Overhead Press Stall On Starting Strength? Not Anymore...

June 28th 2019

You have been running Starting Strength for a while and your overhead press has stalled out. Starting Strength is a great strength training program but it does have its limits despite its awesomeness. You took several deloads and you have confirmed that you are official “stuck” on an overhead press weight. What should you do?

My overhead press is stalled on Starting Strength, what should I do?

There are many ways to break through your overhead press plateau while running Starting Strength:


  • Switch to a 3x3 scheme
  • Use microplates
  • Fix your form
  • Gain more bodyweight
  • Add more accessories (volume)


Do a 3x3 scheme

We are not beginners forever. For some lifters, this time may come sooner than others. So, instead of constantly hounding yourself to do 3 sets of 5 reps, you can adapt. You can slowly transition your programming to prepare you for an intermediate program and a 1 rep max attempt.

Or you can do 3x3 until that stops working. This new set and rep scheme will allow you to push yourself for a few more weeks until you need to reset again. Then, you can reset 10% or your previously stalled weight (whichever is lower) and watch your previous plateau disappear.


Fractional plates, incrementing by 1.25lbs each side (2.5lbs in total) is one of the best ways of breaking a stall. How do I know? I broke through four of my overhead press plateaus and one bench press plateau in one year. 

Other Starting Strength coaches and participants have also agreed that microloading your overhead press will prolong your progress and slow down how often you will be stuck at a certain weight. When lifters have a choice of either increasing weight more quickly or to maintain progress slowly over the long term, you must 100% choose the latter option. Slow increments will generate better long term progress while keeping you mentally sane and injury-free.

Use accessory movements (more volume)

Based on this Starting Strength article, one of the best accessory movements to increase your overhead press strength is weighted dips. 

For me, I just added more overhead press volume and did more overhead presses after my main accessory lifts. So, I would do at least 20 more reps of overhead presses after my main working sets are finished. 

There is more than one way to skin a cat and improving your pressing strength is no different. After you exhausted the first and second options, you may want to just keep on pressing more. You only overhead press three times in two weeks, adding more overhead press volume on your overhead press days will certainly spark new results.

Fix your form

Chances are you may not have the best form even if you think you do. If these are your first few months at the gym, you may have chances to optimize your form. Check out this video to have the perfect overhead press form. You can simply just Youtube and watch free videos on how to fix any bad habits you may have from overhead pressing. For instance, you should be pressing the barbell straight up, not in front or behind you. 

Gain bodyweight

Another strategy to blasting through your overhead press stall is to gain more weight. This means you are eating more calories. When you do this for an extended period of time, you can increase the overall size of your muscles. As you may know, a bigger muscle has more potential for more strength. So, this can be an option for you if you have not filled up your body frame and can gain a few more pounds in order to get stronger.

As you will read later on, one of the main goals of Starting Strength is to get a beginner lifter as big and as strong as possible. If you are looking to find a program that will get you 6-pack abs, this is not the program for you. With Starting Strength, your main mission will be to increase your Big Four lifts as much as possible. The most efficient way to do that is by increasing weight after each workout and to increase your bodyweight. Now, with that note, do not get obsessed and become obese. Stay in control of your diet but allow your strength to blow up.

A special note about Starting Strength program modifications

As per Mark Rippetoe, you cannot do Starting Strength for a few months and then complain that it has not been working when you get stuck on any lift. It has a strict set of guidelines (which are located in the book) that you must follow for an extended period of time. Yes, when you start to struggle with a majority or all of your lifts, modifications can be made so that you can continue your linear progression.

Still stalled for my overhead press?

Then, it may be time to move onto another program, which would be an intermediate level program. For me, 5/3/1 Forever will provide you enough depth and sample templates for you understand and use. You cannot go wrong with one of the most iconic intermediate programs in the fitness market.

My thoughts on push-presses 

From doing some research, many lifters advocated doing push presses in order to break their overhead press stall. For me, I do not see how helpful that would be. If you push press your current strict overhead press work sets successfully, you will not be able to do strict overhead presses for any heavier weights. You will still need to push press any heavy weights.

So, I would never recommend anyone to do push presses to break an overhead press plateau. Unless you are actually training for the clean and jerk or some push press event, then it may be an accessory lift that could be added. But for 99% of lifters, I would stay away from this movement, especially for beginner athletes.

Wrapping it up

Doing the Starting Strength program is not rocket science and neither is performing an overhead press. Though many people say you will stall out on your overhead press first, do not let other people’s negativity influence your thoughts. 

What if you got to hang out in a gym where everyone was overhead pressing 225lbs+ and they were all talking about how strong their overhead press was? Would you ever bring up that overhead presses “should” be the weakest lift? No, right?

Change your belief systems and your actions and thoughts will follow. Do not bring yourself down. Instead, realize that you have the potential to develop and challenge your current limitations. There are no limits in this world… 

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