For those of you looking for a definitive way to overhead press, you’re not going to find it here (yet). In fact, this post is a cry for help. A cry to anyone that is willing to respond. Because, for the first time, I’m unsure about the overhead press.
I haven’t always felt this way. Three months ago, I would have showed you how to perform it. Told you it’s benefits. But now, I’m not as confident, which is why I’m reaching out to others. I’d like to hear your opinion, so make sure you comment if you have something to say.
BIT OF HISTORY
I had a few mentors when I dived in the online fitness community. Looking back, I pestered them a lot. But, luckily, they answered promptly even if they were annoyed. Perhaps my most influential was a gentleman named Adam Wehmann. He logged his training over at John Stone’s website and his progress was inspiring. As any fan boy would do, I pounded him with questions. I’m fairly certain – although not distinctly positive – that I started to ask more questions than he was willing to answer.
He told me to check out a book. I looked into the – at the time – obscure text. At least, compared to how popular it is today. The author didn’t have multiple books, his own forum, or his own DVD. Mark Rippetoe was living a quiet life in Wichita Falls, simply following through with an idea spawned during a conversation with Glenn Pendlay.
So when I added Starting Strength to my cart, I was a little skeptical. But when it arrived, I was hooked. Not only was it easy to follow, but also everything just seemed to make sense. I took it as gospel. Since then, my views have changed. I’m more open minded to things, because I’m more knowledgeable.
But of the five lifts explained in the book, I never – until recently – questioned his view of the overhead press. I was sure he was right about it. He had to be. Hell, I debated with a fellow student (he was anti-overhead pressing) about its safety in front of an undergraduate class. I even brought out the big guns. A CrossFit Journal article entitled, The Safety and Efficacy of Overhead Pressing.
All was fine until this summer. I was throwing more. A lot more. Overhead work was cutting into my recovery. At the beginning of my season, there were nights that I would lay in bed as my shoulder throbbed in pain. I had to ditch pressing. And even though my arm feels immaculate and has never been this strong, I want to know if I was doing something wrong. Could I really have had bad form?
I’m not questioning the use of the overhead press. I love the lift. I’d do it every day if I could. And that’s why I’m on this mission. To find out how to overhead press. The killer is that I know I can because I do a lot of overhead supports and waiter walks. The lockout feels amazing. I can feel the stabilization, the thoracic spine opening up, and the shoulders growing. Surprisingly, I can even handle the eccentric portion. Enough of my shortcomings though, because you’ve got to be wondering what this article is about.
My question is this: do the shoulders shrug or stay packed in the lockout position?
As with any controversial issue, it’s split. The one side – the Rippetoe side – uses a shrug at the lockout position. They say it fully engages the rotator cuff and tilts the scapula, preventing impingement. The other side – the kettlebeller side – keeps the shoulder back and down. They call it a packed position.
I’ve been on a silent mission these past few months to see how professionals overhead press. But I’ve yet to come across a comprehensive explanation of how to press with packed shoulders.
Mike Robertson seems to agree that the shrug is an essential part of the press, even though he doesn’t come out and say it. It can be inferred, however, based on his thoracic mobility dealings in Long Live the Overhead Press and his use of the overhead shrug in Push-Ups, Facpulls, and Shrugs.
It’s no surprise that Dan John prefers the packed position since he is a big proponent of kettlebells. I e-mailed him once, asking him if there were any references to overhead pressing with a packed shoulder and he responded with something like, “every Strength and Health magazine.”
Others like Zach Even-Esh and Jason Ferrugia use the overhead press seemingly more than the bench press, but whether they prefer shoulders packed or shrug is never discussed. It appears that, however, that Jason keeps them packed, while Zach uses a shrug. Can’t know for sure though.
Looking at old footage, when the press was more popular, it seems most press from a packed position which is in line with what Dan John said.
Yet a lot of modern footage suggests that a shrug is paramount during a jerk. In most Olympic Weightlifting, the shrug at lockout is easy to pick up on because the head tilts down and falls in-between the outstretched arms.
And as much as I hate to go here, these videos make it seem like the shrugged position is a more stable position. After all, it’s what most Olympic Lifters do. Could the shrug be a more modern and effective way to stabilize the lockout position? Or is only of use if you’re jerking the weight?
WHAT OTHERS SAY
I already started to reach out to others to see what they have to say. But I’m going to keep gathering and post it at all at once. If you can, do me a favor and reach out to those that you know – or even to the professionals in the industry – and show them this post. Let me know what their response is because I’m eagar to see what the results will be. Until then, let me know what you believe. What’s it going to be? Packed or shrugged?