Perform single arm overhead presses to maximize performance

Are you symmetrical?  Chances are you are not, and neither are your shoulders.

ambi1Based on our past experiences and exposures to stress, our nervous system and body have adapted in very meaningful and specific ways. When people tell you they are ambidextrous and truly are, that is because they have spent enough time working out the motor patterns necessary for the end result to be the focused and balanced use of both limbs symmetrically. In fact, right handedness or what we call right dominate presides in nearly 90% of the population with the last 10% being left dominate or a mix of ambidextrous.

This very simple fact should again make the clear distinction that in order to improve performance in upper extremity based activities, one will require practice. So, when we speak of weight training or any manner of athletic or non-traditional sports overhead performance, we need injury prevention built into almost everything we do. Hence, longer periods free from injury mean, a greater chance of actually adapting and improving in performance.

Get comfortable with what’s hard

Falling-BarbellUsing a symmetrical tool such as a barbell with a poorly developed non-dominate upper extremity can often bring out imbalances and shoulder pain. With shoulder pain being the third most common cause of musculoskeletal disorders, after low back pain and cervical pain; we really should pay more attention to what and how we program overhead lifting. Yes, overtime with moderate weight and long enough progression you too can adapt to barbell overhead pressing, but not every shoulder is the same, and not every lifter has the same experience to start with. The key here is to capture as much of the population as you can with built in injury prevention presses that can actually make a difference overtime.

Starting somewhere with a newbie or even working the minor details with a seasoned athlete, single arm overhead pressing should still be built into your programming to decreases the chances of injury.

Rack it and listen

When it comes to pressing overhead here are some truths:

  • The rotator cuff is what provides the stability so include it or face the consequences
    • Use eccentric rotation exercises to protect the shoulder, so when speed comes into play you have enough strength to overcome a loss of skill under fatigue

  • This kneeling variation will teach you how to use your trunk and spine re-actively to promote stability and stiffness through the core. In order to translate the hip drive power into the arms the core needs to be stiff leading to improved spine extension and thus improved scapular positioning and stability through the joint.


  • Back supported overhead pressing will lead to poor postural cueing from the trunk
    • Use an unsupported positions and progress to kneeling and standing position to optimize spine alignment to decrease the chance for a shoulder impingement.

  • Linear presses alone won’t cut the functional demands of Olympic barbell lifts.
    • Combine external rotation with a press to optimize the proper motor patterns built in for safe overhead pressing with a cuban press.

  • Using 1 single plane of movement will omit any benefit to real world function
    • Use land mind presses to alter the force angles and train where it counts most


  • Advance to using a Javelin presses to expose each individual upper extremity to the demands of the movement

  • Barbell behind the neck presses are safe but only for a healthy shoulder, and even then should be programmed with specific intent
    • Performing over and backs are a great way to stimulate growth and condition the soft tissues appropriately


  • Going heavy for shoulder presses is not a sure fire way towards growth, rather injury
    • Use longer eccentric phases, and giant sets to drive in the metabolic stress to release the growth factors needed for hypertrophy


Put in the time, with what counts and reap the benefits.

Doc Novo out.


Dr. Mario Novo, DPT, PT is a results driven sports orthopedic physical therapist who specializes in strength and conditioning. Known well by his clients/patients as a mentor and educator, Mario’s passion is to unify the highest levels of rehab science with successful mind and body strength coaching. With Mario’s research having focused on new advancements in muscle hypertrophy periodization and joint health, his goals are to share his knowledge and improve on the human condition through personalized cutting edge program design. Mario currently resides in middle TN where he plans on integrating his skills and knowledge in resistance exercise and rehab to empower and inspire those individuals ready to make a change in their lives through health and fitness.

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