Master This Move: Overhead Press

The Overhead Press is a versatile compound movement that challenges a wide range of muscles. It’s an essential component to any upper body routine. Performing this movement regularly will pay dividends with regards to overall strength.

What OHP Works

Most people think of the Overhead Press as a shoulder exercise, and that’s true. But that is also like saying the squat is a quad exercise, or the bench press is a chest exercise—these dynamic lifts utilize far more of our systems.

When performed correctly, the OHP will target all three heads of the deltoid, as well as our functional stabilizers throughout the rotator cuff and scapula, including our traps. Most variations will also challenge the core. The triceps and upper chest may also assist with pushing.

How to OHP

  1. Stand with feet shoulder to hip with apart, toes pointing forward.
  2. Ensure your hips are beneath your core, which should be braced—as you press the weight up, your gut should feel solid and prepared to take a punch. This will also require your glutes to be on.
  3. Have a very small bend in the knee, but do not use knee or ankle flexion to assist this movement (unless it’s your final rep of the set, or a Push Press—see variations below).
  4. Push the weight directly overhead in a straight line. Arms should extend fully at the top, and the weight should be directly over you (not in front, which will cause an excessive arch in the back, stressing the lower spine).
  5. Control the weight as you lower it back down to your shoulders.

OHP Variations

Barbell OHP: This classic movement builds strength and size throughout the upper body. Go heavy (without compromising form!) and perform sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Single Arm OHP: Target just one shoulder at a time using dumbbells or kettlebells, challenging the muscles in a different way. Alternate reps at a heavy weight, hitting 5 per side.

Seated OHP: Sit on a bench or other apparatus (avoid anything with back support) to perform your preferred variation of the movement. This disables the legs from contributing momentum to the push, forcing your upper body to work overtime. Perform reps as usual, though you may need to start lighter.

Kneeling OHP: Find a mat and kneel on it, then perform the movement. This version keeps the hips and glutes engaged—while still keeping legs out of the push—which turbocharges core activation. Slow down and control the lift to optimize core contribution. Perform reps for 30 to 60 seconds, maximizing time under tension.

Push Press: With this variation, instead of restricting the legs’ involvement, we encourage it! A slight, quick bend in the knee and an explosive concentric movement allows us to lift heavier weight and bang out higher reps in a shorter time. This spikes the heart rate, making the Push Press a great version to include in HIIT circuits and power programs.