It’s easy to think you’re doing the right thing in the gym, but you may be dropping the ball. Certain exercises are more technically demanding than others, and learning their major cues once may not cut it in the grand scheme of things. Getting “comfortable” with certain movements can sometimes allow a lifter to “slip” into form that’s less than perfect. Not to worry, we've got your back. The Rookie Mistakes series serves as a call-to-action for lifters of all experience levels to practice perfect form on the road to achieving fitness success.
As primitive as it is, the overhead press involves technical precision. Take note of the form mistakes you're making, especially when the weight starts getting heavy, and get better at just about any fitness challenge that awaits.
Mistake 1: You're pressing in front of your body
The press is a vertical push loaded over the spine. A slight shift in position that moves the bar away from alignment directly over the spine creates unwanted shearing forces on the back and shoulders. When you press, finish with the bar directly above your neck, looking through "the window” that you’ve created with your arms up.
Mistake 2: You're arching too much
A back arch in the bench press is a good thing. A notable back arch in the standing press isn’t. The force of the weight is coming right down on your spine and an overarched spine can cause back pain. If you have a pronounced back arch when overhead pressing, try these three training tweaks:
First: Strengthen your core (e.g., plank variations) because if your abdominals aren’t strong, they won’t be able to keep the pelvis in a neutral position through contraction, and the pelvis will slip into an unhealthy forward tilt. Second: Release your hip flexors by foam-rolling and stretching since they may become tight and cause a forward pelvic tilt. Third: Work on your shoulder mobility. Insufficient range of motion at the shoulder joint can cause the back to overarch as a “quick solve” to get the barbell loaded over the right place. Use pec stretches and shoulder dislocates to improve your shoulders’ ROM.
Mistake 3: You're push-pressing instead of strict-pressing
The standing press is a great way to improve absolute strength—as long as you don’t cheat. The push press involves a drive from the lower body to transfer more force into the bar, allowing you to move more weight overhead. Although it’s an explosive move, push-pressing too frequently won’t improve your standing press numbers, and it won’t target your shoulders as much. Check your ego at the door and lower the weight by 15%, so that you can strict-press with no help from the lower body to transfer forces.
Mistake 4: You're not using full range of motion
Bring the bar all the way down to your torso on every rep to really hit your deltoids. Lowering the bar to eye level, then returning to the finish position makes the overhead press significantly easier while loading your triceps more than your shoulders. The added range will also increase your time spent under tension, since each rep will take nearly twice as long, adding to the release of more hormones important for building muscle and burning fat.
Mistake 5: You're ignoring chronic shoulder issues
When it comes to the shoulder joint, susceptibility to injury is maximal since lifters often develop muscle imbalances that make one side of a joint stronger and tighter than the other, resulting in chronic pain and tightness in the rotator cuff. Set yourself up for success by pairing shoulder-press movements with sets of pulling exercises to stabilize the shoulder blades, at which all four rotator cuff muscles attach. Also, be sure to routinely stretch and release the muscles of the chest and front deltoids to lower your chances of injury and encourage pain-free pressing.