The Military or Overhead Press is one of those forgotten or underutilized exercises in our physical movement culture. I am not exactly sure why this is, maybe it’s because many of life’s general tasks are performed right in front of our eyes and do not require us to move weight over our head. Why should you train a movement if you are not going to need it?
Many problems arise while neglecting this movement. First, if you need to use the overhead movement and you can’t perform it properly you can get hurt. For example, say you are all set for that vacation from your stressful desk job; you have packed up, hit the road towards the airport and as you board and take your seat you start to put your carry-ons into the overhead bins. Yours goes up with a little struggle then your wife hands you her slightly overweight bag, and as you go to perform the task again you tweak your shoulder. Now your dream vacation is off to a bad start.
Second, by not performing overhead movements we begin to potentially limit our ability to flex our shoulders and get our arms directly overhead which can therefore dramatically change our posture giving us that rounded-back desk-jockey physique many Americans have, but do not desire.
It’s time to take a look and get familiar with overhead pressing again and make it part of your programming. I am not going to throw you off the deep end and have you grab a bar, load it up and go. In this article we are going through the progressions to get your range of motion (ROM) back where it needs to be, we will progress utilizing different strength exercises and finally we will be back to pressing overhead soon.
Roll the Lats
Many think of the overhead press as a shoulder movement. In fact, it is often called a Shoulder Press. The shoulders are heavily involved with the mobility and stability of the weight overhead, however the Lats often get overlooked as they play a vital roll in your overhead press success.
The Lats attach into the upper arm which allows them to assist and stabilize the arm and shoulder complex into virtually limitless ROMS. The Lats, can get very tight with our daily forward posture and can severely limit the movement of your arm overhead when doing so.
Rolling the Lats provides nearly an instantaneous release and increase in ROM for the arm and shoulder. If your Lats are tight get a foam roller place it between a hard surface and the muscles in the armpit area and roll it out.
I recommend the standing version if your Lats are very tight as opposed to the more aggressive floor version.
Mobilize the Shoulder Joint
Rolling out primes the muscles for movement and there are times you need a little assistance to mobilize a certain joint that has not been a specific position for a while.
Take a PVC pipe or a large wooden dowel and use it to gently coax your shoulder to move into different ROMs. The leverage generated along with the stability of the stick makes this type of mobility training very effective into gaining ROM within the shoulder.
I also like to implement the use of the bands to help stabilize and assist with new ROM. You can take your shoulder into tight directions and then pull the band apart to get a little more assisted movement through a tight range. The more you practice you will not need to pull the band apart as much due to your increased ROM.
Now that you have some new mobility and unlocked your forward posture a bit, it’s time to add some strength back into the programming. Chances are you will not be able to jump right back into a barbell Overhead Press, rather you need to start with some progressive strength training movement first.
The landmine single arm press is great for adding shoulder stability and strength because you can start at a comfortable angle (~45 degrees) and slowly increase the angle until you are close to overhead (90 degrees) while you incrementally add weight to the bar in the process.
Kettlebells are a great way to add strength training back into the overhead pressing movement. The weight sits directly in-line with your forearm which allows for greater stability and safety of the weight while pressing overhead by negating the need to excessively externally rotating the shoulder to press the weight overhead.
Whether you use one or two kettlebells, the independent weight allows for a little bit of wiggle room unlike overhead pressing with a fixed barbell weight. One arm might have to rotate a bit more to get the weight overhead versus the other. Overtime when your movement becomes more refined and you movement pattern becomes more linear you will be able to head back to the barbell and progress to your full barbell Military Press.
For further explanation of the progressions above check out the video below.
Do you only have a small amount of time to train? Put 40-60% of your deadlift 1RM on the bar and knock out as many repetitions as you can up to 50 reps. When you get as many as you can you then go to push ups and do as many repetition as up to 50 reps. Your goal is to compete 50 repetitions of each alternating between the two exercises in 5 minutes or less. Good Luck!
I created a few videos showing some of the mobility protocols that I use with my athletes. I like to first start them out with a General Mobility Series which acts as a warm-up to prime their bodies before their training session.
Ankle Testing and Mobility:
Shoulder Testing and Mobility:
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