Why is the Overhead Press so Difficult…
…at least in terms of progression, compared to the bench press or squat?
Sets x Reps x Weight in Pounds
Overhead Press: 3 x 3 x 175
Barbell Row: 3 x 3 x 205
This workout made up for the 3 x 2 workout on Tuesday, but also served to remind me that trying to make any kind of progress in the overhead press can be extremely frustrating.
And I don’t think I’m alone.
Perhaps the most likely reason is that– aside from the Starting Strength crowd– very few beginners even bother with the overhead press. Hell, very few lifters with some time under the bar even bother with the squat.
And even if they those beginners do take up squatting, develop some sort of talent and get serious– how many of them deadlift?
Navy football didn’t deadlift or press when I was there (although we did to a bunch of olympic lifts and their variations).
So even out of the Big Three (i.e., Bench, Squat & Deadlift), most recreational lifters only bench with any consistency.
And if that’s the case, when they do try to start up training the press they’re back to being a novice and easily get discouraged when they’re only pressing 50% of their bench.
That said, I do think that there’s more room for error with the overhead press:
- There are fewer, smaller muscles involved
- There’s likely to be more variation in your lifts between, reps, sets and workouts
With regards to point number 1, if progress is measured as a percentage then the weaker lifts are going to be more sensitive to weight increases. I.e., a reasonable 3% increase on a 300 pound squat is 9 lbs, or a nickel on each end of the bar for all practical purposes.
But a 3% increase on a 100 pound press is 3 lbs, and not easily done without micro plates.
For point 2, I just think it’s more difficult to create a smooth, consistent bar path for the press. On the bench you can squeeze your shoulderblades together and slightly arch your back to get stable. A shoulder width stance is a good cue for the squat. But the press is a bit more unstable and if you don’t have quite the right set-up you aren’t going to hit your numbers.
One good cue though that I caught from Omar Isuf / Brian Alsruhe from the YouTubes:
“You’re not trying to lift the weight over your head so much as you’re trying to move your head under the weight.”