7 Ways to Increase Your Overhead Press
Before the bench press was popular, there was another exercise that took first place when it came to building strength and mass in the upper body. I’m talking about the standing barbell overhead press. One of the simplest, old school exercises but an absolute brutal one that puts hairs on your chest. It’s also very common for you to plateau on the overhead press before any other exercise.
But don’t worry, because today I’m going to teach you 7 ways to increase your overhead press.
When I rocked up to my RKC certification last year, with a pretty decent kettlebell military press and weighing in at 85kgs (187 lbs), I could press the 40kg bell. It wasn’t pretty, but I could get the job done and that was without any real kettlebell instruction or coaching. In the RKC, a half bodyweight press is considered to be above average. After a full day of kettlebell swings, we moved our focus to the press. John, my master instructor, told me to grab a 40kg to test and a 24kg to practice with. After learning how to implement 7 high tension techniques into the press, it was time to test my 40kg again. I cleaned and pressed it, and noticed that the bell flew up. I couldn’t believe it; it felt like I had a 32kg in my hand! I instantly became stronger and I couldn’t believe that all of this was after performing a full day of kettlebell swings!
I decided a couple of weeks after my certification to retest and find out if it was real, or simply a fluke. Well, this time I went one step further and pressed the 44kg! That’s a 10% increase in what I would call a fairly decent genetically maxed out press. Not bad, huh? So, I’m guessing that you too want to learn about these high tension techniques, right?
Basically, high tension techniques consist of creating lots of tension throughout the entire body, which in turn results in a much safer and stronger lift.
For the purposes of this article, I will focus on the military press to make things simple, but you can apply any of these to any of your favourite lifts. But before we start, go get yourself a max kettlebell (or dumbbell), and another bell that you can press about 8 times as this will be your practice bell.
1) Push your heels into the ground
The first thing you need to do is take off your shoes; this will give you a better ‘sense’ for the ground. Then, you need to drive your heels into the ground just as if you were trying to leave footprints in the cement. Now, press your practice bell to get a feel. You should notice two things:
- You feel more centred.
- The bell feels just a tad lighter than usual.
2) Pull your knee caps up
Whilst you’re standing (we are talking about the standing military press, no one does seated anymore, right?) with a shoulder width stance, I want you to pull your knee caps up to your groin. Now, press your practice bell to get a feel. You should notice two things:
- A lot of tension around your legs.
- The bell feels just a tad lighter than it did in step 1.
3) Squeeze your glutes
Now, I want you to squeeze your glutes as hard as you can – as hard as when you drop the soap in a public shower – in the RKC we refer to it as ‘mint a coin’. Now, press your practice bell to get a feel. You should notice two things:
- You have buns of steel like Flanders from the Simpsons.
- The bell feels just a tad lighter than it did in step 2.
4) Brace your abs
Next up, you need to tighten your abs as if you were about to accept a punch from Jackie Chan, but remember, you must continue to breathe ‘behind the shield’. Now, press your practice bell to get a feel. You should notice two things:
- Your entire midsection feels strong and stable.
- The bell feels just a tad lighter than it did in step 3.
5) Engage the lats
To engage the lats, you need to do two things:
- Flare them – think of the classic bodybuilder pose.
- Pull your elbow(s) down to your hips just enough to feel your lats turn on; this will create a shelf for you to press off.
Now, press your practice bell to get a feel. You should notice two things:
- The feeling of having a golf ball sitting under your armpits.
- The bell feels just a tad lighter than it did in step 4.
6) Create white knuckle fists
When you press, I want you to squeeze both the hand with the object (kettlebell or dumbbell) and your spare hand so hard that your knuckles turn white. You should notice two things:
- Energy and tension radiate throughout your arms, shoulders and chest.
- The bell feels just a tad lighter than it did in step 5.
7) Power breathe
Pavel Tsatsouline talks a lot about this; using your breath is a very powerful way to increase your strength instantly. Just this alone has increased my strength in every lift. To power breathe, simple place your teeth together, and then make a hissing sound during the entire concentric phase of the lift. You should notice two things:
- Your entire midsection tightens up.
- The bell feels just a tad lighter than it did in step 6.
Now, put it all together…
After a decent rest, combine all 7 techniques together and practice. Start from the ground up and quickly perform a checklist; feel the tension radiate throughout your entire body – once you’re doing all 6 things, start to press your bell and apply number 7 and power breathe during the lift. It felt lighter, right? Awesome! Now test your max bell; stack all 7 techniques on top of each other and go for it! You should have earned yourself a new PR.
Let’s wrap it up…
High tension techniques are a powerful trick to ignite the CNS and instantly create a ton of tension, safety and strength. Give them a go and use them next time you’re going for a PR.
See video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8u4eRe0qeU
Grant Lofthouse A trainer, RKC II, FMS, Primal Move Fundamentals Instructor and the owner of Cardio Haters Training (yes, he hates cardio that much). He is also a fan of hip hop, kettlebells and bodyweight training. Plus, he prides himself on being able to out-lift his younger sister. For information check out his site www.CardioHaters.com