Ever notice that the 1st rep in the overhead press (OHP) is always the hardest?
Not only that, but consistent progress and hitting 1RM's, along with repetition maxes in the OHP is not as frequent as the other major barbell lifts?
Last but not least, don't you find that your OHP is totally screwed up if your set up (unracking the bar off the hooks, walking backwards with the bar in your hands, and finally getting the right foot position on the floor) is even slightly off?
You are not alone.
There are 10's of thousands of men, women and transgendered lifters just like you, who struggle with the initial rep of the OHP in both 1RM attempts and in a multi-rep work set, and often have their set ruined because they couldn’t generate enough momentum from a dead step bottom position in order to drive the bar upwards and complete the rep.
Yet you and everyone else keeps on struggling with the OHP because of that pesky first few inches of the first repetition, while other lifts such as the squat, deadlift and bench press keep on progressing.
Fortunately, I've discovered this ONE WEIRD TRICK (trainers hate me) to blast through the hardest portion of the OHP, allowing you to continue making gains and crush OHP PR's.
Step 1: Set Up The Bar
Set up the safety bars in the power rack to the same height as where the J-hooks would be for the OHP.
Tip: Place the J-hooks a little higher than the safety bars first, then place the bar on the J-hooks temporarily, then position the safety bars at the right height, and finally place the bar down onto the safety bars.
This can also be done with squat stands or jerk blocks set up at the proper height.
Step 2: Get In Position
Assume your OHP stance, and then bend your knees so that the bar is just underneath your chin.
Step 3: Stand Up With The Bar
The force of your legs will drive the bar upwards.
IMPORTANT: Do not press at this point! If you do, it becomes a push press!
Step 4: Allow The Bar To Drop Back Down Towards Your Collar Bones
This is where the magic happens. Take advantage of the stretch reflex to help propel the bar upwards.
This bounce is similar to the bounce you get from the bottom of a squat, or the bounce on the repetitions following the first rep on the overhead press (assuming you’re not pausing at the bottom).
Step 5: Press
Now, press up!
Here’s what it looks like altogether, in choppy slow motion:
And here's a few videos demonstrating this one weird trick:
Why This Works
- Bar moves in a straight line up and down (or more specifically, up, down, UUUPPP, down)
- Don't lose balance from walking backwards
- Minimal time holding the bar before pressing
- Eliminates the need to unrack, step backwards and get in position before pressing
- Harness the stretch reflex to help move the bar up (something I wrote about on AllThingsGym.com a while ago, back when my 1RM was 255 lb)
How I Discovered This One Weird Trick
As I imagine with most people who perform the overhead press, I typically set the barbell on J-hooks at around armpit to shoulder level, take the bar out of the rack, take a few steps backwards, get my feet in position before finally initiating the press.
You know, the traditional way of executing the OHP.
Now, this works well most of the time (during warm ups and work sets), but when you're trying to get the elusive and increasing difficult to obtain 1 rep max with the OHP, you want to save all your energy into driving the bar up. The act of unracking, stepping back, getting into the right position before actually pressing, not surprisingly, takes a bit of energy to perform. Not only that, but any sort of missteps may cause you to lose balance, not get into perfect position, which will extend the “holding the bar before pressing” time, making you a little more fatigue before even initiating the lift. This extra fatigue can make or break an OHP 1RM.
I've figured out a while ago that cleaning the bar off the floor will paradoxically make the overhead press feel a lot easier. It's probably because of a combination of getting your <broscience>CNS primed and revved up due to the explosively picking up the bar off the floor</broscience>, and eliminating any horizontal motion of the bar before pressing (i.e. you don't need to unrack and step backwards).
Here’s an example of what I mean:
The problem with this (at least for me) is that I can press more than I can power clean (current “max” is 245 lb for the power clean, which was done before OHP it for 3 reps), so I'll always be limited by why I can pick up off the floor and bring to my shoulders.
Now, I know what some of you internet lifters are thinking:
“This is not a strict press you cheater! It should be done from a dead stop, heels together with a perfectly straight back!”
Listen, the press is not a competition lift, so it's no big deal. As long as the knees are locked during the press (i.e. not a push press), it's fine IMO.
And pressing in this fashion is probably similar to squatting in a monolift, in the sense that you don't have to unrack the bar, step back, and get into proper position before starting the lift:
You're already in position to execute the lift, more or less.
On a continuum of easy-to-hard variations of the overhead press:
Press off the safety bars as described in this article > Unrack off the J-hooks > Clean the bar off the floor before pressing > Strict, heels together "military press" that I never see done correctly
The order may vary between people, but you know what I mean.
Try this “One Weird Trick” of setting the bar on the saftey pins of the power rack before you overhead press. Eliminate wasted energy unracking and walking backwards with a loaded barbell, and take advantage of the initial stretch reflex to make the first rep a lot easier.
Experience how well this works for you, and let me know what kind of GAINZ you make!