The standing push press is one of the nine foundation movements performed in CrossFit. The movement itself is crucial for building the strength, mobility, and multi-joint coordination required for progressive movements and exercises, such as handstand push-ups, jerks, snatches, and many other staple movements.
By performing weightlifting accessory exercises regularly to improve the standing push press, an athlete can effectively improve and correct movement imbalances, increase strength and muscle size, as well as athletic ability, enhancing overall performance outcomes.
What Is Standing Push Press?
A standing push press is a benchmark movement, often seen in CrossFit gyms, with the objective of moving an object from a front rack shoulder position to an active overhead position. Having a strong push press can correlate to an athlete primarily possessing impressive midline stability, overhead strength, and shoulder strength and mobility.
The push press is different from the strict shoulder press because it permits a small dip and drives from the hips to assist in the press to the overhead position. It is also different from the push jerk because the feet stay on the floor for the entirety of the press. For reference, the push press should be approximately thirty percent stronger than your strict shoulder press and should equally be thirty percent less than your push jerk.
What Are The Benefits Of Push Press?
Although the push press looks to be a movement that is isolated in the upper-transverse plane of the body, the push press is actually an entire-body affair. Being proficient at the push press can mean a few different things.
Your midline is your center of gravity and the point from with power, control, and strength flows. Your center of gravity needs to be stable and strong in order for your extremities to be able to move heavyweight. Developing a strong standing push press translates to more midline stability.
Improves Overhead Position
In order to press a large amount of weight overhead, one must also be comfortable withholding and controlling that amount of weight overhead. This invariably will help strengthen and mobilize other overhead movements.
Shoulder Strength And Mobility
The push press is a movement that relies primarily on the strength and the mobility of your shoulders. Your shoulders must have some sort of strength to be able to push and control weight overhead, but they must also have the mobility to achieve the overhead position with little struggle or discomfort.
The power that you gain in the standing push press as opposed to the strict shoulder press is primarily derived from the power you can utilize in the dip and drive from the hips.
How To Strengthen Your Standing Push Press
The following accessory movements to strengthen your standing push press are proven and helpful progressions that any athlete looking to strengthen their push press can do. We encourage you to work diligently on each exercise because they will provide you with a more well-rounded push press. However, each exercise has the ability to target a specific area that you may be noticeably weaker in.
4 Accessory Movements to Strengthen Your Standing Push Press
The best way to strengthen your standing push press is by doing accessory movements. We've chosen the following 4 movements based on their ability to transfer into other larger movements, like the clean and jerk and the snatch. We've also chosen them for their ability to improve muscular strength, shoulder stabilization, and to improve total body awareness throughout the movements. And lastly, the 4 following accessory movements have been chosen because of their ability to train multiple groups of muscles at various levels of weight, intensity, and volume.
1. Single-Arm Overhead Hold And Carry
If you are comfortable in the overhead position but struggle with strength, this is where overhead holds and carries will benefit you. Prioritizing asymmetrical work in training allows you to put in the same amount of work on both sides of your body without relying on the “strong side” to carry or hold more weight.
You can do the hold and the carries using a dumbbell or kettlebell and that is a weight that is challenging but allows you to accomplish the sets unbroken. The single-arm overhead hold and carry proves to be a great accessory movement for strengthening your standing push press and overhead movement strength.
How To Single-Arm Overhead Hold and Carry:
- Starting with the overhead isometric hold
- Actively shrug your shoulders into your ears in a fully locked out overhead position and ensure that your wrist is in a neutral position with knuckles facing the ceiling.
- Your wrist should be stacked directly over your shoulder, hip, knee, and heel. Your entire body should be in a straight, vertical line.
- To ensure a neutral pelvis and rib position, tuck your tailbone under and activate a crunch position in your core – this will also benefit your midline stability. I recommend doing this movement with the insides of your feet pressed together to keep the weight distribution relatively even upon both feet.
- Work up to a heavyweight that you can hold overhead for 30 seconds for 20 sets, alternating arms each between sets.
Once you are comfortable with the overhead hold, challenge yourself to achieve the same great form while carrying the object overhead. Carries will challenge your muscles to stay neutral and under tension while simultaneously being mobile and will primarily challenge your shoulder position and your midline stability so make sure to stay mindful about those positions.
An example of programming this movement into your exercise regimen: Find a challenging weight that you can hold a strong overhead position with and walk for 100m by 4 sets with 60 seconds of rest between each set.
Coaching Tip: Pay attention to the disparities of strength between each arm. If one arm is significantly weaker in strength than the other, add an additional 1-2 sets to build up the strength. However, if mobility is the constricted factor and discomfort is ever felt during an overhead hold or carry, discontinue the movement and retry at a lower weight. If pain is ever felt, discontinue, and talk with your trainer, doctor, or physical therapist.
2. Single-Arm Strict Press
The single-arm press can be done with a kettlebell or dumbbell and should be at a weight that can be accomplished unbroken and with no help from a dip in the legs or drive from the hips.
Asymmetrical movements are a great way to ensure that both sides of the body are working equally as hard! I recommend doing this movement with the insides of your feet pressed together to keep the weight distribution relatively even upon both feet. You can also do this movement as a Z Press with either a kettlebell or dumbbell from a seated position (as shown in the video) to strengthen your standing push press.
How To Single-Arm Strict Press:
- The single-arm strict press starts with the weight in a front rack position, elbow pointing forward and feet together.
- Strictly press the weight vertically with a neutral wrist to a fully locked out position overhead.
- The shoulder should be actively shrugged into the ear with the wrist stacked directly above. Slowly lower the weight back to the front rack position and repeat.
- You can incorporate these into your warm-up routine on days that push presses are programmed.
Coaching Tip: Test yourself by warming up to a max set of ten repetitions on the weaker arm. Then establish how many repetitions you can complete on the stronger arm. This will give you an idea of how much stronger one arm is than the other. Following this, an example of programming for this could look something like: at 80% of your max weight, accomplish 5 sets of 15 reps for each arm and add an additional set for the weaker arm.
3. Single-Arm Landmine Press
The single-arm landmine press is specifically a strengthening tool for the athlete that struggles with the mobility portion of the standing push press because of their inability to accomplish a comfortable vertical press or overhead position. I have seen the landmine press used for athletes with severe shoulder injuries or rehabilitation from shoulder surgeries and it has been greatly beneficial. If you feel general discomfort or just weak in the overhead position, the landmine press may be exactly the exercise you need to strengthen your push press and overhead position while you simultaneously conquer your mobility issues.
How To Single-Arm Landmine Press:
- Start with a barbell in a landmine device or wedged securely in a corner, standing facing the barbell and holding it directly in front of the chest.
- With the single-arm landmine presses, step the opposite foot to the hand holding the barbell forward and the same foot back to counter the weight.
- Press the barbell out until your elbow has fully locked out and return the barbell to the shoulder slow and controlled.
- At the full lockout, ensure that the hand is directly in line with the shoulder, not the center of the body.
- Work up to a challenging weight that you can accomplish 5 sets of an unbroken 20 repetitions on each side.
4. Pausing Dip Work
This progression is for people that are proficient with and comfortable throughout the push press movement and have no problems with the overhead position. Pausing dip work, with less focus on shoulder strength, is meant to challenge your body to pause and hold the muscle activation and tension before exploding into a full standing push press movement. This will challenge your midline to stay engaged as well as your hips to provide the same amount of power even after a pause.
How To Perform Pause Push Press:
- Work up to a weight that you can accomplish 3-5 unbroken reps of push press and load onto the bar that is sitting on a rig or boxes that are that a height that you can easily un-rack in the front rack position.
- Rack the barbell and assume a strong starting position for the press.
- Engaging the core, tucking the hips, tightening down the latissimus dorsi, and squeezing the elbows forward, dip and hold for 3 full breaths actively holding and engaging the dip and front rack position, then actively drive through your heels, explosively opening the hips and driving the barbell directly overhead.
- Repeat this for 5 sets of 3-5 repetitions.
How To Strengthen Push Press: Takeaway
As the push press is a benchmark barbell movement and one that many people struggle to strengthen or feel comfortable in, there are so many barbell movements that can also benefit from these progressions as well! Being intentional and diligent throughout these progressions will pay off in your quest for a stronger standing push press.
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