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Metabolic Stability Series: The Overhead Press

The Overhead Press is one of the biggest battles in functional fitness isn't it? Should you, or should you NOT press overhead?! Before we give you our viewpoint, I think it is worth discussing how when someone's knee or low back is "bad" we don't avoid these areas and we do everything in our power to restore proper movement and strength. Yet, when it comes to the issues of the shoulder, we bail out on it very quickly.


As you can tell, we are pretty big on people pressing overhead. Of course that comes with the stipulation that you haven't had some surgical reason that prevents it from being performed in a healthy way. Let's face it, though – rarely are we running into such severe cases with clients.


More times than not we are working with people that have some "achy", chronically tight or "unstable" issues, and even those that have suffered some type of trauma. No way do we want to discount the potential pain and apprehension clients have with going overhead and nor do we think it needs to be pushed at an unreasonable rate.


However, if you watch people move in life there is a high chance that they will go overhead. Whether it is putting up or taking down something from a high shelf, lifting their luggage to the overhead bin, or even playing with the kids and tossing them up. These are just a few of many ways that people will do things overhead and doesn't even count the weekend warrior events that people will also participate in.


The reason that I put terms like "unstable" in quotation marks is due to the fact we often use a lot of these terms to describe how we are feeling rather than what is really going on in the joint. One thing we have found, time and time again, is that when you teach people how to use their body correctly, their ability to move with so much more freedom and strength improves almost instantly.


The start of helping a lot of the shoulder issues is to realize that the issues start if we look at the shoulder in isolation. If you noticed, I said going overhead, not shoulder pressing. A proper press overhead takes into account that the whole body is required to perform the movement well, not the shoulder. It would be crazy to rely on the shoulder itself due to its size and the fact it doesn't have the same level of stability, by nature, that many other joints possess.


We can always tell if someone is going to press well if, when we ask, "where does the press start?" they tell us – "the feet"! It sounds counterintuitive, but good pressing up requires us to learn how to press our body down! That is because by pushing down you create a chain reaction up the body that activates the hamstrings, glutes, pelvis, and core. In other words, you create a stable foundation for the shoulders to perform from in these exercises.


When you get people to begin to understand this simple concept, it begins to transform how their shoulders feel and perform. Go to a half kneeling position and press into both feet and try to have someone resist your hand as you press up. Feels strong, right? Now do so with the feet relaxed – feels unstable and weak, huh? This is a profound concept and why we begin people learning the overhead press in tall and half kneeling positions.


Ultimate Sandbag Arc Press Progressions


The progressions we show this month with the Ultimate Sandbag take advantage of what the half and tall kneeling positions provide us and amplify it! While most pressing exercises have our center of mass only going vertical, the Arc Press is kind of a side plank overhead press. Meaning we get frontal plane and anti-extension training if we do it right. Learning to make an even more stable pelvis and core means improved range of motion and strength in the shoulders.


The Arc Press is also advantageous for two other reasons. It is actually a one arm press and pull that is more forgiving for temperamental shoulders. Learning to pull also helps us learn another important aspect of pressing which is how to use the lat, not the shoulder to press.


Lastly, we want to be deliberate with the grip. Purposefully trying to "RIP" the Ultimate Sandbag apart immediately engages the lat and core while placing the elbow in the proper positions. We don't want "chicken wings" during our presses! Adding the band into the equation allows us to amplify these principles without actually having to change the load to increase strength and learning proper pressing techniques.


Carries and Walk Outs


The reality of working with clients with any form of injury is that they can be apprehensive in using that area of the body. In learning how the body functions, we can actually use other exercises to build the qualities without the client becoming fearful.


A great example that Troy Anderson breaks down is using carries. However, not just doing carries, but holding the weight with a very specific purpose and position. Creating tension into a weight develops a chain reaction down the upper body like using the feet did for the lower part of the body.


Many people focus on just getting through the time carrying a weight instead of focusing on HOW carrying a weight will impact the shoulder. This is especially true when we realize that grip strength is correlated to rotator cuff. Grip strength is more than just "squeezing" your hands though and Coach Anderson breaks down how different tools and positions develop various attributes to grip.


Walk outs also provide an opportunity to bridge what people are able to do in a horizontal pushing position and begin to blend to a more overhead position. Learning how to create tension at both the hands and feet helps give us stability and control in the motion. These are principles we will build upon to more freedom and strength in pressing.


These are only a few of many ways to teach proper overhead pressing techniques. They are highly effective and can create success quite quickly. We hope in having success with such movements that you won't be so quick to say that your clients can't benefit from overhead pressing. Such training is an important functional quality in developing proper mobility, strength, and stability!



Josh Henkin, CSCS is an international presenter on the topics of functional fitness, performance, and post-rehabilitation. Don't miss his and physical therapist Jessica Bento's brand new DVRT Shoulder Restoration Course HERE.