Different gyms call it different things — the shoulder press, the strict press, the military press. Regardless of what you call it, most CrossFitters I know hate to see an overhead press programmed into their strength training.
Why is the strict press such a kryptonite for many CrossFitters? Many, including myself, are frustrated with their shoulder press weight — or lack thereof. Using myself as an example, I’ve been doing CrossFit for three years now and have yet to break into the 100 pound club with my overhead press.
I’m not the only one who struggles to get gainz when it comes to shoulder press weight. Although the movement itself seems pretty simple — push weight from the front rack position to a locked out overhead position — it’s a lift that recruits several different muscle groups and requires attention to detail. Oh yeah, and no legs whatsoever.
Not to fear though. Like any lift, there are steps you can take to improve your shoulder press weight. Whether it’s working on your form or doing accessory work outside of your regular WODs, you can add a few pounds to your one-rep max in no time.
Why take the time to focus on your strict press? The strict press is an accessory lift and it contributes to several other lifts. When you see improvements in your strict press, you can expect to see those improvements translate to your clean and jerk and your push press as well. You may also see improvements in your hand stand work or even your overhead squat.
7 Ways to Improve Your Shoulder Press Weight
1. Get Your Abs Involved
You cannot be successful at an overhead lift without having a tight core.
The strict press is considered to be an “accessory lift” meaning it’s really a building block for other lifts — think clean and jerks and push presses. However, you will always struggle to hold even minute amounts of weight overhead if you do not have a locked in, tight core. You can do this by focusing on closing your rib cage in and squeezing your glutes before attempting to press overhead.
2. Don’t Be Afraid To Do Accessory Work
Sometimes, it’s going to take a little work outside of your regular rotation for you to see gains in your overhead press. The overhead press engages your core, your shoulders and your back primarily, so incorporate accessory work that targets those areas.
One great thing to practice is strict hand stand push ups or hand stand holds. You can also incorporate seated dumbbell presses, barbell rows and push ups each week to build strength.
3. Keep a Narrow Grip
People tend to use a wide grip when doing strict press. This is a common error — a wider grip means the bar has less space to travel before your arms are locked out and the lift is completed. Should make things simpler, right?
However, a narrower grip translates into a stronger, more stable grip with this lift. Keep your hands close together in a normal power grip and watch the magic happen.
4. Do Lots of Reps
Remember, the strict press is an accessory lift, so an easy way to build is to do more reps at a lower weight as opposed to trying to max out every time you get the opportunity. There are different programming options online or you can talk to the coach at your box about programming a daily strict press routine to add some weight to your lift total.
5. Make Sure Your Elbows Aren’t Too Far Up
Many people make the mistake of lifting their elbows into the front rack position when attempting a strict press. Although it definitely looks like you know what you’re doing, this actually incorrect form.
Instead, lower your elbows and tuck them in at your chest to maximize your lat and back engagement and add more strength to the lift. You’ll see an improvement on your shoulder press ability immediately by lowering your elbows and keeping your back, shoulder and core muscles engaged.
6. Get Your Face Out of the Way
One sneaky way you may be sabotaging your own push press is by wasting time and energy carrying the barbell around your face — anyone who’s ever smashed themselves in the nose or chin knows what I’m talking about.
Instead of losing strength and energy by pushing the barbell up and around your face, be sure to squish your face in and push the barbell upward on a direct, straight path. Don’t be shy with the bar — just make sure you’re moving quickly to get safely out of the way!
7. Do Some Mobility Work
One big culprit behind struggling with the strict press is lack of shoulder mobility. If this is the case, you can try some shoulder-specific mobility exercises like the bully extension bias or the super front rack or by following a daily mobility program such as ROMWOD.
Once you gain more flexibility in your shoulders, you’ll see that it’s easier to perform the strict press with more weight. You heard me right — it might not be a strength issue, but a flexibility issue.