The military press —standing feet together, pressing a barbell strictly overhead with no help from your lower body — is the gold standard when it comes to overhead pressing. There’s no doubt it’s a fantastic exercise for strength and mass. Plus, it requires extreme amounts of core strength and shoulder mobility to press overhead without overarching the lower back and flaring out the ribcage.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the requisite strength to perform this well. And when do you find yourself strictly lifting or throwing anything overhead out of the gym? Almost never. That’s why the push press (in my opinion) is a better alternative.
What Is The Push Press
The push press uses a lower body dip (think quarter squat with knees going over toes) to push the barbell overhead. It uses extension of the ankles, knees, and hips, which closely mimics what most athletes that compete in any sport involving running do on the field. The lower body dip allows you to lift more weight overhead than the military press.
- Anterior deltoid
- Upper Pecs
- Upper back
- Lower back
Below are three fantastic benefits of the push press that will help improve your performance in and out of the gym.
Builds More Total Body Strength and Muscle
Using your ankles, knees, and hips to drive the weight overhead provides a strength and muscle-building stimulus to your quadriceps and glutes. Lifting more weight overhead compared to the military press helps build bigger shoulders and triceps.
The main difference between a military press and a push press is that additional dip. A military press is a strict motion where the only motion made is the pressing of the bar overhead. With the push press, that additional dip to help drive the barbell overhead can enable bigger lifts which can help progress other exercises like the jerk.
It is worth pointing out that the dip done in a push press is similar to what one would do during a jerk. However, the dip in the push press is not as demanding on timing as that of the jerk. Just be conscious to keep your torso upright, weight evenly distributed across the foot, and the hips and knees bend evenly during the movement to prevent losing balance.
Accessory Exercise For Advanced Overhead Exercises
If you’re an Olympic weightlifter or a CrossFit® athlete, the push press is a fantastic accessory exercise to aid you in getting stronger and more stable overhead. For the former, improving the jerk as previously mentioned is extremely valuable. CrossFit® athletes also perform jerking movements, but other similar overhead movements such as thrusters and wall balls can be strengthened through the work done with the push press.
The push press trains hip drive and extension, which mimics the Olympic lifts and can help reinforce:
- Dip and drive mechanics.
- Ability to dip to the correct depth.
Correcting how deep to dip when lifting a certain amount of weight can make you smarter, so to speak, when performing a lift. For example, if you have been working on a push press and have found success at a certain depth, that reinforcement in your body mechanics can make you more confident on the lifting platform. As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”, but it can also make you confident.
Builds Hip Drive and Athletic Power
Hip and leg drive used in the push press are crucial factors to improve power in Olympic weightlifting, and in addition, they can strengthen locomotion activities such as running, sprinting, and jumping (looking at you CrossFitters!)
The transfer of power from the lower to the upper body mimics what a lot of overhead athletes (baseball, softball, quarterbacks, tennis players, and swimmers) do on the field, court, or pool. Building a stronger push press is likely to improve your power on in your respective sport, as well as help your body be more likely to default to proper form even when fatigued.
Not everyone has the required mobility, strength, and power to perform the push press safely and effectively, though. Going back to basics to make sure that the fundamentals are solid is a worthwhile endeavor, so here are a couple of regressions to build up to the barbell push press.
Unilateral Push Press
This helps strengthen imbalances between sides and grooving push press mechanics. Doing both sides lets you add more volume to your lower body and core by compelling your body to stabilize for the entirety of the set.
Grab a single weight (no need to go heavy for this) and focus on applying proper technique to push press the dumbbell or kettlebell overhead — keep your core engaged and body square. Resist the tendency to lean or rotate. 2 to 3 sets of 8-10 reps per side at a weight you can control comfortably should make for a good addition to your push day.
If you do choose to scale up the weight, take note at what weight your form starts to make concessions. This is a good way to isolate a goal weight to build toward over time.
Landmine Push Press
The neutral grip (for the dumbbell press too) makes this easier on wrists, elbows, and shoulders. If you have limited shoulder mobility or coming back from injury, this is a viable alternative. As fatigue sets in towards the later half of the set, there may be a tendency to recruit your legs to help get the weight up — don’t let this happen.
If the weight becomes to much to press with proper form, lower the weight. The movement should be slow, controlled, and your body should stay firm throughout the movement. 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps should also work here as well, adjusting the weight appropriately.
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.
Feature image from Sthanke Trainer’s YouTube channel.