Push Press Alternatives

In an earlier article we discussed the powers of push pressing for all strength, power, and fitness athletes, going in full detail about five highly beneficial outcomes to expect if you decide to push press (which if you are reading this you are highly interested or already push pressing, so great work)! Below is a quick recap to convince you, again, on why you need to be doing push presses.

  • Massive amounts of strength and muscle can be developed
  • Increased athletic power and hip drive
  • Highly specific movement and exercise for jerks and power lifts in Olympic weightlifting
  • Increased efficiency in CrossFit and high-intensity WODs when going overhead
  • Fundamental movement and exercise to progress to more complex overhead power movements (jerks)

Reasons Why You Cannot Push Press?

In the event you find yourself not being able to push press, one must then dig deeper to see the true nature of this dilemma. Below are some acceptable reasons as to why one cannot push press. If you find your reason is not listed below, odds are you should be push pressing. If you are still not sure, please let me know in the comments below and I will personally help you out to address your issue!

Injury/Mobility Issues

Injury to the ankles, knees, and hips can all stand in the way of push pressing, primarily since those joints need to move ballistically to open and close in joint angle to promote power output to initiate the movement. In the event this is you, I urge you to address your injury and restore range of motion, then slowly perform push presses at a slower, fluid pace, focusing on smooth bending and straightening of the joints, slowly adding speed to the movement as you progress.

If you have upper body issues, such as shoulder, elbow, and/or wrist (see my story below), you may have to get creative with things (such as some unilateral movements) and/or avoid overhead movements all together until you recover and do your rehabilitation work.

Lack of Overhead Stability

This is an easy one. If you are unstable, you need to build stability and strength through strict pressing. Once you develop that ability, you can start to progress to slow and controlled push presses, adding in movement speed as you go along. The key is to learn proper mechanics, overhead stability, and movement speed BEFORE you start adding on the weight.

Push Press Alternatives

There are only a few reasons why you should be searching for an alternative to the push press, as it is such an amazing exercise that has stood the test of time (like the squat, deadlift, etc.). By removing it from your program, you are doing yourself a disservice. With that said, I see three main reasons why we should move forward into offering push pressing alternative…

  1. I have failed to convince you about the awesomeness of push pressing.
  2. You have a viable reason for not push pressing that is discussed above.
  3. You love push pressing so much that not only do you do them, but you want to do more movements similar to them.

Below are a three push pressing alternatives to offer similar benefits, however as you will see you may have to segment some of these up to have the same net benefit as a push press (such as the jump squat to increase leg drive and explosiveness with adding strict pressing into your upper body routine to add shoulder strength).

Strict Press

If you are able to do the push press, most likely you will start to employ some leg or hip drive when loads get heavier, as the body is very good at finding a more efficient way to do things. Strict pressing, while not an explosive movement, will increase overhead muscle mass, strength, and stability. If your issue is injury, such as the knee, hip, or ankle, you can also do these seated.

Jump Squat

The jump squat is a great way to develop leg drive, muscular explosiveness, and increase power output in athletic movements. Like the push press, it allows us to integrate explosive movement from the legs into the hips to forcefully push oneself upwards, transferring force into the floor. In the event you are looking for more of a lower body explosive movement or have injury that restricts usage of anything overhead (wrists, elbows, shoulders, etc), performing jump squats with a barbell on the back, weighted vest, dumbbells, or even bodyweight will provide some benefit specific to the push pressing movement.

Unilateral Push Presses

Yes, I know, this is still a push press. A few months back I sprain/slightly tore a ligament in my left wrist (not sure to what diagnosis was because I avoided the doctor like the plague), and for the first month could not support any weight in that wrist. I spend a good amount of time squatting, jumping with a vest on, and performing overhead strength and power movements with dumbbells and kettlebells, only loading my right side (which happened to also be my weaker side, so things worked out).

While this is not ideal, not training and staying on top of your fitness during this phase can bring about more setbacks than your injury in the first place. Sometimes you gotta just play the game with the cards you were dealt. I did start to perform basic dumbbell strict pressing movements to build back strength and stability (the dumbbell hurt way way less than the barbell…however behind the neck barbell overhead work was fine almost a week later) as soon as there was little to no pain.

Final Words

As you can see, I really couldn’t come up with a lot of amazing exercises to substitute for push presses because push presses are such an amazing exercise. Like the squat, they are a foundational lift, and if you remove that movement category (the push press I refer to is the movement pattern, not specifically a push press only done with a barbell) you place yourself at a great disadvantage. If you cannot perform the push press due to one of the two reasons above, you should work towards addressing your underlying issues with the goal of learning the movement. If you choose not to do push presses because they are hard, you don’t want to learn them, or simply aren’t convinced, well, then I guess that’s that…

Featured Image: J2FIT Weightlifting

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.