A Case for the Dumbbell Overhead Press

A movement pattern that seems to have been overlooked in the world of strength and conditioning in the last handful of years is the overhead press. For better or worse, coaches seem to overlook the movement in favor of the barbell bench press, barbell incline press and their dumbbell equivalents.

In a lot of ways the lack of overhead pressing is a good thing. With the mobility issues that most people tend to have these days, overhead pressing with a barbell could almost cause more harm then it could do good. On the other hand, overhead pressing is movement pattern that can be very important.

So what gives?

First and foremost, if you as a coach don’t feel comfortable with your athletes or clients overhead pressing, don’t do it. If you question whether it is safe for your clients or athletes to overhead press, don’t do it. Various versions of the incline press and various versions of the landmine press will be suitable and get the job done.

If you do feel comfortable overhead pressing with your athletes and clients, in my opinion, a simple switch from the barbell to dumbbells could potentially make a world of difference. Additionally, with all the mobility issues that people have these days, I don’t know if there is a need to ever overhead press someone with a barbell these days. Everyone has either dumbbells and kettlebells that will work just fine.

Why the Dumbbell Overhead Press:
• dumbbells allow the athlete to move through their range of motion
• dumbbells allow the athlete to move through various planes of motion
• dumbbells address instabilities and/or weaknesses through alternating and uni-lateral patterns

A simple dumbbell overhead press progression:

Phase 1: 1/2 Kneeling 2DB Alternating OH Press

Phase 2: 1/2 Kneeling 1DB OH Press

Phase 3: Standing 2DB Alternating OH Press

Phase 4: Standing 1DB OH Press

All this being said, most coaches and trainers would benefit to err on the side of caution when working with overhead athletes (baseball, softball, volleyball, swimmers, ect.) or athletes that have ever had any type of shoulder issues in the past. In these cases, switching out overhead pressing movements for landmine presses would be a logical and safe approach.

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