Everything you Need to Know About the CrossFit Press

Crossfit Push Press
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As a collegiate athlete who has trained in several small to world-class CrossFit gyms, I want to share the tips I have learn along the way to better my press technique.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What’s a press
  • The Benefits of a press
  • How to perform each kind of presses, specifically in a Crossfit setting
  • How to improve your press

What’s a press in CrossFit

The press is one of the oldest barbell exercises in the gym. Picking up the weight and pushing it overhead is a basic movement that has been done since you were born. 

The general term of the “press” reverses to a multi-joint extension that drives an external resistance such as a barbel away from your body. Pressing a bar overhead develops core strength and reinforces how to move your body correctly in sequence. 

Since the kinetic chain, the part of the body involved in the transmission of force from one place to another. From the hip and trunk muscles needing to stabilize the body to your arms and shoulders being able to hold the force behind generated throughout the body.

It is a great exercise to train your body as the press starts at the ground and ends at the hand. Everything in between these two points is getting worked and trained.

Benefits of the press

The press is one of several exercises that have been incorporated within the Crossfit Culture. Here are some benefits on why you should be pressing right now.

The CrossFit Press is an Overlooked Compound Movement

The press builds strong shoulders, arms, chest while building the kinetic chain of the rest of your body. It helps improve deficiencies in your upper body strength which can easily blast your plateaus in your bench press, rows, chin-ups, and other upper body exercises. 

As CrossFit involves doing a lot of push press and jerks with a lot of reps, you’ll be needing to use your whole body to keep that strong drive and dip when pushing and pressing into those movements.

This allows you to work on both cardio and strength, something you cannot do normally if you’re doing regular strength training.

Pressing is a Full Body Exercise

For any movement or sport, you have to transmit force from the ground through your hands. This can be crucial if you’re playing a sport such as Baseball or Rugby, or working in a construction job that requires you to use your whole body.

That is why if you’re an individual that does Crossfit related Presses and Jerks, it’s another stimulus for your body for your muscles to grow, helping deficiencies that you might have in your normal workout, to be worked and strengthened, allowing you overtime to become stronger functionally.

Builds up your Core Strength and Stability

As you are standing while performing the CrossFit press, you have to use your core and trunk muscles to stabilize your body. When the weight goes overhead, this plays a crucial role in keeping the barbell from falling on you.

The core consists of everything from your upper abs to the rib cages to right below your glutes to the back of your body. These stabilization muscles include the lumbar, internal and external lumbar, and pelvic floor muscles. 

It was found in a study that without strong core muscles, your body as a skeleton would collapse. Being able to isolate a specific muscle or muscle group is a better way to support and strengthen the core and one of them is performing standing overhead presses.

Pressing will help you build Bigger Shoulders

The main movers in the press are the medial and anterior deltoids. These are stabilizer muscles for your upper body and shoulders.

If you’re looking to build stronger, bigger, and boulder-like shoulders, the overhead crossfit pressing will help you quickly build size and strength as anything overhead will force your muscles to be used and grow.

Reduce Risk Of Injury

Pressing reduces the risk of injury during CrossFit training and weight lifting performance.

For many Crossfit athletes and weight training, learning the push press is a stepping stone to a similar movement called the jerk. A key component of the clean and jerk exercise.

The clean and jerk are one of the most complex and difficult exercises as it is very technical. It also shows the highest incidence of failure in most lifters meaning a higher chance of injury. 

That’s why establishing a solid foundation of strength and alignment with the press will reduce your risk of injury.

How to perform a press

There are many different variations of the press but this section will be talking about just the overhead pressing movement.

What you will need is a squat rack and a 45 lb or lighter barbell

When setting up on the squat rack, make sure the hooks are at the same height as if you would squat which should be around the height of your collarbone.

If you’re in between the hooks, go lower than higher since you don’t want to get onto your tippy toes to get into the right position.

When setting up for the overhead press, the goal is to create the most efficient path for the barbell. This will allow you to apply the most force possible and lift heavier weights.

https://www.nerdfitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/overhead-press-1.gif
  1. Walk up to the bar so that you are right up against it. Place your hands outside your shoulders. Your forearms and elbows should be in a vertical position, straight up and down.

    If your elbows are pointing inwards or outwards instead of straight down, then your grip may be too narrow or too wide.

    As you grip the bar, be sure to place it on the heel of your palm, not on the top or middle part, or on your fingers. This allows you to apply force supported by your entire forearm, instead of just your hands.

    When you look from the side, your elbows should look like it’s slightly in front of the bar, not in front or behind, like a front rack position if you’re doing a front squat.
  2. If you’ve set up the bar correctly, the bar should be resting on your anterior deltoids and your legs should be shoulder-width apart. Similar to a squatting stance.

    You should be looking straight in front of you, not up or down. This should be the same head position throughout the entire lift, and it may be good to pick a spot and start at it the whole time.
  3. Now we begin moving the bar up. You want to stand with your chest up and out. Think of pulling your shoulder blades together and back slightly while your chest up.

    Then press it up in a straight line. You want to end in a position where the bar is over between your midfoot forming a straight line. It should not be behind or out in front of your head.

    This means you may need to move your head so the barbel can move in a straight line. Lean back and push your hips forward by squeezing your glutes throughout the whole lift.

    Do not arch your back. Focus on squeezing your glutes and pushing your hips forward, and leaning your head back when the bar comes up.

    At the top of the lift shrug your shoulders slightly and lock your elbows then bring it back to the starting position.

Additional Notes

  • When you grip the bar, squeeze the bar as if you were trying to make it bend upwards. When you do this, your lats will be engaged and help stabilize the bar when you lift it up.
  • As you as squeezing the bar, squeeze your elbows as if you were trying to keep the insides of your biceps from touching your chest throughout the exercise
  • Right before your lift, take a deep breath in, and push your stomach out. This braces your abs, squeezes your glutes, and stabilizes your whole body. Then let the air out at the top of the lift.

How to Do Each Type of press In CrossFit

The strict press

The strict press is a pure muscle building and strength exercise as it focuses on developing your overhead pushing strength.

The strict press involves no dipping to generate power from your legs. The bar should directly finish over your shoulders and return to your start position by reversing this motion.

  1. Place your hands outside your shoulders. Your forearms and elbows should be in a vertical position, straight up and down. If your elbows are pointing inwards or outwards instead of straight down, then your grip may be too narrow or too wide. 
  2. You want to stand with your chest up and out. Think of pulling your shoulder blades together and back slightly while your chest up.
  3. Then press it up in a straight line. You want to end in a position where the bar is over between your midfoot forming a straight line. It should not be behind or out in front of your head.
  4. You may need to move your head so the barbel can move in a straight line. Lean back and push your hips forward by squeezing your glutes throughout the whole lift. Do not arch your back. Focus on squeezing your glutes and pushing your hips forward, and leaning your head back when the bar comes up.

The push press

The push press is similar to the strict press however you generate momentum with your lower body. This allows you to move heavier weights overhead than you can with a normal shoulder press.

This allows you to increase your upper body strength and shoulders while conditioning your rotator cuff. It will also work on your core as you drive up and hold the heavy weight overhead with your arms outstretched.

This will improve functional strength as your body has to resist the impact from the momentum that is being built from your body.

Here’s how you perform a Push Press.

  1. Place your hands outside your shoulders. Your forearms and elbows should be in a vertical position, straight up and down. If your elbows are pointing inwards or outwards instead of straight down, then your grip may be too narrow or too wide. 
  2. You want to stand with your chest up and out. Think of pulling your shoulder blades together and back slightly while your chest up.
  3. Instead of pulling the bar up with your shoulders, dip your legs like you’re about to jump. Then explode up allowing your arms and the barbel to go with it.
  4. You may need to move your head so the barbel can move in a straight line. Lean back and push your hips forward by squeezing your glutes throughout the whole lift. Do not arch your back.

The push jerk

The push jerk will allow you to move the most amount of weights. This involves a similar movement pattern to a push press, midline stability, bar path, and drip drive but you will be adding a second knee bend when you land. This allows you to land locked out in a slightly overhead squat so you can lift more heavier weights.

Here’s how you perform a Push Jerk

  1. Place your hands outside your shoulders. Your forearms and elbows should be in a vertical position, straight up and down. If your elbows are pointing inwards or outwards instead of straight down, then your grip may be too narrow or too wide. 
  2. You want to stand with your chest up and out. Think of pulling your shoulder blades together and back slightly while your chest up.
  3. Instead of pulling the bar up with your shoulders, dip your legs like you’re about to jump. Then explode up allowing your arms and the barbel to go with it.
  4. You may need to move your head so the barbel can move in a straight line. Lean back and push your hips forward by squeezing your glutes throughout the whole lift. Do not arch your back.
  5. As you move the barbel up, begin dipping down again until you lock out with straight arms. Then straighten your legs up to finish in the same position as a normal press.

How to improve your press

Progressive Loading With Micro Loading

Progressive overloading is increasing weight every workout as it challenges your body to adapt to the next stimulus and stress you put it under. This can include the number of reps or how heavy per set.

When you begin to struggle to add new weight every new session, start using smaller weights such as 2.5 kg or 2 kg instead. Once you hit a plateau, lowering it down to 80% of your max and begin progressive back up again.

Lift Heavy

To get stronger, you need to move more weight. In a recent study of 199 male college students, they split them up to see what rep ranges would result in the fastest improvement of strength. Testing 2RM, 4RM, 6RM, 8RM, 10RM, and 12RM.

This was tested over a 12 week progressive program and it was concluded that between 3 to 9 reps were the optimal range to build strength. If you want to lift more with your shoulder press, you should train your rep ranges for that exercise.

Visualize Your Lifts

Mindset and perception can be the difference between lifting heavier and failing. Research shows that using visualization where you picture yourself completely your lift successfully can improve performance in strength training. 

While negative imagery where you show yourself failing can deteriorate your performance.

Make sure next time, before you begin your first set, visualize yourself performing and hitting those reps. Picture how you will feel and act when you actually do it. You will be surprised how big of a difference it will make in improving your press.

Wear The Right Shoes

Wearing the wrong footwear can decrease your balance, your stability, power production, and increase your chances of getting injured. Shoes create a stable foundation and base for you to generate power and have a stable balance.

Consider wearing something that has solid and flat soles. We recommend converse shoes or Olympic lifting shoes.

Increase Tricep Strength

When performing any type of overhead press, your shoulders are the primary movers and should be the focus when you are lifting the barbell.

However, they are not the only muscles that contribute to that lift. The triceps are also active as a secondary muscle in the lift. To lift more weight, you will want to spend some time working on your triceps directly to increase the weight that they can handle, which can help improve all of your presses.

Grip and Hand Position

How you grip the bar and where your hands are placed in plays a big role in how much force you can generate. 

Too narrow or too wide, and you will struggle to generate the necessary power and strength to get the bar above your head while increasing the risk of putting unnecessary stress on your shoulders.

We recommend you placing your hands outside of your shoulders so your wrists are straight and your forearms are vertical

Improve Shoulder Flexibility and Mobility

Lack of mobility and flexibility can hinder your performance when doing an overhead press. The most common lack of flexibility is the thoracic spine. This prevents your shoulders from going into full flexion or straight arms, resulting in you pushing the weight out in front of your head, rather than overhead.

This leads to hyperextension of your lower back to compensate for the shoulder press, resulting in adding more stress on the lower back resulting in injury over time.

Popular Crossfit Wod that includes the Press

Betty

5 Rounds For Time

  • 12 Push Presses (135/95 lb)
  • 20 Box Jumps (24/20 in)

Broken thruster hill

For Time

  • 2-4-6-8-10-8-6-4-2 reps of:
  • Front Squats (205/135 lb)
  • Push Presses (205/135 lb)

Meathead Deck of Cards

Mix up your workout by taking a gamble on your workout as you let a deck of cards dictate your moves. When you draw a card, you will need to do the number of reps on the card of the exercise denoted by the card suit.

Face cards have a value of 10 and aces are worth 11. With these moves, you’ll get well-rounded while fun strength workouts.

  • The front squats focus on your core and lower body strength.
  • The ring dips focus on strength and stability in your triceps, shoulders, and chest.
  • The push press is for your overhead strength
  • And from the ground Pendlay rows is for the back
  • Weighted Sit Up is for your 6 pack and core strength

Here is the workout:

  • If you get Hearts then you need to do Front squat at 135 pounds
  • If you get Diamonds then you need to do Ring dips
  • If you get Spades then you need to do Push press at 135 pounds
  • If you get Clubs then you need to do Pendlay row at 135 pounds
  • If you get Joker then you need to do 50 weighted sit-ups at 25 pounds

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About Julien

Julien Raby

Hey! Thanks for being here. I’ve been active pretty much my whole life and I discovered Crossfit about 5 years ago.

I want to help you improve your Crossfit performances by giving tips on specific movements, workouts and equipment.

You have a question? Get in touch!

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