Overhead Pressing – Why is it so HARD???

Note: Originally published 10/2/2017 on my old website.

My nephew is a master of the overhead press – here’s how you can do it, too!

Overhead pressing is a challenge for a lot of people because:

  • It requires good shoulder mobility: Our typical modern lives tend to create a stiff shoulder joint because we don’t require a lot of range of motion there.
  • It works somewhat smaller (and therefore, weaker) muscle groups in the upper body, so it just doesn’t feel as good as some lower body movements (like squats).
  • It’s scary! – You can’t see where the weight is going! And I commonly hear from clients about the fear of dropping the weight on their heads.

And all these reasons are exactly why I LOVE coaching this movement – Overhead pressing empowers people to feel flexible and strong!

It’s important to build mobility in your shoulders first, before attempting to press heavy weights overhead. This ensures you’re using your larger, stronger primary muscles, rather than overworking smaller, stabilizer muscles (like your rotator cuff).


Wall Angels

  • Do a mini squat against a wall and engage your core muscles so that your lower back isn’t pulling too far away from the wall.
  • Raise straight arms up overhead, palms face out
  • As arms slide down, bent your elbows slightly and attempt to keep the back of your arms against the wall the whole way
  • For a more intense version, try this on the floor while lying lengthwise on a foam roller

Doorframe Chest Stretch

  • Use a narrow doorframe to stretch both shoulders and step through, or use a pole or corner of a wall to stretch one side at time.

Child’s Pose – Hands on Bench or Chair

  • Kneel a little more than arm’s length away from a bench or chair, knees slightly apart
  • Let hands rest on bench just wider than shoulder width and sit butt down and back into heels, letting chest and head hang through arms
  • Hold and try again with different hand position (wider, narrower, etc)

Shoulder Circles (use broom/mop/rake handle, long towel, or resistance band)

  • Start with hands extra wide – just narrow enough to let bar pass overhead
  • Keep elbows straight so the stretch happens through the shoulder joint
  • If this was easy, bring hands narrower a few inches a try again
  • If you are extra tight, use a stretchy resistance band and work your way up to using a bar or non-stretchy towel

Bent Elbow Lat and Tricep stretch

  • Stand tall grabbing elbow behind head
  • Lean away from stretching arm continuing to hold elbow
  • You should feel this in the back of your upper arm (triceps) and under your armpit down your torso (lats)
  • Repeat on the other side


Before picking up weight, master these bodyweight movements. Once they feel easy, use them as a warm up before overhead pressing.

Reach, Roll, and Lift

  • Forward fold and rest elbows at knees (if your knees hurt in this position, perform this sitting in a chair, leaning forward onto a table)
  • Reach right arm forward, straightening elbow all the way
  • Roll palm up
  • Lift ENTIRE arm up (not just the forearm) using the upper back/shoulder
  • Slide elbow back to knee and repeat on the left

Superman Overhead Press

  • Keep legs straight and lift off ground using glutes
  • Lift chest off ground using low back
  • Touch thumbs to shoulders then press overhead
  • Keep neck/chin neutral

Superman Overhead Press with PVC Pipe

  • Use a broom, wooden dowel, or PVC pipe
  • Same set up as the superman press, keep bar behind head

Dumbbell Overhead Press

  • Create a solid foundation by standing tall, engaging your core, quads (thighs) and glutes (butt)
  • Start dumbbells in neutral position (palms facing each other) at shoulders
  • Press in a straight line overhead, so that at the top position, elbows are straight (but NOT hyperextended) and biceps are in line with your ears
  • Keep pulling your rib cage down towards your hips to engage your core and protect your low back

Barbell Overhead Press

  • Once you feel confident with dumbbells of equivalent weight to a barbell (check barbell weight, as they can vary) try the barbell
  • At the bottom position, keep elbows slightly out in front of the bar to create leverage for pressing
  • Pull your head out of the way by creating a double chin as bar is passing in front of face, then go back to regular position after.