8 Reasons Why You Should Perform The Overhead Press

8 reasons why you should perform the overhead press

'Hey bro, how much can you press overhead?' 

Isn't a very common exchange between lifters at your typical gym.

However if we go back 50 years this was considered the best question to gauge someone's overall brute strength.

While many gym-goers nowadays prefer the bench press I'll explain why you should give some serious consideration to incorporating, and perhaps prioritizing, this tremendous lift in your training routine. 

The press, or overhead press (OHP), defined in this article as being done standing erect, with some minor upper body lean allowed, no leg drive to initiate the movement and fully locking out the barbell at the top of the movement.

#1 Makes you overall strong

female weightlifter

At a first glance you might think of the overhead press primarily as a shoulder exercise - this is incorrect.

Pressing a heavy barbell overhead through its entire range of motion and fully locking it out is a full-body movement.

Virtually all of the muscles in the body are involved in the press.

For a heavy OHP to happen all of the muscles in the body have to work together as one rigid unit to both exert dynamic force, pushing the barbell overhead, and then stabilizing the weight overhead.

This means that if you can press your own bodyweight or more overhead you're not only going to have incredible delts and triceps, you're going to be an overall strong motherfucker. Pardon the french.

Hips, legs, core musculature, upper back, shoulders, triceps and the upper chest all participate in making the press happen. As such the OHP is indeed a very efficient exercise, hitting several bodyparts with a single movement. 

A 100 kg, or 220 lbs, OHP implies some seriously well developed shoulders, triceps, upper back and an extremely strong core as well as a rigid posterior chain in order not to fall over.

Climbing up in weight on the OHP you'll very soon find out if any link in the chain is weak, exposing areas in the body that are not sufficiently strong. Whether it be core stability, weak posterior chain or a lack of development in the upper back and traps.

#2 Part of the family of 'Olympic lifts'

A couple of years ago the press, in addition to the snatch and clean and jerk, was part of the sport of olympic weightlifting. 

The press demonstrated how much brute force your body was capable of generating whilst the two other lifts judged your explosiveness, agility and speed.

Here is what it would look like performed in a competitive setting. Here performed by an extremely strong dude called Vasily Alexeev.

So why was it dropped in 1972? 

What happened was that lifters started employing various techniques or "cheating" to increase the poundages being lifted.

This meant leaning backwards and turning the movement into something resembling a standing up incline bench - so that the chest can help lift the weight.

It also became popular to initiate the movement with a dip and a push using the hips and knees. 

Eventually properly judging correct technique became nearly impossible and the clean and press was dropped from weightlifting.

Still in no way does this detract from the many benefits a press provides when performed properly, standing upright and keeping the legs and entire body rigid. As it from the beginning was intended to be performed.

#3 Maximizes shoulder growth

reg park

Old school bodybuilder Reg Park knew the importance of overhead pressing for shoulder gains. 

A massive press equates to massive shoulders.

In the press both the front, middle and rear delts are being heavily taxed. If you progress from a 1 plate to a 2 plates it is envitable that you'll see a tremendous amount of shoulder growth. 

Side laterals are good and fun for getting a pump and I make sure to do them at least once per week. However they cannot stress the shoulders the same way a heavy press does.

Heavy here being a keyword. If just starting out it's understandable that you're not pressing mountains. 

But with consistent work hopefully you should be able to add some pounds to your OHP. At this point you'll have gained a thickness in the shoulder area that cannot be produced by any isolation movement.

The amount of stress a truly heavy press puts on the entire shoulder girdle cannot be replicated in any other way.

#4 Promotes healthy shoulders

shoulder exercise

Too much heavy benching without any overhead movements whatsoever is a good recipe for unevenly trained shoulder. In a worst case scenario this may lead to severe shoulder injuries ie rotator cuff tears.

You should be working the shoulders in as many different planes as possible. This ensures that all of the important stabilizing muscles gets strengthened. Overhead presses, lateral raises, rotator cuff work, facepulls, rear delt flyes etc.

You want to add as many layers of protection as possible to protect the exposed and somewhat frail shoulder girdle.

Ideally you wan't to balance out any benching movement with an equal amount of overhead work to maintain healthy and robust shoulders.

Some have argued that the OHP is a dangerous movement, putting the rotator cuff in a comprised position and thus should be avoided.


Pressing is not going to put your shoulder girdle at risk if you start of lightly, using proper technique, and gradually adding small increments of weight.

Quite the opposite. When you've worked up to impressive pressing numbers in a safe manner using proper technique, your shoulders will be bullet-proof.

#5 Overhead press vs bench press

The term functional movement usually makes me cringe. It usually refers to bosu ball squats and other nonsense - and I'd also like to know what movements are non-functional.

However if we have to categorize exercises as such I would argue that the press is one of the best functional movements there is.

While the bench press is a very effective exercise for strengthening the pecs, shoulders and triceps it isn't a very natural movement. 

Try and remember the last time you encountered a similar position to that of the bench press in everyday life or in any sport. Okay maybe if you're stuck under a boulder and have to push it away with your shoulder blades pinned together.

Which might or might not occur too often in your life. Probably not too often.

a rock in a field

Damn should have benched more...

However lifting stuff overhead in everyday life as well as sports is not uncommon. The press is also more applicable to other areas of life as the scapula is not pinned together against a bench but moving freely.  

Getting stronger on the press will aid performance in a wide variety of sports and activities. Baseball, american football, martial arts, the list goes on.

Another perk of the overhead press is that it promotes nice and healthy, robust shoulders. Bench pressing on the other hand has fucked up many shoulders over the years. 

#6 Strength carryover to other exercises

As stated the press promotes strength development in the entire body, from the quads to the traps.

The strength gained from progressively overloading the OHP has a good carryover to many other movements. Especially other pressing movements such as the bench press as the press heavily involves the shoulders, triceps and upper body musculature.

During some periods I've done no other pressing compound than the press- When I afterwards tried the bench press I found that my numbers had increased as well - despite not having done any sort of chest pressing for a long time.

Even if your only interest is in getting your bench numbers up, there is still a very good case for including the OHP in your routine.

#7 It makes you more athletic

athlete pushing weight sled

Deadlifting 200 kg, or 440 pounds, is a decent strength feat.

This might very well be personal bias on my part but I'd say that pressing 100 kg, or 220 lbs, is more impressive.

If you witness anyone in the gym putting up these sort of numbers on the OHP you immediately know that this person possesses an overall 'able' and athletic body. Probably bench pressing, squatting and deadlifting hell of a lot as well.

Not discrediting anyone that has built up impressive numbers on other big lifts.

The OHP progresses at a very slow rate and getting your press to the 2 plate mark is very challenging - requiring several years of dedication and smart planning in order to blast through plateus.

#8 Behind-the-neck-presses are awesome

klokov performing behind the neck press

Klokov doing klokov stuff

If you're feeling adventurous you can go ahead and widen the grip and do presses behind the neck.

For the purpose of promoting shoulder hypertrophy this might be the best exercise available. It puts the shoulders in a position similiar to that of side laterals with the additional benefit that you can add quite a bit of weight.

No, it is not dangerous.

Most of the fear surrounding behind the neck movements is unfounded. Without any preexisting shoulder health problems and if you start of lightly, which you should do with any new exercise, these will not cause any shoulder injury.

Start of with the bar or even less.

Go through the entire range of motion slowly, get a feel for the movement, gain some flexibility and don't push it too hard. Stopping way before failure.

After a couple of sessions you can start adding small increments of weight and see how that feels.

When you reach respectable numbers on this exercise you will notice a definite increase in shoulder development.

Start pressing heavy barbells over your head - today

old school overhead press

All of the old school bodybuilders, weightlifters and strength athletes didn't revere the overhead press without good reason. Picking something up and pressing it overhead is one of the most instinctive and natural movements.

Why not progressively overload this movement and get as strong as possible?

If you've yet to include this one awesome lift in your programming, now is the time to do so and reap all of the benefits.

And dont worry, you can keep your side laterals. Nothing dictates you from doing both (except for stronglifts fanatics)

Heavy presses followed up with ligther shoulder isolation work is an extremely effect one-two punch for huge shoulders.

'Hey bro, how much can you OHP?'

Is really the question that one should be asking his fellow gym brother. If you want to get competitive about a particular lift, make it about a lift that is worthwhile doing.

  • Alex
  • November 5, 2017

Hey there! I’m Alex and I’m obsessed with a vegan diet, strength training and bodybuilding, as well as health and nutrition. When I’m not writing articles on here I am either in the gym, playing electric guitar or cooking vegan food!

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