Push Press vs Overhead Press – Which Should You Choose?

In an earlier article I spent a great deal discussing one of the most athletic upper body strength and power movements for strength and power athletes: the push press.

While the push press is an exceptional movement, other movements should be developed and utilized to maximize all-around overhead strength, power, and performance. The strict press is a common exercise seen across many athletic domains. Therefore, in this article I wanted to lay out the pros and cons of each movement to help coaches and athletes best individualize their training and exerciser selections.

The Push Press

Below is a video demonstration on how how perform the barbell push press. All types of modalities can be used (dumbbells, kettlebells, logs, etc).

The Strict Press

Below is a video demonstration on how how perform the barbell strict press. All types of modalities can be used (dumbbells, kettlebells, logs, etc).

Push Press vs. Strict Press

Below are five athletic attributes that can be impacted by both the push press and the strict press.

Power Development (Push Press)

The push press is the best option for power production, as it entails a lifter to use the legs, hips, and upper body to maximally accelerate heavy loads overhead. This movement has been shown to have similar benefits for sport and jumping athletes as the squat jump, as the powerful movement can increase leg and hip explosiveness. Power development is not only important for sport athletes, weightlifters, and strongman, it is a critical component to powerlifters and fitness athletes looking to increase overall performance for strength, muscular mass, and force output.

Muscle Hypertrophy (Both)

Loading, training volume, and metabolic demands placed upon a muscle all affect hypertrophy. Since both movements do a great job at all of them, I find it best to include both movements in a hypertrophy based training program. The push press can be used to increase power and overall loading volume; while the strict press can be used to drive maximal strength and increase time under tension, both of which can work to enhance muscle and performance (as I assume you want both since you are here on BarBend!).

Maximal Strength (Strict Press)

While the push press can increase your ability to supramaximal load the shoulder and upper body, the strict press employs zero lower body assistance and requires a lifter to initiate the movement from zero acceleration, demanding great amounts of concentric strength. Seeing that maximal strength is often expressed at low velocities, an athlete must have the ability to promote high amounts of force to accelerate a rested object, making the strict press a vital part of that equation.

Athletic Potential (Push Press)

While strict pressing is at the foundation of the push press, the push press, once learned, is a complete and compound movement that every athlete must work to develop. The integration of hip explosiveness, power, strength, and the ability to transfer force quickly is needed for most sports that depend on such athletic capacities. Strongman, weightlifting, functional fitness, football, life, etc all require such abilities. This is not to say the strict press cannot offer some of these, this is simply stating that the push press allows for greater loads to be moved (strength), increased hip drive (power) and a more muscles being used at once.

It is important to note that I am a coach who works with weightlifters, collegiate athletes, and CrossFitters, all of who have some dependency on concentric strength (low speeds), however have a great dependency on explosive strength, hip power and drive, and total body movement patterns. Understanding the needs of the sport/goal should dictate which movement you prioritize. For example, if a lifter increases their strict press as a weightlifter, this may or may not increase their ability to use the hips, core, and upper body in unison to transition better to jerks. If however, they increase their push press, I feel very confident they not only have developed greater power output and hip drive, they also have developed their ability to use the stretch shortening cycle and even have increased overhead lockout strength with similar loads to ones they will use in the jerk. Specificity makes the push press the ideal movement of maximal athletic potential ONCE an athlete has learned the strict press (I still have athletes train strict pressing during hypertrophy blocks or warm up set).

Foundational Movement (Strict Press)

The strict press is a most foundational overhead movement for nearly every single athlete. The ability to press loads overhead leads to further progressions into push pressing, jerks, and other overhead movements to move serious loads. Without proper overhead pressing mechanics, athletes may rush their development to place loads safely and stability overhead, which can result in injury to the shoulders, elbows, and a slew of compensation patterning. Personally, as a weightlifting coach, I find many athletes who lack the abilities to press and hold barbells overhead without the usage of the legs. This is a red flag to me, which I then regress them (to their dismay) to a steady dosage of strict pressing until they can handle the overhead volume and stress that more compound movement (push press, jerks, even handstand push ups) demand.

More Ways to Increase Overhead Strength, Power, and Mobility!

Take a look at some of my best articles on building overhead performance for strength and power athletes.

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.