January 07, 2022
If you want to be able to press more weight over your head and take your vertical pressing strength to a more powerful level, look no further than the PUSH PRESS.
While the push press, which can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells (among other more obscure equipment), is considered an advanced movement due to multiple areas of the body working at once, it is an exercise that even beginners can learn and incorporate into their training routine.
Below, we’ll discuss the following:
A push press is an overhead press that allows you to use your lower body to generate power.
While this movement can be performed with other fitness implements like dumbbells, kettlebells, or even sandbags, for now we’ll discuss how to execute a push press properly with a barbell.
With a barbell racked along your upper chest and hands outside shoulder width, the body is lowered into the power position; from here, the hips extend and the arms simultaneously press the barbell overhead, with complete extension through the arms and legs at the finish.
The main difference between a push press and a standard overhead press (aka military press or strict press) is that you will be using your lower body to generate force as you press overhead.
The push press can highlight several factors involving indiscrepancies with pressing movements - one big one being your mobility. Since the lower body, core, and upper body all play major parts in completing a push press correctly, setting up for the movement and executing it with proper form is key.
If you are looking to increase your power, strength, core stability, and overhead pressing endurance, then the push press will be the perfect exercise to incorporate into your fitness routine.
Now, let’s dive in and see how to do a push press correctly!
We will first go over the barbell push press, then look at other equipment options and even alternatives to the push press.
Set Up: There are two different ways that you can begin to get in the proper setup position for a push press; one is removing the barbell from a squat rack at about shoulder height, or you can clean the barbell off of the floor.
Because a push press can be a tricky movement to get the hang of, there are some mistakes that can be made when learning how to do it! Let’s break down some of the most common areas where deficiencies can be seen within the movement.
Not moving your head out of the way: While this might almost be a given, moving your head out of the way of the barbell path can quickly go on the back burner as you are working through the process of all of the other parts of the push press. As you are lowering into your power position, bring your head back slightly so that you have room to press the barbell straight up into the air – but hopefully, avoiding your chin at the same time! Once the barbell is above your head, you can then press your head through your arms to complete the movement. The reverse would then happen as you bring the barbell back to your front rack, moving your head out of the way as the barbell returns to the starting position.
Pressing the bar forward instead of up: This is a very common mistake, especially with beginners – and especially those who have already possibly hit their chin with the barbell as it goes overhead! Although it can be a tendency (and possibly feel awkward at first) to move your head back as the bar passes overhead, it’s necessary in order to maintain a vertical bar path – especially as the weight increases. Think about it this way…if you are going up in weight but neglecting to pull your head back through the press, the weight on the barbell will go forward – therefore putting your shoulders at risk, and placing you into a scenario where the strength and power from your legs is no longer useful to the movement, since the weight is in front of you. Bring your head back ever so slightly, then let your head come through your arms as you go into extension overhead.
Turning the movement into a strict press: Again, a common mistake that is typical with novice push pressers. The dip-drive can take a bit of time to get used to, so oftentimes the push press can be turned into a strict press (therefore removing the dip-drive and corresponding leg strength and power for the movement). If you are wondering why the exercise is tough, make sure that you’re getting that quarter squat from the power position and then powerfully extending up through the hips to get that barbell overhead!
There are several benefits to incorporating the push press into your routine – let’s take a look at a few key paybacks for this movement!
Other benefits of the push press can include:
Overall, the push press can help you become a more powerful and explosive athlete/trainee.
As stated, the push press is a full body exercise, utilizing multiple joints and muscles. Let’s take a look at just a few of the prime movers!
Other accessory muscle groups utilized with the push press include the hamstrings, pectorals, and calves!
Although the barbell push press is the most common, there are a couple other fitness items that you can use to model the same movement if you don’t have access to a barbell.
Kettlebell: Push presses can be performed with either one arm or two if using kettlebells, so keep that in mind in regards to your training program. The biggest difference with this equipment variation is the position of the kettlebell (that is different from the barbell grip) – when you pick up your kettlebell, ensure that your palms are facing forward (away from your face) and that the kettlebell(s) are resting on the outside of your shoulder(s) before beginning the press.
Related: Best Kettlebell Shoulder Exercises
Dumbbell: Push presses can also be performed with dumbbells. You can do a one or two arm version to work on imbalances and core strength, just like with the kettlebell. When using dumbbells (whether one arm or two), you want to grab hold of the dumbbell and clean it up to your shoulder(s) so one head of the dumbbell is resting lightly on your delt. With palm(s) facing inward, you then perform the movement of the push press, explosively on the way up, yet in a controlled manner.
Both of these equipment variations allow you to perform a push press, but can be tweaked in order to work strength and stability unilaterally as well as adding some variability to your core and lower body work. Sandbags and resistance bands are also other viable alternatives to the barbell push press, if the equipment is available to you.
Since the push press is a compound movement, taking weight into consideration is key with your training, regardless if you are using a barbell or other types of fitness equipment. Starting with a low weight load and really focusing on proper form and technique is imperative before adding more resistance.
With that being said, if you’re wanting more of an endurance edge to your push press, then aiming for higher reps is where you want to be. This can look something along a scheme of 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps, while building mass and power can look more like 4-5 sets of 6-10 reps.
Also keep in mind if you are working push press into a routine that also includes strict press and/or push jerks, because that can change the dynamics of your programming as well.
Here are some great alternatives to the push press that will also improve your pressing strength and overall upper body strength.
A landmine push press keeps your wrists in a neutral position, which in and of itself could feel vastly better for some people. This exercise can also be done from a standing position or a kneeling position, giving a bit more variability with stance. Lastly, you are pressing at more of a diagonal than with a regular push press, which can ease up pressure on the shoulder if this is an area of concern for you.
Note: Use two hands to get into the starting position, and start light when first learning this movement.
Related: Best Landmine Exercises
A push jerk is yet another variation of the overhead press. A big difference with a push jerk is that the press begins from a racked grip position rather than a standard shoulder press grip, as it is typically done after a clean, such as with the Olympic exercise the clean and jerk,
Most athletes find that they can push jerk significantly more than they would if they were just doing a push press. This is due to the fact that while the push jerk has the initial dip-drive like the push press, there is another dip after the barbell is extended overhead in order to help receive the weight. Once the second dip is done, then the legs are fully extended, and that completes a rep. If given the choice between a strict press, push press, and push jerk (especially in a workout such as HIIT where you need to move weight quickly) then a push jerk is a wonderful alternative to the push press.
The z-press is another great option that you can incorporate into your workout routine as an alternative to the strict press. While this movement still focuses on stability overhead, it is essentially the strictest form of an overhead press. There will be no "cheating" with a Z-press, and that is because you’re seated on the floor! Thus, the major emphasis is on your shoulders, traps and serratus anterior. That said, there is also a lot of focus throughout the core.
A z-press will also have you pressing much less weight than you would for a push press, so don’t be disappointed if you get down on the floor and have to drop way down in weight. Nevertheless, your core and overhead strength and stability will be working overtime since the dip-drive is gone. Moreover, you can really work on bringing your head back and through your arms as you press overhead with this exercise.
Start light with this one, and increase as desired – just remember that it’s not the easiest movement, and will challenge your core strength and stability intensely!
Snatch Grip Push Press:
Lastly, a snatch grip push press gives a bit more variability to your workouts if desired; while the dip-drive motion stays exactly the same as it does during a regular push press, the grip is different! A snatch grip on the barbell will have hands much farther apart than with a traditional push press.
Since this can be a challenging position to get into – and to have a comfortable grip on the barbell - start with an unloaded barbell and get a feeling for getting into position and the pressing motion.
Overall, the snatch grip push press is a good variation to target the muscles differently, as well as build strength and upper body mobility & stability for overhead squats and for Olympic exercises like the Snatch.
If you are looking for a more diverse movement for upper body strength gains while simultaneously incorporating some core stability and lower body power, look no further than the push press. Whether with a barbell or other fitness accessory, you’re sure to notice better overhead stability, core strength, and overall power from the push press!
Related: Overhead Pressing Variations
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