3 Overhead Press Variations You Aren't Doing

There's nothing more rewarding or manly than taking a heavy weight and shoving it overhead. It's actually a requirement for boys before they can start growing their beards. How the weight gets from point A to B can make a huuuuuge difference on the training effect and your orthopedic health. Many newbs will make the mistakes of hyperextending their back, getting some push from their legs and fidgeting the weight up, not respecting the technique and poise it requires to to execute a strict overhead press. **Just a note, if you're an overhead athlete or if you do not have proper mobility/scapular mechanics, you should not press overhead. It will most likely end up hurting you. If you're not sure if your shoulders are up for it, I recommend reading this article by Todd Bumgardner to find out.**

What's more is that many trainees will often times only stick with one overhead press variation, limiting their progress and shoulder function. Walk into any commercial gym and you'll mainly see peeps pressing dumbells overhead. If you're lucky, you might spy a barbell press. These are both fine variations, but if they're the only two overhead pressing exercises in your repertoire, you're really missing out on optimizing your shoulder mechanics and strength.

Do you like to push a kettlebell overhead every once in a while? That's great! The off-centered load and more centripetal movement of kettlebell pressing, in my mind, makes it more advantageous than it's dumbell counterpart. The traditional movement of the exercise covers more plains of motion and challenges more wrist and rotator cuff strength. Do you turn the bell upside down now and then for a bottoms up press? Awesome! You're training total-body tension, grip strength, and teaching yourself how to drive through the weight's center of gravity(which is a very useful skill for moving weight). These are also great variations that everyone should know about. For today though, we are going to cover 3 press variations that not everyone knows about.

The Z Press


Pressing strength, anterior core stability and hip mobility, oh my! This variation seems to challenge it all. It's become a favorite of mine for really reinforcing good torso mechanics during the press. It also will reveal your actual limitations by preventing any excessive extension of the back(which seems to be everyone's go-to cheat) and taking out the legs. This clearly shows any sticking points you may have during the movement so that you can program to break through them accordingly.

If your hip mobility is lagging, then you can try sitting on a 45 lb plate or two to decrease the amount of hip flexion required. If you find that you all of the sudden can't lock out your press when trying this variation, then it's a sign that you probably haven't earned the right to overhead press yet. Back to Todd's article you go!

The video above shows me using a barbell, but you can really lift whatever you want: swiss bar, dumbell(s), kettlebell(s), I've even heard of people getting crazy with some sandbags.

The Javelin Press


Remember how I was saying that it's very useful to learn how to lift through an object's center of gravity? Well here ya go! This variation will also help you with your wrist strength and challenge your shoulder stability in a very unique way. The long bar will be teetering at your wrist, this will cause you to have to shift weight and adduct/abduct your wrist to adjust very minutely. You can also press the bar similar to a kettlebell, going from a neutral to slightly externally rotated position. I find myself doing this during higher rep sets(old habits die hard). The momentum the bar gets from this slight rotation will need to be stabilized within the transverse plane, at the shoulder, wrist and elbow.

Whereas the Z press may help you overcome torso and leg cheats, this is going to help the overall efficiency and strength of the drive from your shoulders. One thing that I found to help get accustomed to this movement is to position the exact center of the bar closer to the ulnar side of my hand, it makes it waaaay easier to balance. You will also want to make sure that you do not lose good torso and hip positioning while pressing, especially if you maintain a neutral grip position such as shown. This is made harder by the bar's teetering. You may not be able to tell, but I am actually squeezing my butt and maintaining tension through my anterior core to maintain a neutral pelvis.

The Bent Press


For those that don't know, that's a 48 kilo kettlebell he's got. He's called, "The Iron Tamer," for a reason. This movement takes advantage of structure and position, making it by far one of the most technical overhead press variations. For that same reason, once you've mastered the technique, you can use some pretty ridiculous weight. It's actually an exercise that the old-school strong men used to use to showcase their manliness.

If you haven't yet noticed, a large part to the overhead press is keeping the weight in line with your center of gravity so you have a better line of push. The bent press capitalizes on this and teaches you to really get yourself under the weight, keep tension and use your whole body as a driver. Think of it as a turkish get up mixed with a press in terms of actual goal of the movement. You will need very good hip mobility, thoracic rotation and healthy shoulders to accomplish this exercise. It puts your body in a very unique position to challenge loading of the hips, core tension and shoulder stability/strength; Because of this, it will carryover to more than just your press.

This is definitely not an exercise I would just try to go out and muscle it up. Most people will require some coaching to get it right. I personally am still in the infancy of training this movement and stay relatively light. It serves as a great extended warm up while you're still learning. If you're interested in making this move part of your next program, I'd recommend reading Dave's Book.

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