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How-To: Proper Overhead Press Technique

Simulating the overhead press using just one’s bodyweight is the trickiest essential Primal movement yet. The standard bodyweight replacement for the standing overhead press is the handstand pushup. I’m a huge fan, but the reality is that it’s not a realistic prescription for most people right off the bat. Can you imagine Grandpa busting out a set of ten handstand pushups? Not very likely (yet). It’s a tough, tough movement (which is why it works so well and why it’s level 8 in the PBF progression), but luckily you can target the same muscles with a much more elementary movement: the shoulder press pushup.

It is simple fact that pressing heavy things overhead is a fundamental movement that builds strength and improves our ability to function in the real world. Variations of the shoulder press pushup gives everyone, of all strength and fitness levels, the ability to train that plane of movement without the need for equipment. It sounds easy, and the first couple reps might be, but you’d be surprised at how complete a workout the shoulder press pushup can put your upper body through. Here’s how to do it:

How to Do the Basic Shoulder Press Pushup

  1. Squat down and place your hands on the floor, shoulder width (or slightly wider) apart.
  2. Place your feet on a chair or bench behind you then straighten your legs and stick your butt in the air.
  3. Walk your hands back until your torso is perpendicular to the ground.
  4. Keeping your head aligned with your torso, lower yourself until the top of your head touches the ground.
  5. Press up, using your shoulders for the bulk of the movement.
  6. Lock your elbows and repeat the movement.

Things to Remember

  1. Try to make your torso as perpendicular to the ground as possible. You’re trying to approximate the overhead press, and forming a 90 degree angle (or close to it) with the ground will help prepare you for the full handstand pushup. It may help to periodically draw your chest closer to your feet during your set.
  2. Tight hamstrings can make forming an L-shape with your torso and legs difficult. Place your feet on a higher platform if this is the case for you. I suggest around 2 feet on the low end and around 3 feet on the high end for bench height.
  3. Press through the palm, rather than your fingertips, to really target the shoulders.
  4. Protect your rotator cuff: don’t force your elbows out to the side. They’ll naturally want to angle forward, toward your feet. Let them.
  5. Like the Pullup, this Essential Movement is more difficult to master than the Pushup, Squat or Plank. As such, I recommend most people beginning on Levels 1-3 for the Overhead Press.

Grandpa may not be pressing his own bodyweight upside down against the wall just yet, but if he can nail the shoulder press pushup, he may get there after all.

Watch this video on proper form and technique for the first 4 of 9 total overhead press movements in the PBF Lift Heavy Things bodyweight progression.

Find out where you should begin in the overhead press progression by taking the self-assessment test found in Primal Blueprint Fitness [8] and then get started today!