Push Press – Exercise Guide, Muscles Worked, & Benefits

The barbell push press is a common athletic performance, weightlifting, and strengthening movement seen in most training facilities (however, it can be done with a wide array of equipment). The push press is a movement rather than a singular exercise, meaning that there are a variety of tools (dumbbells, kettlebells, log bars, etc) that can be lifted and even some direct variations that offer unique benefits to some athletes (such as behind the neck push presses).

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In this article, we will discuss the push press, particularly the standard version done with the barbell in the front rack. We will cover how to properly perform push presses and the benefits they can offer to athletes of various sports/goals.

Muscles Worked

The push press is a dynamic and explosive strength movement that requires a lifter to initiate the lift with their legs and hips, forcefully dipping and diving the weight upwards off the body so that the upper body can then finish the lock out overhead. Below is a list of some of the most used muscle groups when performing a push press.

  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteals
  • Hamstrings
  • Shoulders
  • Chest
  • Triceps
  • Erectors
  • Lats
  • Abdominals

How to Do a Push Press?

For the sake of this article we will be sticking with the push press variation that is taken from the front rack. While other variations exist and provide great benefit to particularly weightlifters and CrossFit® athletes (such as the behind the neck push press), we will only be discussing the correct way to perform the standard push press with barbells (however so many other object can be used, as push pressing is a MOVEMENT, not just a specific exercise).

Why Should You Do Push Presses?

Push presses are one of my personal favorites for building strong shoulders, triceps, and having great application to the sport of Olympic weightlifting. In addition, they offer strength, power, fitness, and even physique athletes a wide array of benefits.

Upper Body Strength and Muscle

Push pressing, bench presses, dips, and military presses are all great mass builders for the upper body (chest, shoulders, triceps). Due to the usage of the lower body to initiate the push press, very heavy loads can be moved for more repetitions, increasing the overall training volume and stimulus for strength and mass development. The push press does a wonderful job of increasing strength of the shoulders and triceps, specifically at points in which many athletes lack strength and power (barbell a few inches off the body).

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Athletic Power

Some research has shown similar power outputs when push pressing (readings at the hips and knees) was compared with the jump squat. This is key for those athletes looking to increase jump height, sprint speed, and overall explosiveness of the hips (weightlifters, sports athletes, crossfitters, etc). By performing push presses, you can also double up on another one of the benefits in this article.

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Olympic Weightlifting

The push press has good application to movement mechanics and strength needed specifically for the jerk. The push press dip and drive mechanics are identical to the jerk, helping athletes learn proper dip depth, fluidity, and how to transfer force from the legs and body into the barbell. Athletes who have issues staying vertical, finding proper dip depth, or want to develop greater hip and knee explosiveness can perform push presses in a cyclical fashion. Those athletes who are more concerned with leg strength and drive (with little help from elasticity and momentum), performing push presses after a reset each rep can work to improve power and concentric strength.

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