Overhead or shoulder pressing is a movement that has been thrown into the spotlight.
With the rejuvenation of Olympic lifting more people are performing push presses, jerks, and other overhead exercises that ever.
Standard shoulder press variations are always going to be in favor with the general fitness crowd since shoulder tend to still get their own day. Most splits will usually be back/biceps, chest/triceps, shoulders, arms, and legs (sometimes).
These are all great things for the industry and people are being exposed to a variety of movements.
The only real issue is that overhead pressing can cause a lot of shoulder problems. A labrum or rotator cuff can get chewed up pretty easily when the wrong variation is performed.
Most people do not have the range of motion in the shoulder, or the core stability, to perform safe overhead pressing. When we force it anyway, the compensation pattern has to happen somewhere. The back or the shoulder are the two main places.
Once screen that I really like because it gives me good information, simply, is the overhead reach.
To perform this one, face one shoulder to a mirror and reach both arms overhead. There are two things we are looking for: 1. the shoulders should get to the ears, and 2. the ribs should not flare/back should not have a huge arch to get there. If number 2 is present retest without letting the ribs jet out.
Someone that lacks the appropriate range of motion in the shoulders to reach overhead should not be adding weight to that pattern. Luckily there are ways to train the shoulders in spite of this. By avoiding the overhead work, the shoulder will be in better positions. We should also be working on core stability to resist extension (rib flare).
- Landmine Presses
Using different variations of landmine presses are much better on the shoulders. These exercises are a blend of overhead pressing and horizontal/chest pressing.
Since the shoulders do not need to get overhead, more people can safely perform landmine variations. The elbow should stay in line with the wrist and hand, pushing the bar straight away from the body.
These can be performed half kneeling, tall kneeling, standing, split stance, and from a split squat. Single arm variations are important here because it will train core stability.
Use the landmine press to continue to train the shoulders without causing further damage.
- Neutral Grip Kettlebell Pressing
The kettlebell is a great tool. The way that it is constructed and the weight is distributed helps out with overhead pressing.
With the kettlebell, we can keep the elbow close to the body and push it straight into the air. This avoids the pain causing position of the arm out to the side and pressing out and around.
This type of press will not require as much range of motion in the shoulder and single arm variations should be used. By going single arm, we reduce the change of a huge arch in the back.
We can use the same postures that I listed for the landmines and I would recommend building from the ground up, starting with the half kneeling position.
- Training the Rotator Cuff
A lot of times the shoulder is in pain because the humerus has moved forward in the joint and is putting pressure on the front of the labrum. A well-developed rotator cuff can bring the shoulder back and centered in the joint. This will reduce the symptoms of pain from bad alignment.
Training the rotator cuff does not mean doing a million band internal and external rotations.
We must train the scapula to stay stable and rotate up when needed.
Exercises like prone trap raises or band Y’s are great for activating the rotator cuff and resisting rib flare.
Overhead pressing is not for everyone. Actually, most people would have less shoulder issues if they spent less time doing shoulders. This does not mean that the shoulders have to get neglected, we just have to change our approach.
You would not wear pants that you cannot actually fit into, so do not pick an exercise that doesn’t suit you well. Try these other variations and you will benefit tremendously.