Build Massive Healthy Shoulders with This Barbell Press
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Crushing heavy overhead presses is one of the most effective ways to build monster shoulders and traps while building Viking-like upper body strength. When performed with proper mechanics they’re also incredibly therapeutic on the shoulder joints and excellent for ingraining proper postural alignment. Unfortunately, most individuals fail to perform overhead presses with proper technique thereby placing undue stress on the glenohumeral joint not to mention taking tension off the surrounding musculature.
While reducing the total load can help resolve this issue to a degree, implementing overhead movements that force the lifter to incorporate proper mechanics is one of the best ways to teach optimal vertical pressing technique. With that said, one unique overhead press that I’ve found to be very effective not only for blasting the entire shoulder musculature, upper traps, triceps, and upper chest but also for instilling proper overhead pressing technique into the CNS is the overhead barbell strap press.
These can be performed either by attaching traditional wrist straps to a bar as I demonstrate in the video or by attaching bands to the bar (the more difficult variation) as shown by my awesome client Ben Lai. Then simply hold the straps or bands in a vertical fashion and perform overhead military presses. Yes, they look a bit odd but here are 5 reasons why you may want to consider incorporating these into your shoulder workouts.
1. Finding ways to perform intense overhead pressing variations that minimize stress and tension to the joints can be tricky. The overhead barbell strap press requires the lifter to reduce the weight by approximately 50% to perform the movement however the stimulus to the upper body musculature is inordinately intense. In fact, I’ve found that my athletes have to reduce their weight more on this overhead pressing variation than any other vertical pressing movement including bottoms-up exercises. Because of the combination of significantly reduced loading yet high levels of tension on the shoulders and upper body this represents an excellent overhead pressing variation for minimizing stress to the joints while maximizing the functional strength and hypertrophy stimulus. Simply put, if you have sensitive shoulders but still enjoy periodically performing overhead presses, this may be the perfect version to implement in your routine.
2. If you’re looking for an overhead press that teaches proper elbow tuck, shoulder packing, and centration of the glenohumeral joint, look no further than this press. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to perform with excessive elbow flare or lack of t-spine extension as the lifter will simply be unable to lock the bar into position.
3. The overhead barbell strap press is unusually unstable and requires the lifter to use very strict, tight, and controlled mechanics. Excessive momentum or lack of control will cause the weight and the arms to shake and waver.
4. Creating lateral tension against the bar is very important during overhead pressing particularly at the top of the overhead press (aka the slot position). To successfully lock this movement in particularly at the top, the lifter will be forced to spread the arms and pull laterally against the straps. Besides stressing the lateral and rear deltoids to a greater extent than most overhead presses, this also does wonders for teaching optimal overhead lockout mechanics and technical efficiency in the overhead slot position. The impact this has on Olympic lifts as well as overhead mechanics in general is noteworthy.
5. Collapsing in the bottom position is one of the most common mistakes on strict overhead presses. Yes, racking the bar to your body for push presses is part of the lift but when performing strict overhead military presses, bringing the bar to the shoulders every rep not only takes tension off the deltoids and involved musculature but also places undue stress on the shoulder joint and rotator cuff. It’s for this reason I usually have individuals terminate the bottom eccentric position somewhere around mid face or chin level similar to where it would be for a proper bottoms-up press. Because of the specific gripping mechanics involved with this particular barbell press, going excessively low at the bottom feels very unnatural on the grip, hands, wrists, and shoulders necessitating the use of optimal stopping mechanics at the appropriate eccentric bottom position. Simply put, you’ll be unable to collapse at the bottom.
Try incorporating this overhead barbell strap press once every several weeks into your training routine. It can be used as the primary overhead press for the workout, as an accessory movement, or as a shoulder finisher. Either way several sets of 5-8 reps should more than suffice particularly if you incorporate an eccentric isometric protocol which I highly encourage.
On a final note, this barbell strap method can be applied to a number of lifts including incline chest presses, tricep skull crushers, rows, lat pulldowns, and more. It can also be applied to squats, lunges, and good mornings by creating a makeshift safety bar squat.
If you’re looking for a training program that teaches you how to employ a variety of unique overhead presses such as the barbell strap press into your training routine, check out my Complete Templates.