Fixing Your Overhead Press

“I Need to Improve My Overhead Press” – then, Let’s Fix It.

As we all know,  the modern world has done us zero favors in the posture-department.  Work the 9-to-5 and want to get in shape by going to the gym after work? Well, I feel sorry for you. All of the sitting, being hunched over with your neck sitting forward, and your hips in a constant state of flexion is going to do wonders for your doctor’s salary (’cause you’ll be in and out of his office for pain medication like it’s nobody’s business).

So how about we prevent that from happening and work on correcting some of postural dysfunction that will hinder our physical ability in the gym, shall we?

Today, we’ll look at what can go wrong with one very popular strength exercise – the overhead press.

Overhead press.
Being a true-to-life lift that requires whole-body stabilization and brute strength, the overhead press is not something to be overlooked in someone strength program. However, if we want to properly utilize this exercise without running to injuries, we’ve got to look at what common postural issues will do to screw up the movement, and how we can fix it.

How Bad Posture Can Ruin the Overhead Press

So here’s a simple diagram of the overhead press – one with good posture, and one with bad posture.

Overhead press and mobility issues. Fix overhead press.
The stick figure with good posture is pressing the weight directly overhead in a straight line, whereas the stick figure with bad posture is pressing a bit in front of the body. This is because of common dysfunctional patterns – namely, over-kyphotic posture. Basically, this means that the upper-part of the spine (AKA the thoracic spine) is rounded forward a bit excessively.

Why this prevents us from pressing directly overhead is actually pretty interesting.

The arms connect to the body via the shoulder joint. One part of the complicated shoulder joint that forms the “link” between the arm and the body is the scapula, more commonly know as the shoulder-blade. Through muscles and attachments, the arm attaches to the scapula, and the scapula attaches to the ribcage and spine, forming an intricate piece of human-machinery.

Overhead pressing and mobility issues.
The red bar is the shoulder-blade, and the oval is the ribcage. Notice how in the badly-postured stick figure, the shoulder-blade is tilted more against the ribcage. If you were to fix your posture, you shoulder-blade wouldn’t wing out as much, like in the stick figure on the left. Let’s see how this affects overhead pressing.

Overhead pressing and mobility issues.The scapula is supposed to tilt in the other direction and flatten out against the ribcage when we raise our arms overhead. Notice how we can’t bring the scapula down fully in the stick figure on the right, because the hyperkyphosis flattens the scapula early on in the movement and limits the range-of-motion.

When we have excessive rounding of the thoracic spine, movement of the scapula is impaired, thus the movement of the arm overhead is impaired.

What we’ve got to do in the case is mobilize our spine in the other direction, which is known as thoracic extension. This video shows how to mobilize the thoracic spine.

After we’ve restored mobility, we also have to work on muscle activation. We should work on activating the serratus anterior – it is the muscle that is attached to the scapula and ribcage, and aids in “flattening out” the scapula during overhead movements.

Wall slides help to isolate and activate the serratus anterior.

One final thing that we can work on is flexibility for the lats. The latissimus dorsi is a huge muscle that to our arms and to our spines. It’s function is broad, but it terms of overhead pressing, it resists the motion of our arms going overhead.

Overhead pressing and mobility.
So, I’m sure you can see that if your lats are tight, overhead pressing can be restricted. No worries, as these bad boys can be stretched easily.

And That’s How You Fix Your Overhead Press

So there you have it folks. Mobilize your thoracic spine, lengthen your latissimus dorsi muscles, and activate your serratus anterior. Then, you will be able to overhead press properly. For more mobility tips, I recommended checking out Kelly Starret at mobilitywod.com.

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3 Comments

  1. Photo Credits
    Military log press. Author: David P. Coleman. commons.wikimedia.org

  2. In science, laws are NOT “better than” or “above” a theory. In science, laws CAN be wrong and changed just as easily as a theory. They are NOT immutable. There is NOTHING about a law that makes it any “more true” than a theory. There is no heirarchy whatsoever. There are many misconceptions and you MUST understand this.

    Your thermodynamics comment on Sisson’s forum is way off base. I have spoken to 40 of the top physicists ( including Christopher Jarzynski the pioneering, world renowned non – equilibrium thermodynamics expert -recommended to me by M.I.T. professors) over the last 3 years to discredit people like you.

    The human body is an open, NON – equilibrium, DISSPITAVE system. This makes the situation hellishly complex.

    Humans EXHANGE matter and energy with their environment. When we breathe we are chanign the numbers of atoms/molecules in our bodies.

    There is NO EQUATION that can characterize the loss and gain of muscle/fat in huamns. IF it could even be done it would be MANY equations- not singular- and extremely complex to the maiximum as we are non – equilibrium systems. Obesity is an extremely complex BIOLOGICAL/BIOCHEMICAL phenomenon and best understood within that framework. It is NOT a basic thermodynamcis problem. Jarkzynski HIMSELF told me ALL of this personally. Yes , the first law is valid for life, HOWEVER, The first law says NOTHING about the BIOCHEMICAL CAUSES of obesity. NOTHING. There are INVOLUNTARY BIOCHEMICAL./HORMONAL causes for a positive energy balance over a certain time frame. Low testosterone, low thyroid and disease states themselves ALL affect energy balance. Hormones themselves affect this and more things affect it as well.

    The human body POOPS out calories – 9 % of total energy. yes, poop has claories. NOBDOY mentions this. Humans PRODUCE VERY SUBSTANTIAL amounts of DISSIPATED HEAT- LOST energy. Nobody mentions this either.

    I want to make perfectly clear that the first law of thermoduynamics is being MUISUSED and ABUSED on the Blogoshpere. The first law says NOTHING WHATSOEVER about the BIOCHEMICAL CAUSES of obesity.ALL physcists I spoke to AGREED. Its reach and scope are extremely limited. It is POINTLESS to even mention it as Gary Taubes points out. ALL- ALL 40 physcists agreed with Taubes obn this point. Obesity is a BIOCHEMICAL PROBLEM. Fat cells become disregulated. Many things go wrong. Normal people cannot simply gorge and get to 600 pounds let alone 1,000 pounds. Obesity is a genuine disease state for which tere are NO SOLUTIONS currently.

    You have A LOT to learn, Mark. Weight regian is BIOLOGICAL, NOT about willpower. A very powerful “chemo-mechanic effect” is strongly induced in the muscles. The body has innumerable defensive biological safeguards that DEFEND fat mass. Lose just 10 % of body weight and a powerful reduction in total energy expenditure by 25 % occurs !!!! This effect lasts even 8 years out- indefintitey.. Diets themselves PHYSIOLOGICALLY DOOM US to weight regain. Dr. Leibel has consistently shwon this. These forums are a total joke, including Sisson’s…

    The claoric hypotheis is a dead horse in the world of science, guy. ANYBODY up to date with CONTEMPORARY obesity research understand this well.

    It cannot even begin to explain “normal weight obesity” The fat cell disregulation hypothesis DOES have potential to explain this. recent work on C Elegans worms shows that they have a brain to body circuit that enables them to LOSE WEIGHT IDNEPENDENT of food intake. Scripps scientists have GOOD reason to believe that as similar circuit exists in humans and other mammals.

    Down this road you do NOT want to go with me as I have loomd into this every sibngle day the last 4 years ( including holidays) speaking to INNUMERABLE numbers of biologists, obesity researchers and physics professors from top universities such as Harvard,Cal Tech and M.I.T.

    Sincerely,
    jane

    • I was apprehensive of approving your comment (after finding it marked as spam weeks later), because you’ve sent me numerous emails through numerous email-accounts, with the same damn message. However, you seem to be very concerned in my beliefs, so I’ll let the comment through.

      Anyway, I do not have time at the moment to come up with a thorough and formulated response, so here’s a quick reply – these past few months I’ve undergone the first ever calorie-expenditure estimation, reduced intake, and subsequent weight-loss. Basically, for the first time in years, I’m losing weight, and it happens to be after the first time I count my calories.

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