For the gent in search of bigger shoulders, the push press is one of the finest moves in existence because you use a bit of full-body momentum it allows you to handle more weight than the strict shoulder press, but it isn’t quite as technical or tricky to master as the full-fledged push-jerk.
It develops upper-body strength, conditions the rotator cuff and works your abs as you hold the weight in the overhead position. According to strength training expert Charles Poliquin, increased strength in the push press directly correlates to being able to lift more on the bench press, but it’s also the movement you’ll automatically adopt if you ever have to shove a really heavy bag into an overhead locker, and basically the same thing the Ultimate Warrior used to do to Macho Man Randy Savage. It is, in a word, awesome. And you should learn to do it properly. Here’s how to do it.
Push Press Instructions
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and grip the bar with your fingertips, elbows pointing forward.
- Rest the bar on the front of your shoulders.
- Drop down into a shallow squat, centring your weight under the barbell.
- Press up through your heels.
- Drive the bar directly above your head until your arms are straight.
- Lower the bar down to your chest.
Maintain a neutral arch in your spine throughout the move.
Push Press Form Tips
Get the grip right
Basics first: unlike the strict press (where you’ll want to use a thumbless grip to keep your wrists in a more favourable pressing position), you’ll want to wrap your thumbs around the bar. Keep your grip fairly narrow and your forearms vertical underneath the bar. And grip the bar hard – an effect called irradiation means you’ll activate the surrounding muscles more if you squeeze before you lift.
The biggest beginner mistake in the push press is to squat too low. You only need to descend as far as it takes to let you explode up and into the movement. Bend your knees just slightly and then drive up as powerfully as possible. With light weights, this should be enough to send the bar skyward without any conscious pressing from you. Once you’ve got the movements down, up the weights and press that weight up.
Push Press Variations
There are a multitude of tougher shoulder moves you can do to challenge the front of your shoulders – the anterior deltoids – even more.
Dumbbell push press
This is essentially the same move but it’s tougher because you have to stabilise the same weight in each hand. This makes it better at building muscle in a more balanced way because you can’t distribute one weight across one side more as you can with a barbell. Here’s how you do it:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell held over each shoulder with palms facing forwards.
- Lower into a shallow squat and then drive up through your shoulders pushing the weights overhead as you go.
- Finish with your arms fully extended then return under control to the start.
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This is tougher than any variation of a push press because it doesn’t allow you to use your legs to power the move – it’s all about shoulder strength. Here’s how you do it.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a barbell held against the upper part of your chest with you palms facing forward.
- Press up powerfully until your arms are fully extended.
- Return carefully to the start.
The final variation we’re going to look at is the military press. Here you have your feet together which means you have to use your core a lot more to stabilise the movement. For our money it’s the toughest of the bunch but doing it can have a big impact on your shoulder press – the standard by which lifters in the know judge front shoulder strength.