While the Bench Press is the king of upper body exercises, the Push Press is next in line for the crown. While less commonly performed by the average gym goer, the Push Press has value that carries over most, if not all fitness goals. Additionally, the Push Press is just plain useful. Hypothetically, if I had to prescribe just one upper body pushing exercise to my clients, it would be the Push Press. I love the Push Press. (**Note, the Push Press just like every other exercise, it can be misused and incorrectly performed. I am advocating for intelligent execution and programming.)
Why Push Press?
Carry Over to Real Life and Athletics- Consider the full range of upper body exercises you perform in the gym, not one carries over to an actual movement performed in everyday life. Picking things up and placing them overhead is a common movement and probably more common is the reverse picking things up from overhead and lowering them to our chest. The carryover to athletics is undeniable, building explosive power throughout the entire kinetic chain i.e. from your feet to your shoulders is essential for sports dependent on power think football, basketball, Olympic Lifting, jumping and catching as in baseball, and so much more.
Hypertrophy– The Push Press allows for more overload of musculature, more so than a traditional strict press. You can generally push press 10-20% more. Bigger weights =bigger muscles. Period. The Push Press is a great auxiliary lift for those looking for hypertrophy in the deltoids and pecs. Particularly if you perform the Push Press correctly touching the upper chest, the Push Press is a good exercise for building the fibers of the upper chest.
Full Body Strength – The Push Press starts from the floor. Force is generated from the floor and travels to the barbell in your hands. The hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes are all used during the Push Press to help initiate force. So unlike the strict press, the Push Press trains the body as a unit.
Overall Power (including lower body power) – The Push Press should not and cannot performed well slowly. The Push Press performed correctly is a true power exercise. While the benefits of the Push Press on upper body power are obvious (your pushing a bar explosively upwards with your chest shoulders and triceps), the Push Press has also been shown to produce greater lower extremity maximum mean power when compared to the jump squat, a commonly prescribed movement for improving lower body power (1). Again the Push Press’s benefit to work the body as a singular unit remains.
Practicing Full Body Tightness – One overlooked benefit of performing a proper Push press is the movement helps reinforce full body tightness. To properly perform the Push Press you need to squeeze your whole body, from your quads and glutes, to your hands holding the barbell. If you are looking to build maximum strength, full body tightness is essential. Additionally, the Push Press helps practice full body tightness, while performing shoulder and elbow extension like in the Bench Press.
Rotator Cuff and Scapulohumeral Rhythm (aka protecting your shoulder joint and maintain a mobile scapula)- The rotator cuff is a serious of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. These muscles include the (Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Subscapularis, and Teres Minor muscles) which aid in shoulder flexion, extension, as well as internal/external rotation. The rotator cuff has been shown to be active during overhead pressing. (2) In particular the Supraspinatus shows the highest level of activation. (2) Interestingly enough the Supraspinatus is also the muscle most associated with rotator cuff tears. The shoulder is made up of primarily two structures: the humerus and the scapula. The movement that occurs between these two structures is what is known as Scapulohumeral rhythm. When you perform pressing exercises with your back pinned to a bench (aka in the bench press and all its variations), your scapula is pinned disrupting this natural movement and creating an immobile scapula. The movement that occurs during the Push-Press allows for natural Scapulohumeral rhythm.
Your Ego – If all those reasons aren’t enough to consider incorporating some sort of Push Pressing into your programing, maybe this is. You can use about 10-15% more weight doing a Push Press compared to a strict press. While I’m not recommending using loads you cant’ handle (be smart), if someone has stagnated with the strict press the Push Press is a good alternative to help build back their confidence with pressing, especially with feeling comfortable with heavier weights.
1. Lake J et al, Power and Impulse Applied During Push Press Exercise, J Strength Cond Res, 28(9): 2552–2559, 2014
2.Townsend H et al, Electromyographic analysis of the glenohumeral muscles during a baseball rehabilitation program, Amer J Sports Med, 13(3): 264 – 272, 1991
3. Getz JD et al, “Acromial morphology: relation to sex, age, symmetry, and subacromial enthesophytes”, Radiology, June 199(3):737 – 742, 1996