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4 Barbell push press
The push press is an upper body power and strength movement used in most strength, power, and fitness sports. All athletes can benefit from including the push press into their strength and fitness programs due to the wide array of benefits this exercise can offer.
Benefits of the Push press
Below are five (5) benefits of the push press. Note, that nearly all the benefits below are not specific to any one push press variation (with the exception of the application of Olympic weightlifting).
1. Upper Body Strength Muscle Growth
The push press can increase upper body strength and size due to the large amounts of loads that can be lifted relative to total body strength. In addition, the push press can be done using a wide array of repetition schemes for muscle growth, power, strength, and endurance, making it an optimal exercise for inclusion in most programs focusing on strength and muscle hypertrophy.
2. Enhanced Athletic Power
The push press is a strength and power lift that integrates powerful hip extension. Leg and hip strength and explosiveness are key physiological attributes for most athletes, making the push press a good total body lift to improve these properties.
3. Application to Olympic Weightlifting Movements
Push presses are a great upper body accessory movement to increase shoulder strength and stability specific to the jerk and snatch. In addition, the hips, knees, and torso mechanics during the push press are identical to the jerk (up until the foot movement that occurred after full triple extension). It is for this reason that the push press is often used in most, if not all weightlifting programs.
4. Improved Overhead Stability and Strength
Overhead strength and stability are two outcomes of performing push presses (all variations), which are key for nearly all strength, power, and fitness athletes. In addition, improving shoulder strength and stability can have carry-over to overall pushing strength and injury resilience.
5. Segue into More Advanced Overhead Training
Movements like the jerk, for example, require strong overhead position and stability, proper load placement, and total body coordination and stability. The push press can be a good movement progression for beginner and intermediate lifters to transition from the strict press into more explosive based jerk exercises.
Push Press – Muscles Worked
The push press targets many of the upper body muscles of the shoulder, chest, and triceps, with additional support from the quadriceps and hips (in the dip and drive section). The below muscle groups are targeted primarily by push presses, regardless of modality (barbell, dumbbell, etc.)
The push press targets the shoulders (deltoids) and is a key movement to build overhead strength and stability for Olympic weightlifters and strongman athletes. In addition, the push press (which is very similar to a military press or standing overhead press) can be used to increase training volume (more heavier lead or perform more reps) to develop muscle hypertrophy for bigger, stronger, shoulders.
The triceps work to assist the shoulders and legs at completing the push press movement by forcefully extending the elbows at the top of the lift. By integrating the push press within a strength program, athletes and lifers can add functional strength and performance to the triceps that apply to many overhead movement (jerks, presses, snatches, handstand push ups, and more).
Erector Spinae (Lower Back)
As with most loaded movements, the erectors (lower back muscles) must work isometrically to support proper posture and spinal stability throughout this front loaded strength and power movement.
Upper Traps and Scapular stabilizers
The push press is a loaded overhead movement (which can be done with high amounts of loading) and therefore can be used to increase overhead stability and control. While it is not necessarily a corrective or scapular specific movement, a potential training outcome of the push press is that a lifter will increase upper back, trapezius, and scapular strength (assuming they are placing the barbell in the correct overhead position).
Who Should Do Push Presses?
The below section breaks down the benefits of the push press based on an lifter’s/athlete’s sport goals and abilities.
Strength and Power Athletes
Strength and power athletes can benefit from push pressing and its applications to weightlifting and strongman overhead movements. Below is a deeper dive into how the push press can help to improve performance in the respective strength and power sports.
Powerlifters: The push press can be a great accessory exercise to develop general upper body strength and explosive strength for powerlifters. While the overhead movements are not a competitive lift of the upper body (only the bench press is), the push press targets many of the key muscle groups needed to be developed for stronger and more forceful muscle contractions (shoulders, triceps, and chest). Including this into a training program can maximize overall athletic potential and help to increase strength, power, and muscle mass.
Strongman Athletes: The push press is a key movement for strongman athletes as they must typically hoist heavy objects overhead repetitively. The push press is a movement that allows a lifter to place heavier loads overhead relative to their strict press potential, which means it can be helpful for overloading the shoulders and triceps in training and/or as an efficient movement to place heavier loads overhead during competition.
Olympic Weightlifters: The push press is a staple strength exercise for Olympic weightlifters due to the movement specificity and its relation to the jerk mechanics and overhead positioning. Athletes who lack upper body strength, leg and hip explosiveness, and/or have issues with proper jerk mechanics can use the push press as a regressed and/or assistance exercise to improve jerk performance. Additionally, coaches can use the push press on a regular basis due to the knee, hips, and overhead mechanics being nearly identical patterning to the competition lift (jerk).
CrossFit/Competitive Fitness Athletes
Competitive fitness and CrossFit athletes can benefit from including push presses within their training program for many of the same reasons seen above with powerlifters, strongman athletes, and olympic weightlifters (as the sport goals are fairly similar). In addition, the push press can often be used as a movement to get a load locked out more efficiently overhead during WODs, which can improve overall work output and performance. Lastly, the push press can be done to assist athletes who may lack fundamental triceps and shoulder strength to perform gymnastic movements like strict and kipping handstand push ups.
Formal Sports Athletes
The push press is often used with formal sport athletes like football, rugby, and other strength and power specific athletes due to its proven abilities to produce lower body power; which may increase vertical jump height (a key metric for athletic performance). In addition, it can improve total body pressing strength, power, and muscle hypertrophy..
Recreational lifters and the general population can benefit from push presses for many of the same reasons discussed in detail above. The ability to move dynamically under load can enhance functional strength, injury resilience, and help to enhance muscle development, decrease body composition, and even improve exercise output (do more work and challenge more muscles in less time).
Push Press Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations
Below are four main sets, reps, and weight (intensity) recommendations for coaches and athletes to properly program the push press specific to the training goal. Note, that the below guidelines are simply here to offer coaches and athletes loose recommendations for programming.
Explosive Power – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
Push presses can be used as the main explosive/power movement of a day, and has been shown to produce similar power outputs as squat jumps (making it a good alternative at times). That said, the movement should be done with moderate to heavier loads, yet not heavy enough that vertical velocity stalls in the movement.
3-4 sets of 3-5 repetitions with moderate to heavy loads
Start by using 60-75% of your one-rep maximum to keep the loads relatively heavy yet not negatively impacting power outputs.
Strength – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
Increasing push press strength is important for nearly all strength and power athletes (powerlifting, strongman, and Olympic weightlifting). The below sets and rep ranges are general guidelines that can be used to allow lifters to attack overhead strength and sport performance.
3-5 sets of 1-5 repetitions with heavy loading, resting as needed
If done for strength, the push press should be completed towards teh beginning of most sessions, or immateriality after power lifts and the main strength movement (squats or deadlifs) of the day.
Muscle Hypertrophy – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
Increasing muscle mass (hypertrophy) is often influenced by training volume. Performing moderate to high volumes with moderate to heavy loads may be an athletes best choice for increasing shoulder and triceps strength and size. The below ranges are recommendations and can be modified based on the coach’s and/or athletes specific type of muscle hypertrophy (sarcoplasmic or myofibril) goal.
3-5 sets of 6-10 repetitions with moderate to heavy loads OR 2-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions with moderate loads to near failure, keeping rest periods 45-90 seconds
Heavy and lighter loads can both be used to stimulate well rounded muscle growth.
Muscle Endurance – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
Increasing push press endurance can increase overall shoulder stamina, upper body pressing performance, and muscle endurance for athletes who may rely heavily on the upper body during sports like boxing, fighting, and other endurance-based sports. Additionally, increasing fatigue resistance of the upper body (shoulders and arms) can help fitness enthusiasts build leaner physique and perform at higher intensities during some workouts.
2-3 sets of 10+ repetitions with heavy loading, resting as needed
Higher volume push press training can also enhance muscle hypertrophy of the shoulders as well.
4 Push Press Variations
Below are four (4) push press variations that coaches and athletes can use to increase overhead strength, stability, and athletic performance.
1. Kettlebell Push Press
The kettlebell push press is a unilateral variation of the push press involving the kettlebells; a specific modality that has uneven weight distribution (when compared to the dumbbells). The benefits of the kettlebell push press are similar to the standard push press motion, however can further increase unilateral shoulder strength and scapular stabilization.
2. Dumbbell Push Press
The dumbbell push press is another unilateral push press variation that can be used to address muscluar developement assysmteties and movement impabalaces, as well as increase unilateral coordination during the push press.
3. Single Arm Push Press
The single arm push press, which can be done with a dumbbell, kettlebell, or other forms of weight is a unilateral variation that can increase strength and stability.
4. Behind the Neck Push Press
The behind the neck push press (done with either snatch or jerk grip) is often seen in Olympic weightlifting programming and used to develop stronger overhead positioning and stability necessary for the jerk and/or snatch.
3 Push Press Alternatives
Below are three (3) push press alternatives coaches and athletes can program within training plans to bring about similar benefits for athletes as the push press.
1. Thruster / Squat Press
The thruster (also called the squat press) is a total body movement that is very similar to the push press, with the main exception that the lifter descends into a full front squat and transitions into an overhead press. This differs from the push press in that the lifter can use more leg strength and build greater momentum upwards, often resulting in being able to perform heavier lifts than a standard push press.
2. Strict Overhead Press / Military Press
The strict press is an alternative that can be used for lifters who want to isolate the shoulders and triceps strength and/or have lower body (knee, hip, and ankle) injuries.
3. Power Jerk / Push Jerk
The power jerk / push jerk (power jerk entails a lifter to jump their feet out to catch the load overhead, where as the push jerk has the lifter rend and squat under the load). Both of these movements are nearly identical to the push press, however a lifter is able to rebend the knees and hips to receive the load at a lower height. In doing so, you minimize the amount of upper body pressing strength you need (since the load is not pressed out but rather caught overhead). This can still be beneficial for increasing overhead strength and stability.
3 Lying Down Dumbbell Reverse Flye
Lying Dumbbell Reverse Fly Instructions
Set up for the exercise by setting a pair of dumbbells near a flat bench. Depending on the length of your arms, you may need to elevate the bench using blocks or steps.
Grab the dumbbells and position yourself with your chest flat on the bench. Your feet can be straight out behind you or used for stability on the floor.
Your arms should be hanging below the bench – holding the dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing one another).
Keep your head up and your eyes facing forward. This is the starting position.
Moving only at the shoulders, raise your arms in a semi-circular motion out to your sides until your arms are parallel to the floor. Keep a slight bend in your elbows throughout the movement.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the height of the movement and then begin slowly lowering the dumbbells back to the starting position.
Repeat for desired reps.
Practice good form with a light weight.
Squeeze your shoulder blades and pause for a moment at the top of the movement.
Do not let the dumbbells “hang” at the bottom of the movement, but keep the tension in your arms.
Focus on moving only at the shoulders. The rest of your body should be kept as still as possible and your arms should hold the same form throughout the movement.
2 Dumbbell Front Raise
Standing dumbbell front raises work your deltoid, or shoulder, muscles. If you do this basic, single-joint exercise with improper form, you increase your risk of shoulder impingement, which is a painful condition of the shoulder joint. Follow the dos and don’ts of the standing dumbbell front raise to increase the effectiveness of the exercise and reduce your risk of injury.
The front raise exercise involves lifting weight to the front of your body with your elbows straight or slightly bent. This exercise targets your anterior deltoid, or front shoulder muscle and your medial deltoid, or side shoulder muscle. Other muscles, including your rotator cuff muscles, rear deltoid muscle and trapezius muscle, assist in the movement.
Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing you. Stand upright with your back straight and your feet about hip-width apart. Look straight ahead. Stabilize your torso by tightening your stomach muscles and pulling your shoulder blades down and together. Maintain this posture throughout the movement. Raise your elbows and shoulders at the same rate. Lead with your elbows. When your arms approach shoulder-level, turn your thumbs slightly upward. Stop when your arms are about parallel to the floor. Slowly lower the dumbbells, rotating your thumbs back to the start position.
Do not rock your torso to lift the weights. Keep your back straight; do not allow it to arch. As you lift the dumbbells, do not allow your wrists to bend. Maintain a neutral wrist position. Do not hold your breath; inhale as you lower the dumbbells and exhale as you lift the dumbbells. Do not use heavy weights. The front raise targets small muscles in your shoulder. Select a weight that allows you to complete eight to 12 repetitions with good form. Do not sacrifice form for more repetitions.
During the dumbbell front raise, your shoulder internally rotates. This rotation can cause shoulder impingement. As you lift the dumbbell, the space between the acromion, which is a protrusion on the end of your clavicle bone, and the humerus, or upper arm bone, narrows. The acromion can rub against, or impinge, the tendons or bursa within this space. This impingement can result in shoulder weakness, numbness and pain. The American Council on Exercise recommends turning your thumbs upward at the top of the front raise movement to reduce the risk of impingement.
1 Standing Dumbbell Fly
Dumbbell flys, also popular as dumbbell flyes are weight-training exercises performed for increasing upper body strength. While a dumbbell fly primarily engages your chest and shoulder muscles, it works the muscles in your arms and back as well. Flys can be done using a cable machine, but the simplest equipment used is the dumbbell.
The different variations of dumbbell flys target the front, middle, and posterior regions of your deltoids. Therefore, these exercises strengthen your shoulders and help improve your ability to lift heavy objects in everyday life.
Performing the dumbbell flys is beneficial to not just the bodybuilders but also for those associated with sports that involve shoulder movements, swinging, and throwing, such as tennis players, swimmers, and footballers.
Since your arms act as levers when performing these exercises, you need to move significantly lesser amount of weight than some of the chest and shoulder presses like the bench press and military press.
How to do Standing Dumbbell Flys (Side Lateral Raises)
Holding a pair of dumbbells stand upright with the dumbbells kept at arm’s length by your side. Make sure the palms of your hands are facing you. It is your initial position.
Keep your torso still so that there is no swinging movement. Lift the weights to your side and maintain a moderate bend on your elbows and a little forward tilt in your hands.
As you breathe out, continue lifting the dumbbells up until your limbs are parallel to the ground.
Pausing a second at the top of the movement, bring the weights back to your initial position as you breathe in.
Repeat the above steps for the required amount of reps.
How to do Incline Dumbbell Flys
Grabbing a pair of dumbbells in each hand, lie on a bench set to an inclination of 30 degrees.
Press the dumbbells above you, keeping a slight bend at your elbows with the palms of your hands turned towards you. It is your starting position.
As you inhale, continue lowering the arms slowly to your sides until the weights reach your chest level, keeping your arms extended and maintaining the bend at your elbows.
As you exhale, reverse the movement and press the dumbbells up to your initial position.
Perform the required amount of reps until you complete the set.
How to do Bent Over Reverse Dumbbell Flys
Pick a pair of dumbbells and move to an open area.
Bend at your hips until the body is parallel to the ground. Allow your arms to hang down freely from your shoulders, holding the dumbbells using as neutral grip. It is your initial position.
Pull the weights towards the ceiling with the help of your rear deltoid muscles.
Lower the dumbbells under control to return to your original position.
Do the recommended number of repetitions.
Dumbbell Flys Tips
The movement should happen at your shoulder joint and the wrist while keeping the elbows stationary.
Avoid touching the dumbbells at the top to keep tension on the targeted muscle groups.
Maintain tension in the abs but do not let your back to arch excessively.