The ‘normal’ overhead press, also known as the “standing overhead press”, “strict press”, “shoulder press” or “military press”, is done standing with the bar starting around the shoulders, pressed overhead and brought back down to the shoulders. (A little aside on names: the “military press” is done with feet together, like soldiers at attention. Most people use the term military press interchangeably with the normal overhead press – a mistake, but a widely accepted one.) Those familiar with Starting Strength vernacular will refer to the overhead press as simply The Press.
You might have noticed that the lifters that press utilising the Starting Strength method doing things a little differently – they do a hip movement when initiating the press, letting the bar dip a little and then rebounding back up and carry on its way to the lockout.
In Starting Strength, it’s this hip movement that differentiates the press 2.0 from the normal overhead press, and will make for a stronger press.
The hip movement sets you up for a strong “bounce”
The hip movement is where you powerfully drive your hips forward and rebound off the tight anterior musculature of your isometrically contracted abs and quads, bringing your hips back to neutral. This horizontal movement translates into a vertical movement of the bar. After driving your hips forward, the bar will dip slightly and then rebound back up – on its upward trajectory, press the bar to the lockout position.
The hip movement also produces other positive outcomes. At the bottom of the press, the bar is slightly in front of your shoulders. At the lockout, it should be directly above your shoulders. The most efficient way for the bar to travel between its starting and lockout position is in a straight line – the only problem is that there’s this thing called your head in the way. So the horizontal hip movement moves your head out of the way and opens up the bar path to make it more vertical.
In addition, all your participating muscles should be positioned to move the bar to its lockout position. The hip movement achieves this by aligning your deltoids and pecs in the direction of movement.
Together, it fulfils our 3 criteria for exercise selection: the most muscle mass used, over the longest effective range of motion, to lift the most amount of weight.
The timing is crucial. Within a split second, your hips go forward and the bar drops a little and rebounds back up. Then your hips come back just as you catch the rebound and press the bar overhead.
If you’re new to the press, it might be easier to see for yourself. Here’s a video on how to press.
The hip movement takes some coordination and practice to get it right. These are 5 common problems in no particular order that we commonly see, and how to fix them.
Problem #1: You’re not keeping knees locked and abs tight
During the hip movement, if you lose your knee extension and let your knees unlock, if means that your quads relaxed to some degree. What happens is that your knees will flex and straighten again when your hips return to neutral. If you forcefully straighten your knees after they flex, it becomes a bit of a push press. We’re not doing a push press, so we don’t want that to happen.
Ditto for your abs – if you don’t maintain tight abs, your back will extend when you drive your hips forward. One tell-tale sign that your abs aren’t staying tight? Usually, the lifter will comment that they’re experiencing some lower back discomfort or pain when pressing.
Why is staying tight important?
Your hips are pushing into that tight band of tension of your isometrically contracted abs and quads, and that is what gives it a rebound. Sort of like jumping on a trampoline, you get a strong rebound. But if lose tightness, it’s like a loose trampoline – the rebound is a whole lot less.
In fact, everything between the bar and the floor needs to maintain tightness throughout. The moment something relaxes, the transfer of force loses efficiency. This means that you can’t relax after the hip movement. Your abs and quads have to start off tight, and stay tight throughout the entire rep.
How to fix it:
- Before driving the hips forward, squeeze your quads and lock your knees as hard as you can (it may feel like your quads are going to cramp). Hold that tightness throughout the rep
- Cue: think “straight legs”. Keep them straight throughout the rep.
- Another cue: “When your hips go forward, your knees go backwards in the opposite direction at the same time”. By thinking that your knees are going back, it reinforces the idea that your knees stay locked.
- Squeeze your abs tight; but neither suck in nor push out. Just contract them isometrically. Brace hard as if you’re expecting to be punched in the stomach. Having a good strong Valsalva will reinforce tight abs.
Stay tight, and hold that tightness throughout the entire rep.
Problem #2: You’re pulling your hips back before driving them forward
Some lifters pull their hips back before driving them forwards. My guess it feels like they’ll get more rebound because of the increased range of motion that their hips go through. This usually happens subconsciously, almost everyone isn’t aware that they’re doing it.
The problem is, pulling your hips back causes you to lean over slightly. This in turn may cause your elbows to drop “behind” the bar (instead of being directly below it) and your forearms to point slightly forward. This movement will cause the bar to move slightly forward.
If your elbows don’t move back below the bar and your forearms are still pointing forward when you start to press, there’s a high chance the bar is going to be pressed forward instead of directly up.
Even if your elbows do get back below the bar when you drive your hips, the bar would have moved forward (when you pull your hips back) and then moved backwards (when you drive your hips). Instead of the bar going directly down and bouncing straight back up, it’ll go down and slightly back – when it rebounds back, it’s going to go up and slightly forward.
How to fix it:
- Stand up tall. As you take a big breath in, lift your chest up and keep it up. Then tighten your abs and quads (while still standing tall and keeping chest up), then do the hip movement – think hips forward.
- Imagine that there’s an electric fence 1cm behind your butt. Think of not letting your ass get zapped by the electric fence as you drive your hips.
Problem #3: You’re driving your hips too fast
While the hip movement should be done powerfully and with speed, some lifters drive their hips way too fast. They drive their hips forward in sort of a twitch, instead of a controlled thrust.
Again, this is usually subconscious. My guess is that it happens because it feels like faster = bigger rebound.
However, the result is counterintuitive. When you move too fast, your hips don’t travel very far forward. Actually, much less than it should.
This shorter distance gives you less rebound, and is in fact the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.
How to fix it:
- Obviously, just slow down.
- If that doesn’t work, reframe it as: reach far instead of fast. Sometimes I’ll cue with a target, like “make your hips touch the wall in front of you”.
Can you go too slow? Sure. Although it doesn’t happen often, but usually it’s someone who is overthinking or hasn’t learnt to coordinate the movement yet. Too slow, and you won’t get a strong rebound.
Problem #4: You’re leaning back instead of driving hips forward
Some lifters confuse hips forward with leaning back. Yes, they both get your head out of the way, and leaning back can feel more instinctive than driving your hips forward.
When you lean back, the bar moves backwards with your shoulders, instead of going down and rebounding back up.
And when you snap back to standing up straight, guess what happens to the bar? Yup, it very likely gets launched forward. When the bar gets heavy and is pressed anterior to your midfoot, it almost always result in missed reps.
Lastly, because you’re not thrusting your hips, you don’t get the rebound – there’s no hip “bounce” to initiate the rep and the bar doesn’t dip downwards and rebound back up.
How to fix it:
- Pay attention to the weight distribution on your feet. If you’re leaning back, the weight will shift back onto your heels (we don’t want that). If you’re thrusting your hips forward, the weight will shift towards your toes.
- Video yourself, and watch the position of the bar as you make this movement. If you’re leaning back, the bar will move backwards. If your hips are correctly reaching forwards, the bar should move vertically down.
- Make sure your eyes are looking directly straight in front of you. Fix a spot right in front of you and keep your eyes locked on it.
Problem #5: You’re pulling your hips back forcefully instead of rebounding
Instead driving the hips forward powerfully and getting a bounce off the abs and quads, some lifters move their hips forwards slowly and then forcefully pull their hips back. That movement is a concentric contraction of the hip flexors rather than a hip bounce. The press done in this manner is actually another version of the overhead press called the Olympic Press.
Not that doing the Olympic press is wrong but if you’re trying to do the press 2.0, do it right.
How to fix it:
- The focus should be on driving the hips forward into that tension instead pulling the hips back. The bounce should occur as a function of the band of tension of your tight abs and quads resisting your hip’s forward movement. If you’re thinking about forcefully pulling your hips back, it’s likely that you’re doing it wrong.
Your hips don’t lie. Use them well
If you’ve been having issues on the hip movement on your press, it’s likely that it’s one of the 5 issues mentioned above.
If you’re new to the press 2.0, start by locking your knees, tightening your abs and practising the rebound with an empty barbell. When done right, you should feel the bar “jump” up in your hands. Then gradually add some weight and watch out for the above problems – self-diagnose by regularly videoing yourself and reviewing the footage.
These cues and solutions should fix most problems if you’re training on your own. If you want to save time trying to figure this out on your own and avoid the mistakes that can hamper your progress, work with our coaches and leverage our experience and expertise. Contact us here.