Overhead press workout
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Overhead press workout

The overhead press is a movement that's underrated and too often avoided. Incorporating this into your routine can promote the health of the rotator cuff muscles, which help with shoulder stability, and makes sure the upper arm is able to move freely and efficiently in its socket. That's essential for other pressing exercises, upper body mobility, and avoiding injury in sports like tennis, baseball, and golf. The problem: It's hard to execute and even harder to do well.

One of the most common mistakes in the shoulder press is not following a straight path to the finish. The bar has to travel in a straight line from the start position, with bent elbows, to the finishing position where your arms are straight overhead. When you don't follow the straight line, shearing forces can do damage to the shoulders, causing discomfort or even injury. This is why it's essential to start off with a low, manageable weight and always focus on the path of the bar.

A second area of concern is the lower back. Everyone's back has a natural arch in the lower (lumbar) region. But when dealing with a standing vertical push movement, the force on the spine can cause an exaggeration of that arch. To maintain proper alignment, contract the abdominals and glutes simultaneously to neutralize the spine. This will make it more difficult to up the weight, but it will make the press safer, too.

With this in mind, here's how to do it right:

  • Squeeze the butt, and pull the shoulder blades back so that you're stiff as a board.
  • Start with the bar at shoulder level, and your elbows facing out, directly under the bar, or even an inch ahead of it. 
  • Press the bar without any assistance from the legs, until your arms are completely straight overhead.
  • Use the above cues to ensure your physics are in line, and your back is straight, and you'll be on track for healthy and strong shoulders in no time.
  • Start with a comfortable weight that will ensure you're using proper technique. Perform 3 to 4 sets of 10 reps, and increase the load by 5 percent each overhead press workout, until you can no longer perform 10 reps. Once you've reached this point, keep practicing with this load, and repeat the process once you can surpass 10 reps.