by your arms and the barbell.

The better you get at clearing your head out of the way and subsequently driving your head through the more you’ll realize how much this helps. To the point that if you do accidentally try to curve your bar path again, it’s going to feel like you slammed into a brick wall.

Granted, you may still end up taking a barbell or two to the chin in the learning process. Consider it a base offering to the gods of the OHP.

TIP 2: TAKE A NARROW GRIP

This tip goes against all conventional knowledge you gain from bench press. Most people understand that, the wider the bench grip, the shorter the range of motion. Which potentially, can make the movement easier.

So, knowing this, a lot of beginner’s will try to wide grip their strict press…and…it doesn’t work. At least not the same way it does on bench.

Does wide grip OHP technically reduce the ROM of the movement. Sure. But it also puts you at such a mechanical disadvantage that the reduced ROM is no longer worth it. It simply is an awkward position to press from.

Try this instead, take a narrow grip. One that allows you to keep your elbows close and tucked in towards your sides, and your forearms parallel to each other.

(A good rough estimate is your index fingers will line up somewhere around where the knurling ends on a standard power bar.)

This gives you a solid “shelf like” rack position, keeps you as tight as possible for the movement, and also gives you an easier time pressing into that proper bar path we were just talking about.

While the narrow grip is technically increasing your ROM it works out because more of your energy goes into pressing the bar where you want it to go. Straight back. With a wide grip individuals tend to press themselves into more of an awkward Y shape where some of their energy goes into pressing the bar back, but they are also wasting energy pressing the bar outwards, if that makes sense.

The only individuals you see employ a wider OHP grip regularly is once again…weightlifters. Again, this all has to do with positions they want to be in for their comp lifts. However, even though they have a wider grip their forearms remain parallel to each other AND their elbows stay tucked.

This is one of those tips that may not seem logically sound at first. But once you make the change you won’t go back.

TIP 3: WIDER BASE=STRONGER PRESS

This is the easiest tip to employ, but can make a big difference for those of you not currently doing it.

Everyone tends to neglect how helpful their legs can be in the bench press and the same problem carries over to the OHP. While this movement obviously isn’t meant to give you some god like quads, the more stable you get your base the easier the press will be.

Usually when a beginner lifter walks up to press they stand up straight and tall with their feet close together. The taller the athlete is the more amusing this is to watch as they start to resemble a tree swaying in the wind more and more.

Instead, set yourself up with a nice wide and stable base.

I’m talking real wide.

Outside of shoulder width at least with some slight 45 degree angle outwards foot flare. From their you can mess around with how wide you can comfortably take things. Obviously you don’t need to turn this into sumo stance OHP but you’ll be surprised by how wide of a stance you can take and still be stable.

The wide stance itself is inherently more stable than having your feet close together, AND it also very slightly lowers your center of gravity. This makes it that much easier for your body to try and balance itself.

Basically speaking, the less energy your body is wasting on wiggling around trying to balance, the stronger your overhead press is going to be.

Just like that you have a few tricks up your sleeve to take on the OHP. Like I said, don’t expect this to magically add 50lbs to your press. It’s more so just a “quality of life” improvement for your pressing. Be patient, train hard, and give yourself the proper amount of time to get you that stronger overhead press.

Check out the video that inspired this article here!

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.