Build Cannonball Delts With This Push Press Technique
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
The traditional push press is one of the best full body strength and power exercises. However, adding a controlled negative on the eccentric phase of the movement further increases its effectiveness as a functional strength and hypertrophy movement particularly when using dumbbells.
Performing the eccentric accentuated push press also exploits all three key mechanisms of hypertrophy including muscle damage, mechanical tension, and metabolic stress. As a result it’s one of the most effective functional mass builders for the entire shoulder region including the deltoids, traps, and upper back, as well the arms and core.
Simply perform a standard push press by using both your lower body and upper body simultaneously to drive the weight overhead. Pause in the top position for several seconds (this is critical), then perform a controlled and accentuated negative by slowly lowering the barbell for a 3-5 second eccentric tempo. Pause momentarily in the bottom position before repeating this protocol for 2-5 repetitions.
Because the load should be approximately 20% greater than what you would normally handle under strict press conditions, performing these with a controlled negative will further enhance the growth-inducing benefits of this exercise. Think of these as heavy negatives for the shoulders but instead of having a spotter help you lift the weight on the concentric phase, your legs will be assisting you instead.
In addition, the total load should represent a supramaximal weight relative to what you would typically handle on a strict overhead press. Besides the direct hypertrophy stimulus these create, teaching your body to handle inordinately heavy loads with strict motor control and rigid body mechanics does wonders for enhancing strength and neuromuscular efficiency. As a result your numbers on just about every upper body exercise including bench press, pullups, rows, dips, and even deadlifts, should improve dramatically.
It should also be noted that this negative accentuated push press is one of the few exercises that builds functional mass and strength while simultaneously improving explosive power throughout the entire kinetic chain. That’s because the concentric phase of the movement addresses speed and power output by focusing on driving the weight overhead as powerfully as possible while the eccentric phase emphasizes hypertrophy and strength through accentuated eccentric work. Few if any exercises have such well-rounded benefits when it comes to strength, performance, hypertrophy, and fitness.
Incorporating dumbbells instead of a barbell makes these exponentially more challenging as the lifter will be unable to rely on creating lateral tension on the bar (i.e. pulling the bar apart) especially at the top slot position. Instead the lifter will be forced to rely on pure strength, motor control, and shoulder stability. As a result the lockout position of the dumbbell push press is one of the most physically demanding and challenging maneuvers even for advanced lifters and can take months to perfect. However, if you can learn to control the dumbbell variation you’ll be rewarded with increased shoulders stability, mobility, core strength, and upper body mass. In fact, I would go as far as saying this specific eccentric accentuated push press is one of the single most potent mass builders not only for the shoulders but for the entire upper body.
On a side note I highly recommend using a neutral grip for these (you can pronate at the top), as it places the shoulders into the most biomechanically sound and safest position. Using a pronated grip throughout particularly during the eccentric phase, makes it difficult to keep the elbows tucked and centrate the glenohumeral joint.
This same eccentric accentuated push press protocol can also be applied to a number of variations.
The barbell version requires less stability and motor control however the total overload is typically greater.
It also has incredible transfer to Olympic lifts such as snatches, jerks, and overhead squats.
The single arm variation requires an incredible amount of core strength due to the anti-lateral flexion and rotary stability components.
In addition, you can typically use 5-10 pounds heavier on this version as all of your lower body power and neural drive can be channeled into one dumbbell instead of two.
Lastly, if you have shoulder issues or are simply looking for a variation that also targets the upper chest to a slightly greater degree, the land-mine eccentric accentuated push press also provides an excellent option.
Training Protocols and Recommendations
Because of the relatively longer time under tension and intensity for each repetition I recommend incorporating lower rep ranges on all of these variations. Several sets of 3-4 repetitions will be more than enough to spark functional strength and growth throughout the body.
Eccentric Isometric Push Press
Although the Eccentric Accentuated push press is incredibly effective, it doesn’t truly take advantage of the eccentric isometric protocol I outline in my book MOVEMENT REDEFINED.
For instance here I have NFL athlete Pittsburg Stealers & GSP sponsored pro Marcelis Branch performing an eccentric isometric push press with 225 lbs. There was recently a discussion in the membership forum on my website regarding what an eccentric isometric push press looks like so here it is.
Essentially the concentric phase is pretty standard using maximal power output by exploding with both the legs and upper body to drive the weight up. After you pause in the overhead slot position this is where things get a unique. Simply perform a slow and controlled eccentric phase but pause in the 90-deg position before allowing the weight to collapse and settle back to the rack/semi-rack position (something he could improve on).
This move is something I highlight extensively in my book Movement Redefined as provides 4 benefits. 1) full body speed & power output 2) eccentric overload for functional strength & hypertrophy as well as connective tissue strength, 3) joint friendly push press, 4) improved body mechanics, proprioception, sensory feedback, and overall technique due to the eccentric isometric protocol.
For many folks especially those with shoulder and joint issues trying to eccentrically control the load in a slow fashion after you move significantly past 90-deg as this can place undue strain on the joints and connective tissue not to mention negatively alter the natural length tension relationship of the muscle fibers - a topic I discuss in depth in my book MOVEMENT REDEFINED.
This may represent the perfect combo of eccentric overload and optimal muscle function.
These and other unique variations of classic strength and mass builders are moves I program into my new members daily workouts section TRAINING REDEFINED.