Movement Basics: Vertical Press

May 4, 2018


We’ve all seen it. The person in the gym grunting their face off, arching their back and hanging on for dear life while trying to press an unreasonable amount of weight over their head. Who knows, maybe you’ve been that person.

Even if the grunting and unreasonable amount of weight aren’t a part of the equation, I have seen WAY TOO MANY TIMES TO COUNT people pressing weight overhead who aren’t ready. Keep reading to find out how to press, why to press and if you or your clients even should be pressing.

First, let’s talk about why vertical pressing is good for us. It strengthens our shoulders. The anterior and medial deltoids are the primary movers, but the posterior deltoid is incorporated as well. Depending on the type of pressing you’re doing it also can be a good tool for strengthening shoulder stability. With stronger more stable shoulders, it improves our power overhead for more advanced lifts (overhead holds, push press, jerks, etc). In addition to shoulder strength, overhead pressing also strengthens our core. Bracing and stabilizing your midline when your lever is extended overhead is critical for safety and success.

Next, let’s talk about who shouldn’t be pressing. The vertical press can be hard for beginners to grasp because it requires good shoulder mobility, body (and bar) awareness and strength. With a fully functional shoulder and stable midline, overhead pressing is a fantastic training tool. However, if someone is missing either of the previously mentioned, it could easily become a detriment to a training program and result in injury. If you are unable to bring your arm staright overhead (elbow by ear) with a braced and neutral spine, then you’re not ready to press. Plain and simple. I don’t care how much you grunt or what kind of competition you’re in. When we are missing shoulder flexion (overhead mobility) we compensate by arching our lumbar spine to get the weight overhead. This puts undue stress on our low back, tension in our shoulders and will eventually result in injury.

So, how do you fix those issue? Well, it’s a very individual thing, but most likely you need to work on your t-spine, lats, triceps, and pecs. Also, improve hip, midline and shoulder strength/stability.

And finally, here are a couple videos of vertical pressing.

First though, here are 3 common overhead pressing mistakes:

  1. Arching Low Back – keep ribcage down and glutes on. If unable to get arms overhead with these two things happening, you’re not ready for a vertical press (see landmine press).
  2. Pushing Head Forward – undue stress on neck and shoulders. keep neutral spine.
  3. Elbows Too Far in Front – forearms need to be vertical to get upward leverage

Single Arm Dumbbell Press: Be able to perform with symmetry and pain free before moving onto barbell press.

Dumbbell Press: Be able to perform with symmetry and pain free before moving onto barbell press. Dumbbell presses are my go-to when it comes to pressing.

Barbell Press: The benefit of the barbell press vs the dumbbell press in my opinion is the ability to put on more weight. But this can also be a detriment if form isn’t dialed in.

Bottoms Up Kettle Bell Press: A great tool for working on shoulder stability and getting people to activate their serratus anterior.

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