Push Press vs Overhead Press: Is One Better Than The Other?

March 24, 2021

The overhead press, known as the press, used to be a competition movement in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting up until 1972. Since then, there hasn't been a great need to emphasize raw overhead pressing strength. This is part of the reason why many Weightlifters will train the push press more than the press.

The push press involves contribution from the legs which allows more weight to be lifted overhead in a similar manner to the jerk improving strength and power. The overhead press isolates the upper body targeting strength and hypertrophy of the shoulders and triceps.

Both of these exercises involve pressing a barbell overhead. But what makes them so different? And what would make you choose to perform one over the other?

Push Press vs Overhead Press Technique

The push press is performed in the exact same movement pattern as the jerk. However, the legs do not split or re-bend under the barbell.

The press on the other hand is performed standing upright with no leg drive making it a pure upper body exercise.

The obvious major technical difference between the push press and overhead press is the leg drive present in the push press. By using the legs, the barbell is propelled above the head where the arms push simultaneously continuing the momentum to lockout.

Other than this glaring difference, the press and push press have the exact same bar path, starting position, and finish position. That is they both start in a front rack position with the elbows slightly down, the barbell travels close to the face and is locked out directly overhead with the head slightly forward to create a stable overhead position.

Why Use The Press For Weightlifting?

As the press is no longer a competition lift in Olympic Weightlifting, the press is mainly used as a general upper body strength exercise to strengthen the shoulders and triceps in the overhead position.

The hardest portion of the press is from the shoulders to the forehead whereas the lockout is the easiest part of the lift. When performing the jerk, it is getting enough leg drive to punch yourself under the barbell that is the hardest portion of the lift.

As you may notice, the intent of the press doesn’t connect well with the jerk. But you aren’t using the press to increase your jerk. All it is there to do is to keep your shoulders and triceps healthy and strong.

However, beginner Weightlifters benefit greatly from using the press as a regression to the jerk. It teaches them the correct bar path and lockout position.

Further, it develops the general shoulder and triceps strength they will need when they start to jerk heavier weights.

Why Use The Push Press For Weightlifting?

The push press provides the same movement pattern as the jerk. It allows the lifter to reinforce the dip and drive pattern. Some lifters may cut the drive phase short in the jerk causing their front foot not to land far enough out in front.

The push press is a simple way to provide instant feedback for this jerk mistake. If the drive phase is cut short during a push press, there is no way the athlete will push press any appreciable weight.

Loads may barely exceed their maximum press which is a tell-tale sign that the leg drive is the limiting factor.

Further, the drive of the legs propels the barbell past the head which overloads the triceps and shoulders to a greater extent at the end range of movement compared to the press.

This stimulus is highly beneficial for the jerk where you are handling heavier loads than the press and push press overhead.

Because of these heavier loads, the push press makes a great strength and mass builder when performed for high enough reps. And being able to handle more weight overhead in the push press seems to carry over to strengthening your press. It doesn’t seem to work the other way around.

Is The Push Press Cheating?

To the general fitness population, push pressing may seem like cheating to get the bar overhead when you should be doing the lift strictly. The push press is far from cheating because the momentum generated from the legs is a key determinant for success in the jerk. 

For this reason, the push press should be used by all Olympic Weightlifters to improve their jerk technique and overhead strength and stability.

Does The Push Press Build Muscle?

The push press, when performed for higher reps (4+) is great for adding slabs of muscle to your shoulders and triceps. That’s not to say the press isn’t a great shoulder and triceps builder. The push press just allows you to use heavier loads creating a greater overload effect.

If you are looking to add some upper body mass for your Weightlifting, then you should be using both exercises regardless.

Push Press Or Overhead Press For Weightlifting?

There is no reason you can’t or shouldn’t perform both the push press and press for Olympic Weightlifting. When you are further away from competition, you may press a couple of times a week. As you get closer to competition, you may not use the press at all.

With the push press, you may also use this far away from competition as well as closer to competition to get extra overhead work that will transfer to your jerk. Especially if your jerk is the weak point of your clean and jerk.

Because Weightlifting is a sport of specificity, make sure to spend more time practicing the push press versus the overhead press. If you follow this general rule, you will find a better transfer to your Olympic Weightlifting.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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