• Robert Karpathios

Integral Movement Series: The Overhead Press

In this series, we'll be addressing some key movements that serve a very important purpose for becoming strong, functional and pain free. These movements act as functional cornerstones and provide us with the capacity to move efficiently, buffer ware and tear and drastically increase strength. Whether you're looking to eliminate your aches and pains or increase your strength, this series will shed some light on these movements and the many benefits of performing them on a regular basis.


The overhead press serves as one of the most effective exercises for maximizing the strength and integrity of our entire body. It allows us to express full shoulder flexion under load and challenges mid-line stability while doing so. Here's why we love the overhead press.


Performing this exercise correctly allows us to express full flexion of the shoulder joint, a missing piece for many which can be the cause of various neck and shoulder dysfunctions.


We now know, thanks to Dr. Stuart McGill - Professor of Spine Biomechanics at the University of Waterloo - that training our midsection is not only more effective, but also much safer when done in an isometric fashion. This means instead of utilizing flexion, extension, lateral flexion or rotation exercises to train our midsection, the more advantageous approach is to focus on anti-flexion, anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion and anti-rotation exercises. This ensures that our spine is always in it's most mechanically stable position and presents a much smaller risk of catastrophic spinal injury. When we're performing an overhead press, in order to maintain optimal position, we must express mid-line stabilization against both the frontal and sagittal planes of motion. If we lack optimal mid-line stability, it shows in the form of compensatory mechanisms such as arching our back during the movement.


Much like screwing our feet out during a squat or deadlift to create torque within the hips, the same can be applied to our shoulders during pressing overhead. Before un-racking the bar, we create an external rotation force against the bar with each arm (imagine breaking or bending the bar). This external rotation force winds the shoulder capsule into a stable position. We must maintain this torsion while we perform the entire movement. Remember, external rotation creates stability during all planes of flexion. This is why we cue "armpits forward" during a snatch exercise, and "break the bar" during a bench press.


During this movement, as discussed above, it is very important to maintain the stability of our midsection. However, a crucial error that occurs quite often is the lack of stability within the lower body. Even with a properly braced midsection, lack of stability down below will cause you to lose force production during the movement. The only pieces that should be in motion are your arms. The rest of your body should serve as a solid pillar to then emit force from. The overhead press teaches this full body stiffness that is required to move large loads overhead.


If you're not incorporating the standing overhead press into your programming, take the time to learn the movement safely and effectively. Perform them on a regular basis and always prioritize perfect execution. You'll thank yourself, we promise.

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