Is The Overhead Press Unnecessary? | Find Out The Truth

September 30th 2020

The overhead press… is it unnecessary or mandatory?

When comparing strength programs and the programs followed by popular fitness influencers, quite often you will find a misalignment between the use of certain exercises.

One of the most common misalignments seen is the use of the overhead press.

Quite often, people will train the squat, bench, and deadlift but fail to even mention the overhead press.

So, what gives? Is the overhead press unnecessary? Or has it just fallen out of fashion?

After all, it’s a compound barbell movement. So, it should result in similar benefits as the other compound exercises, right?

In today’s article, we will be discussing why the overhead press is a necessary staple exercise in your workout program and disprove some of the common reasons why some people think it is unnecessary.

With that being said, let’s begin.

Overhead press unnecessary

Lifters may find the overhead press unnecessary due to one or all of the following reasons:


  • Difficult to find a program that includes overhead presses
  • Not specific to powerlifting
  • Many exercises that also work on shoulders
  • My doctor told me it’s bad to do overhead presses

Difficult to incorporate within a program

To put it simply, most programs do not incorporate the overhead press because they believe there is not enough time to fit it into the program.

Most strength athletes are focused on the main 3 barbell movements which are tested in powerlifting, the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

In addition to performing these lifts in your routine, you might also be incorporating variations of these lifts such as the pause squat, close-grip bench press, Romanian deadlift, etc. throughout the week so that you may speed up your progress.

Though adding a fourth compound barbell exercise will inevitably take up more time in your workout, you can also rest assured that performing the overhead press goes hand in hand with the bench press.

As stated before, the overhead press works primarily the anterior deltoid, which is an important muscle for the bench press but is not stressed enough during the bench.

As a result, by incorporating an exercise that specifically trains the anterior deltoid, it will improve your bench press performance.

In addition, there are not that many variations for the overhead press. As a result, incorporating the overhead press will not occupy as much time as you think it would.

Not specific enough to powerlifting

Another argument people make on why the overhead press is unnecessary because it is not sport-specific enough.

Powerlifting is one example.

Specificity for sports purposes is important if you are a competitor and aim to get to the highest level in your sport.

By following specificity, you should be doing exercises that are most similar to the movement you will be performing on competition day.

For powerlifters, this will be the lifts that are tested, the squat, bench, deadlift.

For bodybuilders, this will be any exercise that can increase muscular size.

For Olympic weightlifters, it will be the snatch and clean and jerk.

And for strongmen, it’s all the events that strongmen usually perform.

However, the counterpoint to this is that although none of these sports test overhead press strength directly, by improving your overhead press, you can improve on all realms of these sports exponentially.

How you may ask?

First off, the overhead press is one of the few exercises that sufficiently train the shoulder complex.

By developing stronger shoulders, you are reducing your chances of injury.

Second, those who make the argument that the overhead press is unnecessary are vastly underestimating the performance-benefit having strong shoulders does.

For powerlifters, a strong overhead press is usually correlated with a strong bench press.

For bodybuilders, a strong overhead press is correlated with a greater muscular cross-sectional area.

For Olympic weightlifters, the overhead press is a complementary exercise to the push press which is utilized all the time in the clean and jerk.

And as for strongmen, you have the log press which is essentially the overhead press but with a larger, abnormally shaped object.

As you can see, all of these sports benefit in some way through the overhead press, though it might not seem obvious at first.

There are many exercises that work on my shoulders

Another reason why people say the overhead press is unnecessary is that they packed their program with overhead press variations such as the dumbbell press and raises and think it is sufficient.

Though the dumbbell press has its place in some programs, for those who are more focused on strength, nothing can compete with a barbell.

The reason why strength programs incorporate barbell movements rather than dumbbells is because of the principle of progressive overload.

As you get stronger, you will need to add progressively more and more weight so that your body can adapt and become stronger as well.

Dumbbells can do this, to an extent, but you will get to the point where the usual 5 lb. incremental jumps in dumbbells will be too much.

You will quickly find yourself plateauing, deloading, and then stalling at the same weight.

Meanwhile, you have barbells which can jump by only 5 lbs. using 2.5 lb. plates, or even lower depending on your gym.

By utilizing barbells, you can make even smaller incremental jumps to ensure that you won’t be plateauing anytime soon and that you are lifting as much weight as you can at any given time.

My doctor told me it’s bad to do overhead presses

If your doctor does not work out, is he really qualified to give you lifting advice?

Another version of this story is would you take diet advice and recommendations from a fat guy?

Unless your healthcare professional is living a life similar to yours, I find it extremely hypocritical that they will suggest any advice on lifting.

Especially if they do not take care of their bodies.

They will always err on the side of caution.

What does this mean for you?

You need to be proactive and take care of yourself.

You should be researching make protecting your body, making sure it can recover and perform.

You want to prevent and stop injuries from occurring in the first place.

Once you develop psychologically and physically, you will understand how to autoregulate your training, how to recover efficiently, and most importantly, know how vital the overhead press is in any barbell program.

Of course, it is sport-specific but a strong overhead press has a ton of carry-over to any sport.

Defining the overhead press

In order to make sure that we are all on the same page when discussing the overhead press, I am talking about the barbell overhead press.

The lift starts from the front rack position, and one repetition consists of lifting the barbell overhead, and back down.

It consists of little to no movement from the legs, making it solely an upper body exercise with lower body stabilization.

It is also commonly known as the military press.

The overhead press is a great exercise that works the anterior deltoid and upper fibers of the pectoralis major.

What are the benefits of the overhead press?

The overhead press provides the same exercise stimulus as all the other compound barbell exercises.

It allows for easy progressive overload through the use of plates, it involves multiple muscle groups and body parts including major and minor muscles, and it stimulates growth hormones throughout the body.

The overhead press should be a staple alongside the squat, bench, and deadlift. 

After all, you have two exercises that stress the lower body, you should have two to stress the upper body as well to balance it out.

Having a strong overhead press will not only lead to a well-developed V-tapered physique since it targets primarily the deltoids, but it will also increase your strength and efforts in the bench press.

Overall, the overhead press is the one barbell exercise that is most often forgotten but is also the one that can bring your lifting to the next level.

In the following section, we will go over why some think the overhead press is unnecessary and why I think their reasoning is wrong.

Final word, is the overhead press unnecessary?

No, it is not unnecessary.

The overhead press is a staple exercise and is just as important as the squat, bench, and deadlift.

Now, some of you may be confused about how you can incorporate the overhead press into their routine, but I think you should be excited.

After all, the overhead press is a badass exercise that has you weighted barbell directly overhead.

If that isn’t a sick feat of strength, I don’t know what is.



Similar Articles