Reprogramming the Overhead Press

TAGS: re, overhead, me, de, cube, watts, mark, quick flip, 5/3/1, conjugate, press, periodization, WSBB

Question

First of all: I am a Powerlifter. But I treat my Overhead Press just as all my other lifts and don’t neglect it.

So my Overhead Press is my weakest lift and it doesn’t seem to improve at all – well actually, it hasn’t improved at all since about a year to a year and a half. I am stuck at a 135lbs 1RM.

While all my other lifts increase, my press simply doesn’t. I did 5/3/1, which worked for quite a time, but after a while I stagnated and wasn’t able to improve anymore. I should say, I followed the program exactly as laid out and did it for 10 months, so no program hopping or something like that.

Currently I use the Cube-method. This works GREAT for my Bench, Squat and Deadlift, but since it doesn’t suggest a real routine/progression for the Overhead Press (Overhead Presses are just done for several sets of 8-12 reps on a 4th “Bodybuilding day”, as laid out in the Cube ebook), I am doing the “Strong15-method” for the Press.

But same here: Worked for several weeks, then stagnation occurred and for months nothing happens.

My Overhead Press day looks like this:

OHP Strong15
DB OHP, seated
Closegrip Bench
Tricep Assistance
Shoulder Assistance
Do you have an idea how I could break that ongoing plateau? Again: All my Lifts increase (also my Benchpress), except my Overhead press.

Thank you very much for your answer, I really appreciate it!

Answer

Thank you for the question and you are the first person to call me a strong presser so that makes us best friends.

The overhead press is always going to be stubborn for a few reasons.

Because the OHP generally is used with lighter weight than the squat, bench, and deadlift, the improvements are going to be in smaller increments as well. I am not trying to be condescending, but this is one way to look at it. For example, if your squat is 350 and your OHP is 150 a 10 pound jump for each is drastically different. That is a 2.8% increase in the squat and a 7% increase in the OHP. So it requires so much more diligence for every pound you can get.
The first rep starts with a concentric contraction and there is no stretch reflex. Much like the deadlift although you need to statically hold the bar in place before you press it. Overcoming inertia while supporting the weight (that may be contradictory), makes it much more difficult.
Technique

Without seeing a video of you pressing, I do not want to assume there are any issues, but these may serve as reminders.

Make sure the your elbows are directly under your middle and index fingers. Keep your forearms in a vertical path.
Push your elbows forward before you press. This will keep your upper back tight.
Think of opening a window and looking out of it when pressing. This will help you “negotiate your face.”
Pull the bar apart and and try and rotate your biceps forward with your hands facing out (you wont be able to because of the barbell) Attempting to do this will help in the lockout (along with pushing your head through).
Press Day Exercise Selection

Not real familiar with the Strong15 program but as far as exercise selection, there are a few things to think about.

There are 3 pressing (4 depending on the triceps exercise) in a row. More may not be better in this case, especially doing DB OHP immediately after pressing with a barbell. I would either alternate pushes and pulls or at lease alternate the planes of motion.
There are no chinning or rowing movements whatsoever. I assume you may be doing them during deadlift day? Anyway, I feel you can get more out of pressing movements of you can put an antagonistic exercise in between. Plus, strengthening the upper back will provide more stability, more efficiency in the eccentric phase, and prolonged shoulder health.

Programming

One thing to keep in mind, Simon, is that every program works...for a while. The body has the amazing ability to adapt to any stimulus. This can be a bad thing when it comes to training. Sticking with the same proven principles but adapting methods is extremely important.

I have used 5/3/1, the Cube Method, etc. with good success. The key is adapting these methodologies once they plateau or at least to your situation.

Couple things you can adjust your programming to increase your gains.

WSBB, Tier System, and The Cube Method basically incorporate the same movement under different methodologies.

WSBB – DE and ME within the same week
Tier – DE, ME, and RE within the same week
Cube – DE, ME, And RE over a 3 week period

The key is to determine which method will help your press.

Dynamic Effort

The overhead press has some challenges with the implementation of the dynamic effort training. With DE for OHP, there are two options:

  1. Olympic variation like the Push Press (this can turn into a ME movement), the Push Jerk, Split Jerk, etc.
  2. Using accommodating resistance. This is more difficult for OHP. With chains, set them up like the squat. You can single up the 5/8 chain. The band set-up is much different than the squat. Here's a look at how I like to do it.

Max Effort

No matter what program you are doing, rotating exercises may help breaking through with some plateaus. Conjugated Periodization is much more than rotating exercises, but it is one of the key characteristics of it.

You can incorporate some of these exercises for a 4 week cycle or weekly depending on your program.

  • Savickas Presses
  • OHP with a pause
  • OHP with bands
  • OHP with Chains
  • Swiss Bar Press
  • Log Press
  • High Incline Press
  • Axle Press
  • 1 Arm DB Press (standing)
  • Push Press (will get you moving more weight)
  • 1 & 1/2 Reps
  • OHP from pins

Final Thoughts

Lastly, if you like the Cube method, there is no reason why you can’t use OHP in the same methodology as the other three lifts. Do you really need a “bodybuilding day”? Use the same type of rotation (although I used to have it not the same as the bench press) as you do for all of the other lifts.

Rotate a Dynamic OHP, a Max Effort OHP, and a Repetition OHP every week.

I hope this helps, Simon. Please let me know if there is anything else you need.

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