Are you looking for an upper-body exercise that creates t-shirt filling shoulders? Do you want to start lifting weight overhead? If you answered “yes,” the push press is for you. 

The push press is one variation of the overhead press that uses the lower body to boost your shoulder training. Alongside your upper body to drive the bar overhead to achieve a smooth lockout, the push press also uses your quads and glutes to improve their strength and size. The push press is one of the best exercises to improve upper body strength, power utilization in overhead movements, and general performance training. 

This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:

  • How To Push Press
  • 5 Push Press Benefits
  • Common Push Press Mistakes To Avoid
  • Push Press Muscles Worked
  • Push Press vs Overhead Press
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, & Programs
  • Push Press Variations
  • Push Press Alternative Exercises

How To Push Press

What You’ll Need:

To perform the push press correctly, you need to use a Barbell. Beginners are recommended to lift 80 pounds, while experienced lifters can go for 185 pounds. If you don’t have any barbells at your disposal, you can use the following alternatives:

Step 1: Set up

To perform the push press, start by bringing the Barbell to the shoulders in front of you, similar to what you would do in a barbell overhead press. Maintain a relaxed, open grip position on the bar, so both of your elbows can quickly come through. Keep your upper back engaged and your torso tall. Your feet should be hip-width apart, and both legs should be straight. 

Coach’s tip: You should be looking straight, not up or down, as this can affect your form. The center of gravity should be mid-foot. 

Step 2: Slowly dip the legs

Once you’re comfortable with the starting position, dip your legs to achieve a quarter squat position. Your hips should travel straight downwards a few inches as your knees point out over the toes. Keep your chest up tall as you perform the dip. The dip is necessary at the beginning of the movement to get set in the correct position for producing leg drive and power. 

Coach’s tip: When performing the dip, ensure that your elbows don’t drop downward. 

Step 3: Drive-up

After performing the dip, explosively change the direction and utilize your legs to impart force into the barbell. As the bar flies off your shoulders, your ankles, knees, and hips should extend fully. Slowly tilt your head back to allow the bar to move vertically as you press the barbell overhead, transitioning from a loose grip to firm hold. 

Coach’s tip: Every time you drive the bar overhead, avoid pressing the weight out in front. Instead, focus on driving the weight straight upward to maintain balance. 

Step 4: Work your arms

After the bar passes eye level, push your head back through to its original position. Ensure that both of your elbows extend fully at the same time your heels make contact with the ground. As you complete the lift, your legs and arms should be completely locked out. 

Step 5: Catch the bar

To connect the repetitions of the push press, you need to perform a re-racking motion to the bar to the shoulders. As the bar returns to the shoulders from overhead, prepare to receive the weight of the bar by bending your legs. Your legs should bend to a quarter squat position as your shoulders come in contact with the bar. Return back to standing safely to reset to the next repetition. 

Coach’s tip: Don’t bend your knees as you assume the front rack position. You should only do so once the weight of the bar touches your shoulders.

5 Push Press Benefits

1. Develops Leg Strength

Because the push press generates high amounts of power, performing the exercise properly and regularly produces force in the legs. Over time, this can improve your ability to fully utilize the power of your lower body. As your leg strength improves in doing push press, your power output will also increase, allowing you to use these muscle groups more efficiently. 

2. Improves weightlifting technique

Many lifters rely on the push press as an accessory exercise for the jerk. The dip and drive motion of the exercise mirrors the loading phase of the split jerk. In short, the push press is an excellent way of reinforcing good weightlifting techniques that enable lifters to perform better during competitions. 

3. Increases acceleration

By adding the push press into your daily workout routine, you’ll be able to improve how you accelerate your movement when lifting heavier weights. Incorporating acceleration to a standard push press enables you to increase the total weight used. It also generates power that goes beyond the limits of what your arms and shoulders can produce. Your ability to increase acceleration by performing push press results in more gains in other areas of fitness. 

4. Boosts overhead stability 

Unlike other strict variations of overhead presses, the push press enables you to lift more weights overhead. This will require a significant amount of shoulder strength and stability. Practicing the push press regularly can help improve your ability to lift heavier loads overhead with more control, stability, and confidence. 

5. Builds a stronger lower body 

Your quads and glutes play an essential role in your day-to-day living as these muscle groups help you walk, stand, run, and climb the stairs. When performing the push press, you’ll use your quads more for the dip and generate more power for the drive. On the other hand, your glutes are necessary to finish the drive to the top. Since both of these muscles are used to complete one rep of the exercise, the push press can eventually strengthen your lower body and improve the overall quality of life.

Common Push Press Mistakes to Avoid

Improper starting position 

When preparing for the push press, don’t place your feet too wide. Yes, doing so can make you feel more stable, but an improper starting position can prevent you from maintaining form throughout the exercise and increase your risk of injuries. You should also pay attention to the placement of your hands and elbows as you prepare for the exercise. Your palms should be facing forward, and your elbows should be naturally relaxed. 

Premature lift

The push press is a fluid movement, but this doesn’t mean that you should only start lifting the bar when you arrive at a full hip extension position. If you’re having problems addressing a premature lift when doing the push press, practice using dumbbells first and have someone else give you movement cues. 

Doing too many reps

The push press is designed to build force and power, not improve your general fitness conditioning or overall endurance. With this in mind, strive to perform only one and five reps of the exercise. Going overboard with the number of reps can affect your form and lead to injuries. If you can easily complete five reps of the exercise, add more weights.

Not engaging the core

Your back should be long and straight when you perform the push press. If you see yourself with an arched back, focus on engaging your core. Imagine that you’re tightening your midsection to prepare for being punched in the gut. If you’re still having problems engaging your core throughout the movement, you might be lifting too much weight.

Push Press Muscles Worked

The push press is a compound exercise that targets several core muscles, namely:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Shoulders
  • Core

The push press is an advanced, more challenging version of the overhead press that requires different muscle groups to be successful. For one, you need to use your quads to support the dipping motion of your legs and generate upward speed to support the bar. This exercise will also require your glutes to create extra vertical force, which is necessary towards the end of the drive phase. Your shoulders are responsible for finishing the lift, while your core needs to be engaged throughout the movement to maintain the upright position of your torso.

Push Press vs Overhead Press

If you’re a weightlifter or CrossFit enthusiast who relies on explosive hips and power, it’s best if you stick to doing push presses regularly. The movements of this exercise rely on the use of your total body strength and power to control and maneuver the weight. Over time, this can help improve your athletic performance. 

On the other hand, if you’re a regular gym-goer who just wants to add definition and size to your delts, the overhead press is a better option. This exercise is easier to do and adds more muscles to your shoulders.

Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs

For Power And Speed

To develop power and speed from the push press, do five sets of the exercise of three reps using a light to moderate load. You can harness more power and speed from the push press by using lighter weights. This happens because every time you bring the weight down, you allow the barbell to move faster as you lift, reinforcing you to move more explosively. 

For Strength Training

To improve your overall strength, perform three reps of the push press using around 85% of your one-rep max. As you go along, aim to increase the total sets performed because volume plays a vital role in your strength development. 

For Muscle Growth

To expedite muscle growth, perform four sets of the push press of six reps using moderate weights. Limit your rest to less than two minutes. Avoid lifting too heavy if you want to grow more muscles fast. You’ll have better results if you increase your reps. 

Push Press Variations

Once you have already mastered how to perform the traditional push press, you can take it up a notch by trying out some variations. These exercises are somewhat similar to a push press, and performing them will make your workout regime more challenging and fun. 

Military Press 

This exercise will require you to keep your feet together as you lift weights, which means that you need to rely heavily on your core to stabilize the movement. This is one of the most challenging variations of the push press and is ideal for experienced lifters.

Kettlebell Push Press 

Instead of using a barbell, this variation requires holding one or two Kettlebells in the front rack position. The kettlebell push press provides a different stimulation than the barbell version, which can be useful if you’re working around an injury. 

Paused Push Press

The paused push press requires the lifter to pause at the bottom of the dip. Pausing at the point where you would normally change direction forces you to spend more time developing strength in proper technical positions. This also enables you to create absolute power from a static start.

Push Press Alternative Exercises

If you’re worried about your fitness level or the difficulty of the push press, don’t fret because you can try other alternatives. These alternatives are a great addition to any upper body workout and are sure to bring results!

Push Jerk

This alternative is similar to a traditional push press as it involves a dip and drive. The only difference is that the lifter’s legs return to a high squat at the top of the movement instead of reaching a full extension overhead to straighten the legs. This alternative allows you to lift heavier weights and improve your coordination and balance. 


The thruster combines a standard push press with some leg stimulation. This alternative enables you to enjoy the benefits of standard push press while getting some additional leg training. It also supports total body coordination all at once. 

Strict Press

If you want to improve your overhead strength, the strict press is the perfect alternative for you. The strict press is performed by isolating the upper body and is a great practice for moving a barbell overhead.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Shoulders
  • Core

Push presses can be painful on the wrists, especially when you’re not used to performing the exercise. One way to lessen the pain on your wrists is to grip the bar tightly. Wearing wrist wraps can also lessen the pressure in your wrists as you perform push presses. 

Yes, because it’s a full-body workout that puts pressure on your upper and lower body. This exercise activates many key muscle groups: glutes, pecs, deltoids, core, and lower back muscles. 

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