Push Press (How To, Muscles Worked, Benefits)

The Push Press is a movement derived from the Olympic lifts. It is traditionally used as a variation of the overhead press and the Jerk. The push press is used as an overhead pressing movement to gain strength and power in the upper body.

One of the big benefits of the push press is the utilization of the legs to help drive the weight overhead. The push press has proven to be very beneficial for Olympic athletes and powerlifters, but also the field or court sport athlete that needs overhead upper body strength and power.

In this guide, I am going to go over how to do the push press, coaching points, common mistakes, muscles worked, and more.

How To Push Press

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Barbell
  • Bumper Plates (technically possible to do with Iron Plates, but Bumper Plates are highly recommended)

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Set the barbell at the height you would normally front squat with. (Barbell 1-2 inches below the flexed elbow, still on the hooks).
  • Grab the barbell with your index finger on the knurling or just outside the knurling. (Flexibility and what feels comfortable are important here).
  • Flex the elbows up slightly and keep your knuckles fairly vertical to the ceiling.
  • You are not taking a “Front rack” position here. The elbows will be slightly up but the bar is not resting on the anterior delts.
  • 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 to press.
  • 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.
  • As you extend the legs, push the barbell up. Be sure not to hit your chin. Lock the rep out by holding the barbell overhead for about 1 second.
  • Some coaches use the queue “push your head through the arms” to help lock out the rep and stabilize the bar overhead.
  • Slowly bring the barbell back down to prepare for the next repetition.

Coaching Points

The push press is a compound movement specific to Olympic lifts and powerlifting (depending on the event).

This is also a great movement for field and court sport athletes that need overhead strength and power. This movement should be trained and programmed according to goals, injury history, athlete readiness, and time of year.

This lift is very technical, uses the whole body, and requires patience and persistence, lifters often times have incorrect form without realizing it, go up in weight too quickly, and may injure themselves.

Be patient with your flexibility. Persistence and working hard on your flexibility will pay off with Olympic lifts and variations. Remember to always warm up prior to any lifting session. Work on flexibility drills during warm-up sets as well. After your session, use cool-down techniques, foam roll, stretch, and hydrate.

Technical tips:

  1. Video your sets and reps
  2. Have an experienced lifter/trainer watch your sets and reps
  3. In regards to your setup and form; treat every rep like it’s a 1 rep max
  4. Put a tremendous amount of detail in your setup (Do it the exact same way, every rep)
  5. Make small gains in weight over time.

Muscles Worked

The push press is a full-body movement and does require all musculature to be working in some way. Remember muscles work to concentrically, isometrically, and eccentrically contract. But the push press is a more upper body-based and therefore I will list the prime movers of the lift.

  • Shoulders
  • Upper back
  • Triceps
  • Lats and biceps (Strong isometric stabilizers and eccentric movers in this movement)
  • Quadriceps (Knee extenders)
  • Abdominal and lower back muscles (Stabilizers in most movements)

Push Press Benefits

Here are three key benefits of incorporating the push press into your workout:

Improved Explosive Power

One of the primary goals of the push press is to develop explosive strength, especially in the lower body and shoulders. By using the momentum from the dip and drive phase, you’re training the body to generate force quickly.

This explosive power can benefit athletes in various sports, from basketball players who need to improve their vertical jump to weightlifters aiming to improve their clean and jerk.

Engagement of Multiple Muscle Groups

The Push Press isn’t just a shoulder exercise. It engages a myriad of muscles.

The legs (quads, hamstrings, and glutes) initiate the movement, the core stabilizes the trunk throughout, and the deltoids, triceps, and upper chest drive the barbell or dumbbells overhead. This means you get a lot of muscular bang for your buck with this exercise.

Improved Overhead Stability

Pushing weight overhead requires not just strength but also stability. The push press, with its dynamic nature, challenges and improves the stabilizer muscles of the shoulders and the core.

This can lead to better overall shoulder health and improved performance in other overhead activities and lifts.

Push Press Alternatives

If you’re not quite comfortable with your Push Press technique, or you lack some of the proper equipment, here are a few alternatives that you may be able to use as a substitution.

Need more options? Here are 10 Push Press alternatives for improving your pressing power.

DB Push Press

Grab 2 dumbbells and set them in the pressing position. I recommend facing the dumbbells so that your palms are facing your ears. Perform the “dip” and drive the dumbbells overhead.

This is a great movement for novice lifters looking to gain experience in overhead movement before attempting anything with a barbell.

Landmine Single Arm Press

Use a landmine attachment (or make one yourself with a tennis ball) and push one end of your barbell into a corner or stable surface. Load the other end with some weight.

I would recommend starting very light at first as you get used to this movement that is most likely new.  Standing in an athletic position, perform single-arm presses with the “landmine”.

Med Ball Overhead Toss

The med ball overhead toss is an exercise that sounds exactly what it describes. The athlete will assume a position over the med ball, hinge at the waist, forcefully lift the ball, drive the hips, and lifting with the arms, throw the med ball as high into the air as possible.


I would be doing the reader a disservice without discussing the potential risks of the traditional barbell lifting. This lift is highly technical and requires a tremendous amount of attention to detail, practice, and a slow gradual increase in weight. An athlete who does not consistently set up the right way and sacrifices form to lift more weight will get hurt.

It is also important to consider rest, recovery, and balancing other life activities.

Because the push press stresses the entire body and is very hard on the central nervous system, it takes time to recover from a serious pressing session.  Field and court athletes should consider what day of the week they are utilizing Olympic lifts and their variations.

If you are going to press heavy on a particular day of the week, if it is not recommended you do any other heavy upper body lifting, sprinting, or serious competition, until fully recovered. Training history, readiness, and history of injury all need to be considered.

As an athlete, it is important to make sure the lifting in the weight room is correlating and in conjunction with your sport. Rest and recovery are absolutely critical to reap the benefits of any lift and should be taken seriously by all athletes.

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More Links and Info

If you’re looking for more Olympic lifts and Olympic lift variations, head over to the Olympic Lift page in the Horton Barbell Exercise Library. Here you’ll find a growing collection of movements to help you develop strength and power.

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