10 Push Press Alternatives For Improving Pressing Power


Push Press Alternatives

The Push Press is one of the best upper-body movements for developing power and strength. It’s a big compound movement, meaning it uses multiple muscle groups simultaneously, it’s done on the feet and the core has to work to stabilize the torso through the movement.

However, sometimes you may find yourself needing an alternative for Push Presses.

Maybe you don’t have a barbell or maybe you’re just looking to add some variety to your workouts.

Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for an exercise to substitute for Push Press then you’re in the right place. I’m about to share with you 10 of my favorite Push Press alternatives.


Alternatives for Push Press


I’ve tried to include as much variety in this list as possible. There are exercises that utilize a variety of equipment from barbells to medicine balls to even no equipment at all.

There are also advanced movements that are very similar to Push Press (ex. Power Jerk) as well as more beginner-friendly exercises (ex. Dumbbell Shoulder Press).

My goal is that no matter what equipment you have access to and no matter what your level of experience is, one of these alternative exercises will be a good fit for you.


Power Jerk


Power Jerk

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Barbell
  • Bumper Plates (I do not recommend Iron plates because if you miss the lift or want to drop the weight to the ground from overhead, you can damage the plates, the bar and your floor)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Set the barbell at the height you would normally front squat with. (Barbell 1-2 inches below the flexed elbow, still on the hooks).
  • Assume your front squat grip also known as the “front rack”.
  • Most lifters find that trying to get the barbell to rest more onto the anterior delts will be more comfortable as you attempt the jerk.
  • What this looks like is your elbows will point more toward the ground. If you’re gripping the front squat with 2 fingers, you may find it more comfortable to perform the jerk with 3 or 4 fingers.
  • To unrack the bar, take a deep breath and brace the abdominal muscles and upper back. Use a staggered stance to unrack the bar.
  • Take 2 steps backward and be sure that you will not hit the hooks or anything above your head when you start the movement.
  • Initiate the movement with a “dip” or bend of the knee that will help you propel the barbell up with momentum. Do not bend the knee forward onto the toes.
  • Think about how you initiate a squat. The knee bend should be very similar to this movement.
  • This is a quick movement that helps get the barbell moving upward.
  • Explosively drive through the legs and hips and catch the bar overhead in an athletic position. In the catch, your knees will be slightly bent, hips back, and bar stabilized overhead. Stand tall with the weight.
  • If you are attempting multiple attempts, lower the barbell back to the starting position, brace, and bend the hips and knees as you receive the weight back in the front rack.
  • If you are done with your final attempt, make sure you are using bumper plates, and you can guide the barbell back to the ground. Make sure your lifting area is clear of anyone before you drop the weight.

Coaching Points

The Power Jerk is a compound movement specific to Olympic lifts. This is also a great movement for field and court sport athletes that needed overhead power. This movement should be trained and programmed according to goals, injury history, athlete readiness, and time of year.


Med Ball Power Jerk


Stack of Dynamax Med Balls

Equipment Needed

  • Medicine Ball

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Make sure you have clearance above you to throw the ball. (Either outside or inside with high ceilings)
  • Grab a medicine ball and stand tall with feet roughly hip-width apart.
  • Med Ball should be at the chest. Hands under the ball, palms facing towards one another.
  • Perform a 4 to 6-inch dip of the knees and hips, keeping the torso vertical and feet flat-footed on the ground.
  • Now, aggressively drive up, fully extending through the hips, knees and ankles and push/throw the ball as high as possible.
  • Allow the ball to hit the ground before resetting for the next rep. Trying to catch the ball out of the air is a good way to jam a wrist or finger.

Coaching Points

Drive through both arms equally. There is a natural tendency to allow your dominant arm to take over and shift more underneath the ball. Make sure you’re staying balanced with each rep.

Med Ball Exercises like Med Ball Power Jerks are great movements for athletes to build explosive power. I recommend incorporating them early in your workouts while you’re still fresh to maximize power output.

If you’re already familiar with Wall Balls that are used extensively in CrossFit, a Med Ball Power Jerk is very similar. The differences are that it starts with a quick dip as opposed to a full squat and you throw the ball as high as possible each rep instead of aiming for a target.


Floor Overhead Press


Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Rack (or partner to hand you the bar)

How To

  • Sit on the floor in front a rack, legs straight out in front.
  • Brace the core and unrack the bar (or have a partner hand it to you).
  • Make sure you’re posture is good and your core is tight before trying to press.
  • Press the bar to full extension overhead.
  • Lower the bar back down to under the chin and repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

The Z Press demands some hamstring flexibility and core stability to maintain the body position while pressing. Deficits in either of these areas will greatly hinder your ability to be able to do Z Presses.

Once the bar crosses the top of the head, ‘pull the head through’ so that you’re pressing the bar directly over the ears.

Strength Trivia: The Z Press got its name from legendary strongman Zydrunas Savickas who made the lift popular.


Thrusters


Thrusters

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Bumper Plates (Iron Plates are technically okay too, but you’ll need to be careful putting the bar down)

Muscles Worked

  • Thrusters are a total body exercise. Almost every muscle group in the body is utilized at some point during the movement.

How To

  • Start with the barbell in a front rack position – the same as you would for a Front Squat.
  • To get to this position you can either take the bar out of the rack or clean it from the floor.
  • Now, with feet shoulder-width apart and core braced, descend down into a Front Squat.
  • Once you reach full depth, explosively drive up.
  • As you reach full extension with the hips, drive the bar up to an overhead position.
  • Return the bar back to the starting position on the shoulders and repeat.

Coaching Points

Thrusters are a complex movement, combining the movements of two technical lifts – the Front Squat and the Push Press. If you’re not already proficient in both of those lifts I would recommend following the links to each of those individual exercises and becoming familiar with those first.

I know many CrossFit workouts prescribe a high volume of Thruster reps and encourage you to work as fast as possible. Having said that, always make sure that you’re able to maintain proper technique and keep a braced core when squatting.

Don’t let the combination of fatigue and trying to rush cause you to use poor technique as this can lead to injury.


Landmine Press


Equipment Needed

  • Landmine Attachment
  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

Muscles Worked

  • Shoulders
  • Chest
  • Secondarily: Core (Actively bracing)

How To

  • Setup a landmine attachment with a barbell.
  • Grab the end of the barbell and start with it at chest level.
  • Feet should be shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent and core braced.
  • Remove one hand from the bar and then press the bar to full extension with the other arm.
  • Lower the bar back to chest level under control.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed and then switch to the opposite arm.

Coaching Points

Keep the core braced and maintain a neutral torso. If you find yourself leaning back and arching the low back, lower the weight if needed and correct your form.

If you don’t have a landmine attachment, don’t worry! Here is how you can make your own DIY Landmine Attachment with just a tennis ball.


Bench Press


Bench Press

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Bench
  • Barbell
  • Bumper or Iron plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
  • Lie flat on your back on the bench.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor. (Some do find it comfortable to pull the feet back toward their butt as they arch).
  • Keep your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Take a thumbs-width grip from the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
  • Later in this article, I will go over other popular grips and why they are used.
  • Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
  • Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Do not over arch the back or let your butt come off the bench when doing Bench Press. Most professionals will not accept repetitions if the butt comes off the bench but also you will likely injure yourself with poor form.

Do not let the back of your head come off the bench because you are pulling down on your neck to watch the bar hit your chest. You will get used to the movement and your peripheral vision will allow you to know when the bar makes contact.

Do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.


Incline Bench Press


Incline Barbell Bench Press

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Bench
  • Barbell
  • Bumper or Iron plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Determine the angle for your incline bench. Most programs would refer to a 45-degree angle as ideal for it provides the best chest and shoulder engagement.
  • As you go higher with your angle, you are moving more toward a shoulder press. The flatter the bench gets, you are moving more toward a regular bench press.
  • Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
  • Lie flat on your back on the bench.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Take a thumbs-width grip from the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
  • Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
  • Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Make your angle appropriate for your goals and injury history. I do not typically recommend an incline bench angle greater than 45 degrees.

If a lifter wants to do a shoulder press, I would recommend standing and pressing.

The Incline Bench Press is a great movement for lifters looking to gain strength in their shoulders and chest. Using the same implement will also carry over to specific strength for the bench press.


Dumbbell Shoulder Press


Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Stand with the dumbbells next to you.
  • Hinge and the waist and bend the knees until you can grab the dumbbells.
  • Keep a neutral spine, and a nice flat back, and lift the dumbbells into your pressing position.
  • I recommend palms face away or toward each other (whichever feels more comfortable).
  • Brace the abdominal muscles and engage the upper back.
  • Press the dumbbells directly overhead. The dumbbells should not track forward.
  • Lock the reps out and pause for about 1 second with each repetition.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position to prepare for the next repetition.

Coaching Points

Keep the core engaged as you press. If you feel you are arching your back as you reach closer to lockout, consider going down in weight.

Remember this is not a push press. This is a purely upper-body pressing movement. If you are using your legs, even slightly, this would be called a Push Press. The push press is a great movement as well BUT a Dumbbell Shoulder Press should be focused on the shoulders, no cheating.


Kneeling Single Arm Press


Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbell

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Take a kneeling position. One knee up and the other down. Bring your toe in on the down leg so that you are on the tip of your shoes
  • If you have your right knee up, grab the dumbbell in your left hand. Face the palm toward you.
  • Brace the abdomen and upper back. Make your torso as tall as possible and stay rigid throughout the entire movement.
  • You may find it comfortable to put your non-pressing hand on your hip or extended out to the side for balance.
  • Press the dumbbell vertically, finishing with the bicep very close to the ear. Lock in the rep at the top and slowly return to the start.
  • Focus on your balance. The half-kneeling position should challenge your core control and ability to stay tall and rigid as you press.
  • Once you finish your reps on one side, put the dumbbell down. Switch your knees in your kneeling stance. Perform your presses on the other side to complete the set.

Coaching Points

I am a huge fan of the tall-kneeling position. It challenges the lifter to balance, stay tall and rigid, and disallows the legs from cheating in helping the press.

Kneeling Single Arm Press is a great movement for novice lifters that need a progression into overhead pressing. After 2-3 weeks of training, 2 dumbbell, standing, landmine, and barbell options will fall in line for this progression.


Handstand Push Up


Handstand Push-Up

Easily one of the hardest bodyweight exercises to perform, Handstand Push-Ups will test your shoulder strength, shoulder stability, core and coordination all in one movement. Because it’s a bodyweight movement, it has the advantage of being able to be done anywhere without the need for equipment.

Find a sturdy wall, place your hands a few inches away and then kick your feet up over your head against the wall. From here, lower yourself down until you almost touch the floor with your head and then press yourself back up.

Note: Handstand Push-ups are an ADVANCED movement. I would not suggest this for beginners as it can be dangerous if you don’t have sufficient shoulder and core strength.

Final Thoughts

Push Press is a beast of an exercise for developing strong shoulders, but sometimes Push Presses are just not an option. Sometimes you may not have the proper equipment available to you or other times you might just be looking to add some variety to your training program.

In these situations, you’ll need a Push Press alternative and I hope that one of the exercises I’ve listed here fits what you were looking for.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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