There are only a handful of movements that can truly measure your power and strength, and other than squatting, benching and deadlifting, the barbell push press is one exercise that builds strengths, aesthetics and expands movement.
While pushing weight overhead solely is not the official competition movement for any lifting sport, it still stands as a key part of all Olympic lifts, Powerlifting strength building and bodybuilding hypertrophy routines.
Whether your goal is hypertrophy or strength and explosive power, the barbell push press will be your one-way ticket to success.
Push Press at a Glance
The barbell push press is all about explosive power, proper form and strength.
There are many variations to pushing weight overhead, while this particular one requires you to dip and push with our legs in order to give your arm that extra driving power, enabling you to lift more weight and overload the muscles.
Key elements of the standing push press will include:
- Arm positioning
Before we move onto the step by step execution of the movement, let’s take a look at the brothers and sisters of the push press that deserve the same amount of praise and attention in the fitness industry.
Dumbbell Push Press
As the name implies, this variation requires you to ditch the barbell and grab a pair of dumbbells in order to execute the movement. The same principles apply, only the weights are face inward with the palms rotated towards each other.
This variation is mostly used for aesthetic training and fixing muscular imbalances as it requires each hand to push and control the weight independently, contrary to the barbell version where one side of the body can take over the majority of the stress of the weight.
The dumbbell push press will require you to utilize significantly lighter weights, so don’t expect to achieve any significant strength gain.
Executing the movement:
- Stand straight with your palms facing each other, holding the dumbbells at ear height. Feet hip width apart.
- Slightly bend the knees in a straight line with no forward lean or back extension. Explode upwards, drive through your entire foot, squeezing the glutes and legs, transferring power through your entire body and push the dumbbells overhead.
- While you started with your elbows internally rotated, you will externally rotate the elbows while pressing the dumbbells.
- Finish the movement by locking out the elbows and bringing the dumbbells back into the starting position.
Another barbell push press alternative, the standing press or more commonly known as the overhead press, is also intended for strength development and hypertrophy, although some key differentiating elements will set it apart from its siblings.
The overhead press will ruthlessly take away any and every ounce of leg drive you had with the push press by having you stand still and press the weight over your head.
Executing the movement:
- Unrack the barbell with your grip shoulder width apart, triceps and elbows slightly in front of your body, resting on the lats.
- Slightly tilt back your thoracic spine in order to enable the bar to travel in a straight path.
- Squeeze your core, glutes and legs.
- Press as hard as you can and hold on for dear life.
- Push your head forward as soon as the bar clears your face.
- Lock out the elbows with the barbell directly over your shoulders, head slightly forward.
- Control the eccentric portion of the movement until the bar comes back to the starting position.
The Military Press
One common misconception among beginners and even seasoned lifters is the identification of the push press with the military press. They are, in fact, two very different movements.
The military press more similar to the overhead press in the sense that it negates any leg drive, but there is a catch that will make you love it and have it at the same time - putting your feet together.
- Stand with your feet strictly together, with the barbell resting under your chin, holding it tightly with your elbows slightly forward and your triceps resting on your lats.
- Slightly extend the thoracic spine to enable a straight bar path.
- You will need to squeeze your core as tight as you can in order to keep the bar and your entire body steady. Squeeze the glutes and legs.
- Press the weight with the tension of your entire body.
- As soon as the bar clears the head, push your head forward.
- Lockout at the end of the movement, with the barbell directly over your shoulders.
Push Press Benefits
To put it very bluntly, the barbell push press makes you strong!
But if we want to be as thorough as possible, there are some key benefits of the push press that need to be noted, such as:
- Improved explosive power
- Improved strength
- Improved muscular development
- Strengthening of the joints and tendons
- Strengthening of the nervous system
- Total body exercise
- Improves upper body mobility and joint flexibility
Drawbacks of the Push Press
Rarely will you ever find drawbacks to an excellent exercise, if performed with proper form and adequate weight.
Having said that, if your form is bad, you can expect to experience the following:
- Overarching the back, resulting in an injured thoracic and lumbar spine
- Overextending the wrist and elbow joints, resulting in muscle and tendon tears with a possible elbow dislocation.
- Improper dipping technique can lead to patellar tendonitis (an injury to the tendon connecting your kneecap to the shin bone) which is a very serious issue that is difficult to treat.
- There is very little if any eccentric contraction, which significantly decreases the hypertrophy purposes of the exercise
Executing the Standing Push Press
Watch how to execute the push press below:
Take note of the following:
Grip the bar just outside of shoulder-width. You can use the thumb-less (suicide) grip or the full grip with the thumb around the bar; just make sure that you are proficient in the thumb-less grip technique.
While movements like the overhead press and the military press require the elbows to be slightly in front of the body, the bb push press will require you to point your elbows forward with the triceps parallel to the floor as much as possible, similar to the front squat positioning, with the barbell resting on your upper chest.
This will enable proper range of motion and will avoid risks of injury due to the forceful pushing.
This comes down to personal preference and ankle mobility. If you are not mobile enough in the lower body, a wider stance such as shoulder width would be best for you with the toes slightly pointed out. This will prevent leaning forward when dipping and putting pressure on the knee joints.
For those with good mobility, a narrower stance will ensure a solid base for pushing.
The dip is commonly recognized as a quarter-squat when in reality it is a shallow and violent redirection of energy through your body to the barbell.
Before executing the dip, make sure to take deep belly breath in order to brace your core and create intra-abdominal pressure, keeping your spinal column steady and strong.
Total body tension is the most important aspect of all compound movements, so make sure to stay strong and do not exhale until the bar is back in the starting position, only then can you take the next breath.
Once you are ready to dip, start descending by flexing the knees in the direction of your toes. This movement has to be shallow, explosive and violent, requiring the strength and energy of your entire musculature.
A controlled and powerful push is achieved by pushing with your midfoot, and transferring the energy through your entire body by pushing through your legs, back, chest and arms.
Don’t forget to keep your core braced.
While it is okay to wind up on your toes for a split second while exerting force, you should avoid it becoming a habit, because you are running the risk of losing balance and potentially failing the lift or worse, injuring yourself.
The ending of the movement will require all of the strength of your arms, deltoids and stabilizers.
You will finish the movement by pressing the barbell over your head and pushing the head forward as soon as the bar clears it.
Lockout the elbows at the top with a slight external rotation in order to achieve maximum strength. What was, in the beginning, a front squat grip will become a full grip as the bar moves upward, resulting in a firmly gripped bar at the top.
Once you’ve completed the movement, bring the bar down in a controlled eccentric motion with a slight dip in order to compensate for the impact of the weight on your upper chest.
You are ready for the next rep!
Barbell Push Press: Key Takeaways
- Keep your chest high while slightly leaning back in the thoracic spine
- The dip should be shallow, similar to the quarter-squat
- In order to avoid losing contact with the barbell, make slow and controlled dip
- Dip through the legs and do not dip forward or backward, keep the bar in a straight path
- Initiate the movement with your lower body, not the upper.
- Start the push with your legs, and transfer energy through your body. Do not push with your upper body prematurely
- Push the head forward as soon as the bar clears it
- Lockout the elbows at the top with a slight external rotation
Common Mistakes in the Barbell Push Press
- Not creating total body tension
- Gripping the bar too narrow or too wide
- Gripping the bar the same way as for the overhead press
- Extending the lower back instead of the thoracic
- Dipping forward or backward
- Pushing through the upper body with little leg drive
- Not pushing the head forward
- Exhaling during the lift
The barbell push press is one of those “old but gold” exercises used by bodybuilders of the golden era, as well as modern powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters as one of the pillars of strength building. It's basic exercise, but it will give powerful result if you do it in proper way!
You can find the push press workout in my 12 Week Ripped & Shredded Program which will guide you through the best exercises to achieve a lean and muscular physique by using movements like the barbell push press with the most effective reps, sets combined with workout and nutrition plans to build muscle, lost fat and get a shredded physique.