Push Press – What You Need to Know

The push press is a compound exercise that develops strength, explosive power, and muscle mass primarily through the upper body. This is a foundational move for many strength athletes as well as powerlifters and bodybuilders. It is a fantastic movement to strengthen and stabilize the core while pushing maximum weight overhead.

What is the Push Press?

The push press is a version of an overhead barbell lift that is more advanced than the bodybuilder’s military press, yet not as complex as the clean and jerk

Muscles Worked During Push Press

The push press places a lot of emphasis on the upper body muscles. It specifically and directly targets the deltoids (especially the front delt), pectorals, triceps, trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi. 

As far as the lower body goes, the quadriceps provide plenty of power during the overhead push. This exercise also involves the glutes and the hamstrings. When you are holding the bar overhead, the erector spinae muscles at the base of the spine also get a good workout.

Push Press Benefits

The push press is an effective exercise to increase the strength and muscle mass of your upper body. They will especially build and strengthen the deltoids, trapezius, and rhomboid muscles. This exercise allows you to use a heavier weight than you can for the standard military press because of the explosiveness that you can generate through the dipping motion.

This exercise also develops explosive power through the legs and hips, making it advantageous as a training exercise for most athletes. It will help them to improve their agility and lower-body explosiveness.

For Olympic weightlifters, the push press is a beneficial auxiliary training exercise that will help with the jerk and snatch. For this reason, it should be an integral part of any Olympic lifters training routine.

The push press is a very good training exercise to prepare you for the more complicated and technical moves and therefore should be incorporated into a transition program for beginners.

Push Press FAQs

Who should do the push press?

The push press is a versatile exercise that has many applications. It is a very good auxiliary training move for Olympic weightlifters that can help them to advance in their three key lifts. Beginners to the sport should also use the push press as part of their progression in mastering the technique of the clean and jerk.

Powerlifters will also benefit by incorporating the push press into their training regimen. Despite the fact that there are no overhead movements in competitive powerlifting (unless you consider the bench press an overhead movement), incorporating the push press into their training program will allow powerlifters to build strength and power in many of the muscles that they rely upon to complete their craft. These include the delts, pectorals, trapezius, and triceps.

Strongman competitors will also benefit from this exercise. The overhead press is a mainstay of all strongman competitions, so the push press has direct relevance to the sport. 

The push press is also quite commonplace in the CrossFit arena. It is often incorporated into WODs. It can also help CrossFitters to gain the strength needed to complete other exercises required in their sport such as muscle-ups and kipping pullups.

Players of contact sports that require a large amount of push and will also benefit from incorporating the push press into their training program. Bodybuilders will also be able to use this exercise to build a foundation of thick, rugged upper body muscle mass.

What sort of set and rep scheme is best with the push press?

The best type of set and rep scheme with the push press depends on your specific training goal. If your primary focus is on developing explosiveness and power for sports like football or rugby league then you should keep your set range between three and four and your rep range no higher than five. Your weight should be about 75% of your one-rep max.

If you are intent on increasing your strength on this lift for application in Olympic weightlifting, strongman or powerlifting, then you should perform up to 5 sets permanent reps from 5 per set down to 1 per set. 

For bodybuilders and others who are interested in increasing their upper body muscle mass through the push press, the set range should be between four and five with the reps ranging between six and 15 per set. Begin at the higher range and pyramid down as you add poundage on every succeeding set.

If you are performing this exercise to enhance your training endurance for sports like CrossFit, then you should be performing no more than three sets with reps in the 10 to 20 range.  Take a look at the intensity table further down for more detail.

Can the push press be done with equipment other than a barbell?

Yes, the push press can be performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, and even medicine balls. However, regardless of the variation of weight that you are holding, be sure to follow that the technique tips provided below to ensure proper form and prevent injury.

How to Push Press

  1. Stand in front of a loaded Olympic bar and reached down to take an open hand grip just slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Rack the bar to your shoulders, keeping your chest out and maintaining a natural curvature to your spine. Imagine that you are pushing your chest into the bar. Look up toward the ceiling, keeping your elbows out.
  3. Maintaining an upright torso position, drop down about 6 inches by bending at the hips and knees. Your butt should not go back but must remain directly over your heels throughout this process. Do not allow your torso to move either backward or forwards.
  4. At the bottom of the dip, reverse direction by driving upward with your legs and thrusting your upper body and chest up as you power the bar to full arm extension.
  5. Use the entire strength of your upper body to push the bar up to lockout. In the top position the bar should be balanced just behind your head and in line with your spine. In this position, it will be held by the strength of your trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles.

Intensity

This is a measure of the degree of effort and is expressed as a percentage of your one-rep max (1RM). This is the most weight you have ever lifted in the exercise with proper form for one repetition.

The following chart shows how percentage of 1RM relates to training intensity.

%age of 1RMIntensity LevelUsefulness
60-70LightTechnique
70-80Light-mediumTechnique, Speed work
80-85MediumPower, muscle gain
85-90Medium-HeavyStrength
90-95HeavyStrength
95-100MaximumStrength
How percentage of 1RM (one rep max) relates to training intensity

Key Push Press Form points

How_to_Perform_the_PUSH_PRESS__-_Shoulder_Exercise_Tutorial
  • Hands just beyond shoulder width.
  • Feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Full grip on the bar in the rack position.
  • Elbows slightly in front of the bar.
  • Bar resting across the clavicles and shoulders in the rack position.
  • Torso dips directly down.
  • Heels remain down until the hips and legs extend.
  • Hips and legs extend rapidly then press.
  • The bar moves over the middle of the foot as heels come up.
  • At the top of the movement, full hip, knee, and arm extension are achieved.

Things to Avoid

A common mistake with the push press is having your hands too wide on the bar. When your hands are closer, you will have more leverage during the upper body drive. Be careful, also, not to allow your elbows to drift in from the rack position. Neither, though, do you want them too wide nor you will find it difficult to actually get under the bar. They should be as nearly under the bar as you can comfortably get them.

In the rack position, you should not look as if you are about to start a shoulder press. If you do, your hands are too wide. You won’t be able to use as much weight and you will be putting too much pressure on your wrists. 

Another common mistake is that lifters do not have their weight evenly distributed. If you are unbalanced, things will go wrong during the dip and you will end up with energy leaks that will prevent you from pushing the amount of weight that you should be able to.

Do not drift back or forward during any portion of the exercise.

When it comes to the power drive to push the weight overhead, don’t make the mistake of initiating from the upper body. The initial push should come from the legs with the upper body then kicking in to complete the movement. 

When you are in the lockout position, don’t make the mistake of allowing your head to move too far forward. This may negatively affect your center of gravity, forcing you to fall forward and drop the weight. To avoid this, keep your chin down during the lockout position. 

Conclusion

The push press is a foundational compound exercise that will develop strength and power through the entire body. The emphasis, however, is on the ‘show’ muscles of the upper body; the chest, shoulders, and triceps. This is an effective exercise to develop overall upper body power while at the same time enhancing the explosiveness of your lower body. The push press should be a staple of every Olympic lifter, powerlifter and strongman’s training regimen

The push press should be a staple of every Olympic lifter, powerlifter, and strongman’s training regimen. It is also a very good transitioning training tool for beginners to the Olympic lifts. Use this exercise wisely and correctly and you will reap its many benefits. 

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