Pressing heavy weight overhead must be earned. Taking a heavy barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell over your noggin’ requires a delicate blend of stability, mobility, and coordination.

At Steelworks Strength Systems, we recommend developing maximal overhead pressing capacity in the following manner.

Build horizontal pressing first. Pushups, dips, and landmine pressing are great compound movements to master before you attempt to go heavy overhead. (The single arm landmine press is especially great!) Each of these movements builds awareness of how to generate core tension while pressing and teaches the scapula (your shoulder blade) how to rotate up and down along the rib cage which will help increase range of motion in your shoulders.

Improve range of motion. Releasing the pecs, upper traps, and lats via soft tissue mobilization is a great place to improve vertical pressing range of motion.

Learning how to properly breathe. Respiration is primarily driven by the diaphragm and intercostals. However prime shoulder movers like the pecs, upper traps, and lats are more used more than they should in dysfunctional breathing. If these muscles are being recruited for breathing they can’t focus on doing what they are primarily meant to do. “Belly breathing” or “diaphragmatic breathing” develops better respiration patterns and allows secondary muscles of respiration to focus more on pushing, pulling etc in a more efficient, safer manner.

Increase the amount of overhead holding or “isometric pressing”. Holding moderately heavy loads in static overhead positions is a safe way to introduce overhead work. Take a heavy plate, kettlebell, dumbbell and hold them overhead with locked arms and let the clock run. When you can’t hold them anymore, rest. Then repeat it for a couple of sets.

Isometric pressing is also a safer way of building maximal contractions in overhead movements. Two ways you can do this: if you have a power rack, set your pins about 2-3 inches above your head. Use an empty barbell. In a rack position or behind the head, press the bar up into the pins and press as hard as you can for 10 seconds. Rest a few minutes and repeat a few sets. If you don’t have a power rack, set a barbell in your squat rack at 2-3 inches above you head. Load it with an absurd amount of weight that you know you’ll never be able to press over your head. Repeat the same process as in the power racks. The beauty of isometric pressing is that you are never pressing through weak ranges of motion and therefore reduces the amount of mobility and stability required in your shoulders, yet produces maximal contractions in the necessary muscles.

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