The push press is an exercise often used in Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit due to its potential to produce a powerful upper and lower body. Similar to the strict press, the push press requires you to press the weight straight overhead, but unlike the strict press, you incorporate power from your legs. This additional power can help you press much heavier weights overhead, which translates to other overhead lifts like the split jerk.
Some may consider the push press cheating, but it’s far from it. Even though you’re not relying solely on your upper body to push the weight up, the power your body is forced to exert can help make you a more well-rounded athlete both in and outside the gym.
Benefits of the Push Press
- Improved Athletic Performance
- Split Jerk Carryover
- Improves Overhead Mechanics
- Extra Plyometric Work
- Compound Stimulation
- Improves Shoulder Strength and Stability
- Stronger Lower Body
In activities that involve running and jumping, your power output is absolutely critical. Overhead movements may not be prioritized in sports like soccer or track because the lower body is the main focus.
However, studies suggest that the explosive extension of the hips, knees, and ankle joints in the push press can help improve movements like sprinting, jumping, and changing directions quickly. (1) By this theory, building a stronger push press may improve your power in your respective sport.
Since the push press uses momentum from your legs and hips to drive the weight overhead, it mimics the first motion of the split jerk. The split jerk also starts with a lower body dip and uses a quick powerful thrust to push the weight up.
You’ll typically find yourself using heavier weights with a split jerk since it can follow a clean and it’s travelling a lesser distance, but the push press is a great way to help build the upper body power and strength for it. Studies suggest there is a significant relationship between the split jerk and other overhead movements, and that upper body strength is important for maximum performance in any area. (2)
Exercises like wall balls and thrusters rely heavily on good hip extension and overhead mobility, much like the push press. The power exerted through the push press can be translated to the most powerful part of these exercises, the final extension of the hips.
This powerful extension helps to drive the barbell or medicine ball overhead without fatiguing the upper body too much. You may not regularly see the push press in CrossFit competitions, but you often see thrusters and/or wall balls, and the push press can help develop more power and endurance for those common challenges.
When you think of explosive exercises, you might often think about physically jumping around. Plyometric exercises like the jump squat can provide several benefits, such as improved cardiovascular health, lower body strength, improved athletic performance, and more. Athletes that participate in sports like long jump, basketball, and volleyball can use the jump squat to help increase their power when running or jumping.
But just because the push press doesn’t require you to move your feet doesn’t mean it can’t improve your plyometric strength and overall power. According to a 2019 study, the power output created by the push press is similar to that of the jump squat, and that the mean power output was significantly greater in the push press. (3) In other words, the push press can help transform you into a literal powerhouse.
The push press is a compound exercise that works muscles in your upper and lower body, making it a great choice for a full body workout. Muscles in the chest, triceps, shoulders, glutes, quads, and back are all recruited to help push the weight overhead. A 2017 study found that compound exercises can produce greater strength and general fitness results than when performing isolation exercises. (4) That means the push press will give you more bang for your buck.
Strong shoulders are crucial for overhead pressing exercises, but they also help with simple everyday tasks like pulling open a door. Unstable shoulders can put you in more vulnerable positions in and outside of the gym. The shoulders are just one of the muscles activated during the push press and can be strengthened through regular exercise.
Studies suggest that improving shoulder stability can help prevent injuries, improve shoulder function, range of motion, and grip strength. (5) By improving your overhead strength and stability, the push press can give you a leg up in all your lifting.
The glutes and quads are essential muscles in the lower body that help you stand, walk, run, and climb stairs. In the push press, the quads are responsible for the dip and help generate power for the drive, and the glutes help finish the drive to the top. Since both of these muscles are recruited, the push press can help to strengthen your lower body, assist in other lifts, and help to improve your quality of life.
How to Do the Push Press
It may not look like it, but the push press is a complex movement that requires the utmost care when performing. Your technique can be the singular difference separating sloppy and inefficient reps from tight and powerful movement. Follow this step-by-step guide to nail the push press.
- Place the barbell in the front rack position with your feet set under your hips, legs locked, and chest up.
- Take a breath in, dip your hips and bend your knees down into a high quarter-squat position.
- Explosively drive your hips up and snap your knees into extension by pushing into the floor hard. Keep your hands relaxed and allow the bar to fly off your chest.
- Tilt your head back as the bar passes your face, and then bring it back through as you finish the lift by extending your arms overhead.
Warming Up for the Push Press
If you’re the kind of athlete who can grab a barbell and get right to work, power to you. However, you might need to get warmed up before jumping into a push press workout. Luckily, getting ready to perform can be a breeze if you know how to go about it.
Since the push press incorporates your entire body, it is wise to do a brief cardio warm-up to get your blood pumping beforehand. Afterwards, look to address any uncomfortable points in your range of motion with pause work or some form of manual release therapy.
Once you’re moving fluidly, two or three sets with the empty bar to refine your drive technique should have you in a good place to start loading up on plates.
Push Press Variations
The push press may not be for everyone, but luckily there are plenty of variations that activate the same muscle groups and can produce some of the same benefits. Below are a few variations to modify or change up your workout.
Unilateral Push Press
The unilateral push press helps strengthen imbalances between sides and grooves your push press mechanics. Doing both sides independently lets you add more volume to your lower body and core by compelling your body to stabilize for the entirety of the set.
Landmine Push Press
The neutral grip makes this version easier on your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. If you have limited shoulder mobility or are coming back from injury, this is a particularly viable alternative. The path in which the bar travels in landmine variations gets easier as you reach full extension, making landmine push presses a solid choice for practicing the technique without torching your triceps.
The push jerk is very similar to the push press — even the starting position is the same. The difference is that at the end of the push jerk, instead of locking your hips and knees, you drop the hips to get yourself under the barbell. This limits the amount of distance traveled and can allow for heavier weight.
The push jerk can be more of a complex exercise due to the coordination and timing, but doesn’t provide as much hypertrophy stimulation to the arms and shoulders.
If you can’t do a strict press, you shouldn’t be hopping into a push press. The strict press is the foundation for all overhead pressing movements and can help improve shoulder stability. Since you’re not using any momentum, strict presses are ideal for developing strength in the upper body and strongly contribute to other pressing movements like the bench press or even push-ups.
Popular in CrossFit, the handstand push-up is an advanced exercise that requires serious upper body strength, stability, and balance. This variation is beneficial for building shoulder strength and mimics the movement of the overhead press or push press without needing a barbell.
The push press can be an excellent way to incorporate power and strength into your workout. Olympic lifts like the snatch and clean and jerk can be improved by performing the motion of the push press — not only to help get the weight overhead but to practice powerful hip and leg drive.
If you’re looking to improve overhead strength, total body power and build slabs of upper body muscle, the push press needs to be your go-to exercise. It has great carry over to life outside the gym and makes you a more powerful athlete.
- Bishop, Chris, Chavda, Shyam, Turner Anthony. Exercise Technique: The Push Press. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2017; 40(3). DOI:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000321
- Soriano, Marcos, Haff, Gregory, Comfort, Paul. Is there a relationship between the overhead press and split jerk maximum performance? International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching. 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/17479541211020452
- Soriano, Marcos, Suchomel, Timothy J, Comfort, Paul. Weightlifting Overhead Pressing Derivatives: A Review of the Literature. Sports Medicine. 2019; 49(6). doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01096-8
- Paoli, Antonio, Gentil, Paulo, & Moro, Tatiana. Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Muscle Strength. Frontiers in Physiology. 2017; 8. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.01105
- Choi, Seok-Hwa, Lee, Byoung-Hee. Clinical Usefulness of Shoulder Stability Exercises for Middle-aged Women. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2013; 25(10). doi: 10.1589/jpts.25.1243q
Featured Image: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock