The overhead press is one of the truest tests of strengths out there. Picking up an axle, a log, or an odd implement and pressing it over your head is just badass — there is no other way to put it. However, there are a few mistakes that I’ve noticed over the past 10 years of watching people attempt heavy weights that keep them from being successful overhead log pressers. Like any other movement, there is skill when it comes to becoming great with a log, so I am going to go over the top three mistakes I see while cleaning and pressing the log that I hope can help you get the best out of your pressing.

Mistake #1 — Not Respecting the Weight

When I’m coaching an athlete through a movement, one of the biggest things I stress is making sure your body is working as a complete system. I like to use the Christmas light analogy: if you have a string of Christmas lights, but just one bulb is out, your whole string is out. Fix that bulb.

A lot of beginner strongmen look at the weight and think to themselves, “Get it up any way that I can," which makes them approach the weight sloppily and clean it up to a rack position with form that somewhat mimics bacon in a frying pan. This is not respecting the weight. This might work for lower weights, and for a short amount of time, but if you’re ever going to make it to a competitive level, you have to respect the weights and understand that any deviations from sound technique and calculated execution will cost you energy, and eventually lots of missed lifts. Moving big weights requires maximum efficiency.

How do you fix it? First, repetition. Go through the motions over, and over, and over again. There is a caveat to this, however: make sure you’re hitting reps with perfect technique. If it’s not perfect each rep, drop the weight down until it is perfect. In the words of JL Holdsworth, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect,” You need to train that movement pattern over and over again.

Second, learn how to get all the light bulbs in your string of lights to shine. Go up to a wall, put your hands on the wall, and push against it as hard as you can. Do you feel that? That’s your whole body working as a system. Every muscle is engaged. That’s how you should feel with every lift you do. With a log, it’s no different. Get tight on the bar, lap it, keeping it as close and as tight to your body as possible, keep your elbows out, upper back tight, head up, huge hip drive, and throw those elbows under to get into the rack position. Which brings us to our next point.

Mistake #2 — Weak Upper Back and Loose Rack Position

One thing I notice when I’m at a competition is that nearly every single time someone misses a press after a good clean, it’s for the same exact reason. They rush the press and their elbows drop, letting the log roll down the front of their chest an inch or two. This may not seem like a big deal, but it can be the difference between hitting PRs and being left in the dust.

In order to have an efficient overhead log press, you need a strong upper back and a strong trunk. I’m not a physicist, so I can’t give you exact numbers, but for every measure of distance your elbows go down, and that log rolls forward, you’re losing more and more power. Once you get a log in the rack position, let it settle, and the only place that log should move after that is directly down with your dip, and then straight back up with your leg drive.

MORE: Deadlift Training for the Strongman

To fix this problem, I am a huge fan of tons of upper back work and presses with a pause in the rack position. When I worked with coaches like Alex Viada and Steve Trippe, these were things that they always stressed. One of my favorite exercises for upper back is Pendlay rows from pins set right around knee level. If you don’t know what these are, they are explosive, dead stop barbell rows.  These definitely helped my stay tighter in a rack position by allowing my upper back to accommodate heavy weights. Pressing with a pause in the rack position is also one of my favorite exercises for learning the rack position, especially with a log. However, these have to be actual pauses, not three-second pauses where you start with one before you even stop and count three on your way back up. I’m talking five-second pauses in the rack and starting the count when you are at a complete dead stop. Doing these for sets of three to five reps with a moderate weight will point out any instabilities very quickly. There is also one other exercise that I think is invaluable for the overhead press, having a strong upper back, and being able stabilize your trunk.

Mistake #3 — Not Squatting Enough

Primarily, I see this mistake with not front squatting enough. I firmly believe that front squatting is one of the best supplementary movements for strongman. I’ve noticed correlations time and time again between an increased front squat and an increased overhead, as well as an increased deadlift. I prefer front squats to squats for a few reasons (though squats are still important).

First, if you have a weak upper back and abs, front squats are going to point those out very quickly, because either you’re going to lift the weight, or you're going to dump it like midnight taco bell.

Second, front squats teach you how to create force through your legs while maintaining an upright position, which is extremely important for overhead pressing. Pitching forward in a press as you drive up is a good way to lose the press out in front of you. Being able to maintain a neutral position while drive force up is going to open you up to a lot of PRs.

And finally, it teaches you how to deal with heavy weight crushing your chest. Being comfortable with a lot of weight on your chest/rack/clavicles is extremely important when pressing. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen, or have personally experienced, a missed lift due to the fact that the weight was too heavy in the rack position, even when it’s a weight I know I can press, or the clean felt easy. Getting your front squat well over your max log or axle clean will put you in a position where racking a heavy weight will be second nature.

At the end of the day, my best advice would be to slow down and really analyze what you’re doing. Watch the best log lifters in the world: Zydrunas Savickas, Dimitar Savatinov, Vytautas Lalas, Rob Kearney, etc. They are all masters of efficiency, approaching each lift with calculated intent. Respect the weight, because it’s going to make you earn it. If you try to throw it around like a rag doll, it’s going to fight back.

Notice none of my tips were about pressing movements themselves. Getting strong in those lifts is important, but become a technician, because down the road, that’s going to be the deciding factor on whether or not you’re a mediocre presser or a great presser.

Finding Strength: The Mission