I’m going to go over the top 5 best overhead press assistance exercises and we’re starting right now!
When it comes to building a stronger overhead press, obviously doing the overhead press consistently is one of the best ways to improve.
Practicing something makes you better at it as long as the practice you’re doing is actually perfect and not just a bunch of sloppy reps that don’t contribute to muscle growth or strength.
With this in mind, what else can we do to build a bigger overhead press?
Obviously training the supporting muscles with other variations is the best way to build anything stronger in the body.
The easiest way to pick your assistance exercises for any big barbell movement, whether it’s a squat, bench press, deadlift, or of course the overhead press; is by determining what muscle groups aid in that main lift.
For the overhead press, it’s very similar to the bench press; your primary movers are the triceps, and shoulders. The chest gets a little work but not much fortunately.
However, because you’re standing while performing an overhead press, you’ll need to build the musculature in your abdominal region as well. If you don’t, you’re going to lose a ton of power while pressing overhead.
And the final thing we need to address is the upper back. While pressing overhead, your upper back needs to be strong and supporting our arms that are extended above us. The stronger your upper back and lats are the better.
Now that we know which muscle groups we need to get stronger, we want to pick 1-2 exercises that directly train each of them through a full range of motion that contribute to muscular strength and hypertrophy as well as supporting the rest of the body.
Overhead Press Muscles Worked
Before deciding on what the best Overhead press assistance exercises are, it’s good to know what the main movers are that work in the press.
Luckily it’s pretty easy to figure out, so let’s lay them out here.
- Triceps – assist in lockout
- Shoulders – main muscle group that starts the pressing movement
- Upper Back – stabilization and assists in lockout
These are the main muscle groups required to perform the overhead press.
The shoulders start the movement from the bottom position, and the triceps/upper back assist in locking out the weight overhead.
The bigger and stronger these muscle groups are, the bigger and stronger your overhead press will be.
And that’s why you should be training multiple assistance exercises that will support and drive muscular strength and hypertrophy for the press.
Along with these main movers, we also have a ton of stabilizing muscles required while doing any standing barbell movements.
Since you’ll be standing while performing the overhead press, your legs and glutes need to be flexed hard to provide a stable base to push from.
Luckily you don’t need to add any specific exercises to improve this as you should be squatting and deadlifting already.
Traveling up the body, the biggest energy leak you can have is through the abdominals and the lower back.
If your abs and low back aren’t strong and rigid throughout the movement, adding weight to your overhead press will be difficult.
This is why doing direct core work is so important for strength athletes.
Your biceps and forearms need to be strong to maintain a strong grip on the barbell, and the biceps act as a “brake” when you’re lowering the bar to the starting position.
Finally, the lats are responsible for providing a stable base for you to press from at the starting position.
When you unrack the bar and get set up, having your lats flexed will give you more support to start from.
So the bigger your lats are, the better.
As you can see, there’s a lot more strength involved in an overhead press compared to the bench press or other seated movements.
That’s why it’s important to know what is moving the bar, what’s stabilizing the body, and the best exercises to assist in strengthening these muscle groups.
Now that we know what muscles need to get stronger, we’ll go over the best exercises that give you the greatest bang for your buck.
Dips are one of the best exercises to train the chest, shoulders, and triceps especially!
Because they’re a compound movement, it allows us to train multiple muscle groups at once which is great training economy. Something we all should be paying attention to.
Dips can be done with bodyweight for higher reps in the 10-20 rep range and also by adding weight in the 5-10 rep range.
Getting stronger at dips will make all of your barbell pressing exercises stronger as well. So if you can’t do them you should definitely start working on them!
Dumbbell Pressing wide like most bodybuilders will allow you to train the side delts much harder than a standard overhead press which is mostly anterior delts focused.
By training the other heads of the shoulders, it will allow you to have more stability while doing the overhead press as well.
It’s also a close enough variation you can do for higher reps and build more muscle with to aid in hypertrophy training.
Working in the 10-20 rep range is an awesome idea to get the most out of dumbbell pressing.
What’s your favorite upper body pressing exercise?
For me, it’s definitely Dips and any dumbbell pressing movement! Let me know what yours are in the comments below!
Plate Raises are much different than a standard front raise which only trains the anterior delts. It trains the traps, upper back, anterior, and side delts in a way that many other exercises can’t replicate.
It’s a good example of how a basic isolation exercise can be tweaked slightly to train more muscle groups and allow you to be more efficient overall.
Try these out for higher rep sets (15-30 reps) and you should notice a massive pump through your shoulders, traps, and upper back region.
Pullups are one of those exercises that most people can’t do. Those that can are usually those that are either very athletic, have very big backs, or they don’t weigh very much.
For those that haven’t been able to do pullups before I have multiple videos up on how to improve them that you can check out here!
For those that can, you know just how great they are at building forearm, upper back, lats, and bicep strength as well.
I recommend doing as many variations as you can to build as much muscle as possible through your entire back.
This will help with all of your main movements but having a bigger and stronger upper back as well as lats will allow you to have a stronger platform to push from when you’re overhead pressing as well as a more stable position from the mid to end range of the movement.
Training these with bodyweight with correct form will take awhile to improve over time.
A good way to go about it is by setting a rep goal for the day and slowly improving that overtime. Once you get to 50+ reps in 3 sets, that’s a good time to start adding weight and keep moving up!
Can you do pullups? If so, how many can you do and what training did you do to get to that point?
If you can’t, what are some things you’ve tried that didn’t go according to plan? Let me know in the comments below!
The final exercise on my list today is the Ab Wheel.
Ab Wheel is one of the most simple exercises you can do to build abdominal strength. You can pick one up on Amazon for a super cheap price as well.
The Ab Wheel is probably the best core exercise you can do to build your ab strength up because of what it forces you to do! You have to go through a huge range of motion that strains your abs with anti-flexion, and even rotation depending on how you do them.
That’s the whole goal with abdominal training anyways, training it by resisting forces is a much better idea than doing a bunch of situps on the ground.
The other thing that’s awesome is that the ab wheel forces you to be in a similar position compared to standing up with a loaded barbell above your head. The stronger your abs are, the stronger your overhead press will be.
Keep this in mind if you find your upper body is getting stronger but you feel like you’re weak in the middle. It’s probably your abdominal strength and poor abdominal bracing as well.
Also, starting the ab wheel from a kneeling position and doing lower rep sets to start (sets of 3-8) is definitely a good idea for your first couple sessions. You’ll thank me later trust me!
Obviously working up to doing these standing is the goal. If you can’t do that yet, you still have work to do!
Overhead Press Progression
The right overhead press progression will be determined by what your main goal for the movement is.
Do you want to build more muscle and create better muscle hypertrophy?
Or do you what to get stronger at it?
The answer to these questions will help you decide what style of progression you should follow and how hard you should be pushing the intensity.
So let’s go over each progression based on your goal so you can get bigger, stronger, or a little of both!
Overhead Press For Hypertrophy
If you’re mainly using the overhead press to build up your shoulders, the long head of your triceps, and your upper back, it’s really easy to program, luckily.
All you should be focusing on is getting stronger in the 8-20 rep range for most of your work.
That means working up to one all-out set with good form while also training as close to failure as you can.
If your form breaks down, the set is over. Pretty simple.
The other thing to focus on is slowing down the eccentric as this will help build muscle instead of just lowering it quickly.
The overhead press responds well to high training volume, so the number of reps you should be working up to is 10-20 reps.
Once you get up to 20 reps at a certain weight, add 5 lbs, and work back up the following week.
Super simple, and it works.
If you don’t hit 20, pick the same weight the following week and keep trying to break rep PRs.
Here’s how this progression would look!
- Week 1 – 150×20
- Week 2 – 155×18
- Week 4 – 155×20
- Week 5 – 160×17
- Week 6 – 160×19
- Week 7 – 160×20
Super easy to figure out and implement, luckily.
Throw in a couple of the assistance exercises shown in this article and try to get stronger at them in the same manner.
As long as you do that, you’re going to build a ton of muscle in the upper body.
Now onto the strength training progression.
Overhead Press For Strength
Training the overhead press for strength is just as easy as training for muscle growth, luckily.
Work up to 1 all-out set in the 5-20 rep range.
Since we want to focus on getting stronger, I recommend a slightly faster eccentric to conserve energy and the strongest/most explosive concentric you can manage to lockout.
With strength training, we want to be in control but also explosive to train the muscle fibers to be as strong as possible.
Also, since strength training is all about adding more weight to the bar, we want to get stronger in all rep ranges.
The best way I’ve found to do this is by starting with a weigh you can do for 20 reps.
And since we’re trying to do heavier weight over time, you want to stay 1-2 reps away from failure.
Once there’s a noticeable slow in bar speed, call it there.
Here’s how this progression might look for somebody starting with 95 lbs.
- Week 1 – 95×20
- Week 2 – 100×18
- Week 3 – 105×17
- Week 4 – 110×16
- Week 5 – 115×15
- Week 6 – 120×14
- Week 7 – 125×13
- Week 8 – 130×12
You continue adding 5 lbs and pushing each set hard until you eventually drop down to around 5 reps.
Once there, you back the weight off 10-20% and try to beat your old PR’s all the way back to your plateau.
Here’s how this might look if you got to 155×5.
Subtract 20% for your first week.
This would be around 125 lbs to start.
- Week 1 – 125×18
- Week 2 – 130×16
- Week 3 – 135×15
- Week 4 – 140×14
- Week 5 – 145×13
- Week 6 – 150×12
- Week 7 – 155×10, New PR!
It’s as simple as this.
Now, once you start hitting plateaus multiple times, you might have to add some extra volume to continue pushing your strength levels up.
I like to use a backoff set or 2 to accumulate this volume.
That way, you can hit multiple PR’s in multiple rep ranges to continue pushing your strength without getting burnt out from heavier intensities.
A backoff set is easy to use; you work up to your top set, push for a PR, and then back the weight off 10% for another PR set.
Here’s how this would look for somebody a little stronger at a 200 lb work set.
- Week 1 – 200×10, 180×15
- Week 2 – 205×9, 185×14
- Week 3 – 210×8, 190×13
- Week 4 – 215×7, 195×12
- Week 5 – 220×6, 200×11
- Week 6 – 225×5, 205×10
Super easy to implement and continue pushing your strength to new levels.
Hopefully, this makes sense! If not, definitely drop a comment down below, and I’ll help out any way I can!
Strongest Overhead Press
Also, if you’re interested in seeing the strongest overhead press, even though it’s technically a push press, check out this incredible video of Russian weightlifter Chingiz Mogushkov!
This lift is 240kg/529 lbs, and you can see why he won gold for the snatch in the European Weightlifting Championship in 2015!
He’s even said in interviews that his actual PR is a staggering 250kg/550 lbs.
This is insane and shows just how strong Olympic weightlifters can become.
Anyway, that’s it for me!
I hope you all learned something from the article!
What exercises and progressions are you going to implement to get your overhead press stronger?
Let me know in the comments section below!
Until next time,