The overhead press is one of the best barbell exercises you can do in order to increase the size and strength of your chest and shoulders.
However, out of all the barbell exercises, it is most likely going to be the weakest lift due to the nature of the exercise.
Speaking from personal experience, I found that progressing in the overhead press is a lot slower than progressing in the squat, bench, and deadlift.
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be doing your best to figure out what you could be doing better if you are plateauing, just that it is natural if it feels like it’s very difficult to progress.
Despite being my weakest lift, the overhead press is perhaps one of my favorite lifts due to how awesome it feels lifting heavy weight directly over your head, and I’m sure it’s the same for others.
Similar to all the other barbell lifts there are certain positions during the overhead press that might be a sticking point.
In this article, we will discuss what it means if your overhead press is weak during the bottom position and what you can do in order to overcome this weakness.
Overhead press weak at bottom
These are a list of strategies to implement to train your overhead press:
- Have a program that includes more pressing
- Make sure you have optimal form, not just good
- Make sure you are training, not testing
- Train the major muscle groups involved in the overhead press
General programming is sub-par
From a programming standpoint, if you do not overhead press often, you will be bad at the movement.
Unless you are built for pressing or just a genetic powerhouse but if you have to think about putting yourself in that category, you are not.
To get better at the press, you need to press more.
What does this mean?
- More overhead press sets and reps (it does not matter. Get more volume in)
- Static holds are good
- Pin presses are good
If you want to get a better overhead press because you are weak at the bottom, you need to break down the overhead press movements and work on your weaknesses.
Turn them into strengths.
What is the bottom position of the overhead press?
Just because people may have different definitions on what is considered the “bottom” position of the overhead press, I just wanted to clearly define that the bottom position of the overhead press is when you just unracked the bar and you are just starting to initiate the lift.
This position should be relatively comfortable, and it should be your strongest position during the overhead press because it is in this position where the primary muscles can output the most force.
As a result, weakness in the bottom position of the overhead press may indicate more of a form/positional issue rather than a strength/weakness issue.
Poor form means that you might not be holding the bar correctly and are using other muscles in order to stabilize the bar before the lift even begins.
As a result, this might feel like you are too weak but in reality, you simply aren’t in the right position.
Proper bottom positioning of the overhead press
You should grip the bar so that it is just outside of shoulder-width and that your elbows are parallel when looking from the front.
Gripping too far outside of shoulder-width or too narrow will make it more difficult for you to perform the lift.
Here is a video that demonstrates just that:
When looking at your body from the side-view, your elbows should be slightly in front of the barbell but not excessively so.
Your wrists should also be positioned in a slight extension (meaning the back of your hands should be slightly pointed towards the floor).
Common mistakes in the starting position are that your grip is too wide/narrow, forearms/wrists are in an improper position, and forcing the bar to rest on your clavicles.
Having the proper starting position will make your overhead press stronger.
There shouldn’t be that much muscle activity to hold the bar in the starting position. The starting position of the overhead press should feel relatively comfortable.
Proper bar path of the overhead press
The second reason why the overhead press might seem difficult when you first start initiating the movement is that you are not lifting the bar in the proper path.
You should be pressing the bar straight up directly over your body.
But the problem is your head is in the way.
Rather than lifting the bar around your head, position your head and body around the bar.
This means while lifting the barbell, your head should be positioned slightly leaning back, giving a clear path for the barbell to travel, and after the barbell crosses your chin, you should bring your body underneath the bar.
You want as straight of a line as possible. Any deviations will leak energy making you weaker throughout the lift.
Using too much weight
Another possibility of why you are weak in the bottom position of the overhead press might be that you are simply using too much weight.
Stick with a weight that you are able to handle for the number of reps and sets your program entails.
If the weight is more than you can handle, there is simply not much you can do besides lowering the weight.
The overhead press is everyone’s weakest lift. There is no shame in having to lower the weight.
By doing so, you could actually get stronger as you are using a weight that is fit for you.
Forms changes will make your overhead press stronger
Knowing proper form and being able to apply it are two different things.
You will need to make room in your program and spend time on learning proper form.
This entails using very light or even no weight until you get the form down and progress from there.
This might not sound very appealing especially if you feel like you are losing all the progress you made in the past few months but in reality, taking one step back will help you take two steps forward.
Learning proper form will not only make you stronger and more efficient, but it will also decrease your risk of injuring yourself which can drastically impact your performance.
So, keep in mind that you will need to spend some time learning and practicing proper form.
I suggest you do so by reviewing this article before your next overhead press session, and practice using an empty barbell and light weights.
Doing so over time will reinforce this muscle memory in your body and you will eventually be able to perform the overhead press with proper form unconsciously.
Supplementary exercises to help a weak overhead press
The following sections are supplementary exercises that could help a weak overhead press regardless of where the issue resides.
The main muscles involved in the overhead press are the deltoids, pecs, and triceps which is what these exercises will primarily emphasize.
You should perform these exercises after you perform the overhead press, or on days that you aren’t overhead pressing.
You should perform these exercises in rep ranges of 8-12.
Any exercise that works the pecs will be great, but exercises that emphasize the upper pec fibers will be even better.
My favorite exercises to target the upper fibers of the pecs are the incline barbell bench press, or incline dumbbell bench.
Both work fine, it’s up to personal preference which one you choose over the other. I prefer the incline dumbbell bench because I feel I get more range of motion.
Though deltoids are the primary mover in the overhead press, that doesn’t mean you can’t overload them by implementing additional deltoid exercises such as the dumbbell press.
In addition, you can also work on your side delts and posterior delts in order to address muscular imbalances if your program involves a lot of pushing exercises.
Exercises you can do to target your side delts include lateral raises and exercises you can do to target your posterior delt include the reverse pec deck machine.
The triceps are another major muscle group involved in the overhead press, primarily in the middle when you are trying to lock it out.
Some of my favorite exercises for the triceps include the close-grip barbell bench press, overhead triceps extension, and the rope pushdown.
Because the triceps are so heavily used throughout all barbell lifts, you should really prioritize maintaining strong triceps.
Weakness in the bottom position of the overhead press is more related to a form issue rather than a strength issue.
You should work on being able to hold the barbell in the right starting position before the lift, and on lifting the bar in a straight path.
Here is a good video that summaries the big points of this article as well:
Look back in this article to figure out what issues you might be having with your overhead press form and for the next couple of weeks, work with little to no weight as you reinforce the proper form.
In addition, just getting stronger will help to increase your overhead press, and we gave you plenty of exercises you can do that will help make your overhead press stronger.