If you could only train with 4 exercises (and your goal is muscle and strength), what would they be?
The first 3 are easy: squat, bench and deadlift. But what about the 4th? What else ranks among the others in building brute size and strength?
The title gave it away... Number 4 is the standing overhead press, an underrated, unfashionable exercise that nevertheless earns its place alongside the Big 3 as a veritable powerhouse for strength athletes.
It will add pounds to your bench press, increase your core strength, build impressive shoulders and train the muscles of your abs, back and legs.
In this post, I've compiled a list of 5 exercises that will help you build your standing overhead press, quickly, so that you can take full advantage of this important muscle and strength builder.
1. Handstand push-ups
In the same way that push-ups are the body weight equivalent of the bench press, handstand push-ups can be thought of as the body weight equivalent of the standing overhead press.
In the handstand push-up, your body weight forces your scapulae down, activating you lower traps and building strength in this position while reinforcing proper movement patterns.
Perform these earlier in your workout because it's a skill movement used in part to train proper pressing posture. I suggest using it either as the main lift on press day, or as your first assistance movement following the main lift.
Stay in the 3-6 rep range to start, and work up as your technique and strength improve.
2. 3-Way Shoulder Raises
Isolation work is important to keep your shoulders healthy and to build muscle. For these reasons, this complex is an excellent finisher on press day. (Play the video to see how it's performed.)
To conclude your press workout, do 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps (per exercise in the complex).
3. The Savickas (or Zydrunas) Press
The Savickas (or Zydrunas) press is a great movement to build strength in your pressing muscles (and train correct movement patterns) while using lighter loads .
In order to maintain proper posture throughout the lift, it will challenge your core muscles and thereby build tremendous core strength as well.
To do it, sit on the floor inside the power rack with your legs straight out in front. Set-up the J-hooks on the power rack so that when placed on them, the bar will be at shoulder height.
Un-rack the bar and press (from the seated position) with no back support.
Use this lift either as your main movement on press day, or your first assistance lift following the main movement. In the former case (main lift), stay in the 3-5 rep range, while you should shoot for a 6-10 rep scheme if using as an assistance lift.
4. Dumbbell Standing Overhead Press
Dumbbell standing overhead presses are excellent for strengthening the stabilizer muscles supporting your shoulders. These will be humbling, as the challenge of remaining stable through the range of motion will be a noticeable departure from barbell overhead pressing.
Experiment with variations of this lift, using different grips, altering the dumbbell path, performing unilaterally (one arm at a time), etc.
Use either as the main lift (you could, for example, rotate between barbell and dumbbell presses on alternate weeks) or the first assistance lift on press day. If using heavy dumbbells (main lift), stay in the 3-5 rep range, or you can up the volume to 6-10 reps if performing as an assistance movement.
5. The Savickas/Zydrunas Press -- Variation
The Savickas press variation demoed above reflects the same lift as identified in #3, except that it is performed off safety pins in the power rack.
By doing this, the eccentric/concentric chain is broken for each rep, eliminating the stretch reflex created by the eccentric portion of the lift.
This produces dead weight at the start of every rep, increasing the challenge to initiate the lift and producing tremendous starting power.
Remaining upright during the movement will be challenging, and the lift will build remarkable core strength that will carryover to the standing overhead press (and other lifts).
Program these consistently with the recommendation from #3 above, either as a main lift or your first assistance lift, using a 3-5 rep scheme in the former case or 6-10 in the latter.