Safe and effective barbell training is designed to distribute the load being lifted above our centre of gravity in order to use our bodies in the most mechanically advantageous way possible. A movement such as the overhead press, although appearing to be dangerous, can actually be a very safe and effective way of lifting, targeting the shoulders, triceps, upper chest as primary movers as well as your legs, back, abdominals, and traps to help stabilize.
Keep in mind, however, that as with any form of exercise, there are inherent dangers associated with lifting weights, and if you have a history of injury or are unsure about a specific movement, it would be best to speak to a qualified medical professional such as your doctor to seek their opinion on whether or not you should partake in a particular exercise or program.
The most ideal starting position for the overhead press is to have a rack to start the bar around the height of your shoulders. However, if you do not have a rack, you can "clean" the bar into position.
If you do not have a ceiling high enough to accommodate the bar (along with weight plates) being pressed overhead, I suggest finding a room that has a higher ceiling. If that is not an option, you can do a seated overhead barbell press, however, remember to keep a neutral spine. There are many other benefits to doing a standing overhead press versus a seated one, such as increasing the strength of your core, so try and find a high enough ceiling if you can!
- Approach the bar and grab it with a ever-so-slightly wider grip than shoulder width. Your hands should be as close to the width of your shoulders without actually touching your shoulders.
- Feet are hip-width apart.
- Bar is to sit in your palms with fingers and thumbs wrapped around the bar.
- Keep your chest up and squeeze your glutes to not only engage the muscles of your core and upper back but to put your spine in a neutral position as well.
- Look forward, at a fixed point on the wall throughout. Do not look up.
- When looking at your starting position from the side, the points of your elbows should be slightly forward of the bar. Your upper arms should not be parallel to the floor, but enough of an angle to get your elbows under and slightly past the bar.
- The trajectory of the bar should essentially travel straight up and down over the mid-point of your foot. The bar will track slightly up and back towards the end of the push, but should not go far beyond your ears.
- In order for the bar to move in this manner, you will have to tuck your chin and slightly move your head back in order for the bar to travel past your chin and nose.
- As the bar reaches the level of your forehead and clears your head, you should be bringing your head and face forward between your upper arms.
- Press the bar overhead until your elbows lock out. Squeeze your traps to support and maintain posture at the top of the press.
- Exhale at the top of the press and then inhale to activate the Valsalva maneuver. Your breath should be held during the movement to tighten the core and protect the spine.