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How to Build Back to Overhead Pressing

Written on March 27, 2014 at 7:11 pm, by Eric Cressey

With all the shoulders I've seen over the years, I've stumbled onto quite a few key "take-home" points. Today, I'd like to share one observation I've made. First, though, I have to tell a quick story to set the stage.

Like a lot of guys with shoulder problems, I miss being able to overhead press, so I've taken to experimenting with a lot of different approaches to see how I can at least "get close" to working it back in.  Last year, I talked about how landmine presses had been working as a nice "bridge" between overhead work and true horizontal pressing exercises.  Check out the coaching cues:

The arm path on a landmine press really isn’t much different than an incline press – so why does the incline press hurt so much more for those with shoulder pain in their injury history?  Having the shoulder blades pinned against a bench limits their ability to freely upwardly rotate; they're stuck in scapular downward rotation. 

This year, to take it a step further, I played around a lot with bottoms-up kettlebell overhead carries and pressing, and my shoulder did great with them.  With this drill, you teach people where an appropriate “finish” position is, and then you can work backward from it.

The next progression would be a 1-arm bottoms-up KB military press:

The unstable bottoms-up position shifts more of the muscular contribution to joint stability than actual force production, so you can get to positions pain-free that would otherwise be really uncomfortable.

Assuming you don't have shoulder pain, these are two good progressions to try to see if you're really cut out for overhead work.

Looking for more shoulder insights?  Check out Optimal Shoulder Performance, our popular DVD set that bridges the gap between rehabilitation and high performance.

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  • Adam

    Eric, the incline press… In addition to scapular “pinning”, how much would you contribute the pain and capsule restrictions of that movement to the position of shoulder abduction combined with external rotation and extension? Have you played with various shoulder planes with the incline press to determine whether your shoulder responds differently? – Regards, Adam

  • Adam

    I neglected to include in that initial question…. Position of shoulder during incline press (Abd/ER/Ext) compared to landmine press (Sagittal) and the influence on GHJ soft tissue stress.

  • Eric

    I know some people don’t recommend overhead lifting for people with winging scapulae. I’m assuming the same case for landmine presses or am I wrong?

  • http://www.jackhammerstrength.com Nathan Jordan

    I have lots of male clients with shoulder issues. I will be implementing the 1 arm half kneeling press tonight. I think I will start doing bottoms up kettlebell presses on a regular basis as well. Hopefully my shoulders get better and I can return to lifting the kind of weight that I used to.

    Thanks,

    Nathan Jordan
    Jackhammer Strength Training

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Eric,

    It’d be something that one would have to build up to over time, as movement quality improves.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Adam,

    I’ve tried it all! Can’t say anything really makes a difference except for reduced load + unstable conditions.

  • http://peterfabian.com/blog/ Peter Fabian

    Eric C

    Appreciate and want to emphasize that getting a shoulder or whatever joint in shape is a work in progress over much time. Your point of working for awhile on one thing Ie landmine presses and then on this recent end range stability is important–thanks always for sharing these progressions

    It has taken me also a long time–also whenever i quit overhead lifting (and supplementary work) I can revert back to the same problem as before–then again it takes time to come back

  • Bill Weekley

    I have had a lot of success with Brad Pilon, and Adonis Index. I’m 62, and pretty much, just interested in looking good. Are your workouts similar?

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Bill,

    I’d say that my stuff is quite a bit different.


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