By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS; Photography: Robert Reiff; Model: Dan Hill, IFBB Pro
If you train like a strongman, you spend well-deserved time on the bench press, powerfully exploding the bar up and over the chest. And for legs, you dig a hole in the power rack each week without fail, period. Many of you are faithful to the down-and-dirty deadlift week in and week out; but, when it comes to driving weight overhead, it isn’t as high a priority on your list. In fact, overhead work in general is hit or miss at best. That’s why this month we’re tackling an uncommon move with even more uncommon results, the push-press. Once tested and mastered, the powerful push-press will find its way into your weekly gym bag with more frequency, guaranteed.
It’s no understatement to say that the push-press is one of the most beneficial, whole-body exercises ever performed. It’s ideal for the athlete whose primary goals are power and strength, and when you look at the elements of the push-press it’s easy to see why. Much like you would during the deadlift, for example, it’s important to see the push-press as multiple moving parts that need to be synchronized for optimal effectiveness.
If there’s ever a time to make sure your form is correct, that you’re using the right weight and in the correct order in your routine, it’s now. Remember, you’re hoisting weight overhead, which means your entire body needs to be in sync, but that also makes it more vulnerable. For that reason, you get ridiculously strong when you practice the push-press, and it’ll soon become part of your everyday routine.
Here’s a quick checklist of reasons why the push-press is such an all-encompassing move, head to toe:
We start with the most obvious of reasons: It’s barbell driven. Sure, you can use dumbbells for this move, but the barbell will allow you to press more weight than with dumbbells and it gets you accustomed to the bar in your hands (since your other big moves ask the same of you).
Next, you’re standing. As opposed to the bodybuilder sitting on a low-back bench at the dumbbell rack, the push-press has you in the strongest position possible, on your feet. Ever seen an Olympic lift from a 90-degree bench? Neither have we. Much like the deadlift and squat, learning to press through the floor with your feet is a must.
As you’ll see, the slight bend in the ankles, knees and hips is a short range of motion, but those few inches make or break the exercise. You have to have power in your calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes from start to finish.
4. Lower back, abs, core
The fact that it engages the core may not sound sexy to some, but it’s a critical element. You may have strong legs and an upper body, but if your core is weak, it’ll be exposed in no time and you won’t last the set.
5. Shoulders, triceps, upper chest
Finally, to the muscles receiving primary work. The delts and triceps take a beating during this move. Your grip on the bar is just outside shoulder width, drawing equal power from both muscle groups.
6. Fast-twitch fibers
The push-press is an exercise performed in an explosive manner, and because it targets the legs, chest, arms, shoulders and lower back, it’ll ultimately help transfer greater strength and stability in almost any exercise you perform. It’s not merely a standing overhead press. No, you want to do the positive portion of the rep as fast as possible with good form. You want to explode the bar up, because that’ll trigger the fast-twitch muscle fibers, developing power and explosive strength.