The Best Functional Mass Builder You're Not Using

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Overhead Power Holds For Functional Upper Body Mass

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

When it comes to building functional mass and strength, combining high intensity overload with constant tension produces one potent training stimulus.  In addition, the more muscles you can overload at once, the greater the systemic and hormonal response as this not only triggers local growth to the targeted musculature, it also creates satellite signaling that kick starts growth throughout the entire body. Movements such as squats, deadlifts, and even Olympic lifts can trigger this. 

However, one of the most effective exercises I’ve ever used for building serious strength and size particularly throughout the entire upper body is overhead power holds. 

This is nothing new as Olympic weightlifters have been using it for years.  This is also something renowned strength coach Christian Thibaudeau has also discussed in many of his writings highlighting the effectiveness of power holds for building functional hypertrophy and strength.

To perform the movement simply set a barbell in a power rack 2-12 inches below overhead lockout height, then lock the movement out overhead by pressing the barbell off the pins by driving with the legs.  Hold this isometric position for at least 10 seconds while tensing every muscle in your body from head to toe. Ideally the goal is to reach double bodyweight numbers as I show in the video with 405 pounds.

The overhead power hold represents a simple yet brutally effective method for overloading the entire body. It pulverizes the musculature of the shoulders, traps, upper back, triceps, neck, grip, spinal erectors and more.    In addition the level of core activation and stabilization throughout the entire lumbopelvic hip complex that’s required to lock the movement in is difficult to replicate with any other movement.  With that said the overhead power hold is also a fantastic diagnostic tool that both exposes and addresses a number of weaknesses, imbalances, and strength deficits throughout the kinetic chain.

It’s also a phenomenal postural exercise as it both teaches and requires perfect postural alignment from head to toe.  Even the slightest deviation in spinal positioning will produce a week link thereby producing energy leaks that makes the movement feel almost impossible to stabilize.

The overhead power hold is also one of the most effective exercises for improving simultaneous shoulder mobility and shoulder stability.  That’s because it requires the lifter to stabilize their glenohumeral joint in the overhead slot position with the arms in-line with the ears.  In fact failing to press the weight out slightly in back of you, (which represents optimal overhead mechanics) will make it nearly impossible to handle any appreciable loads.

You’ll also notice a significant level of foot and ankle activation as well as leg strength that’s necessary to control your body.  If the feet and ankles cave or the knees and hips collapse it will produce an unstable force on the barbell making it impossible to control. The overhead power hold literally represents a high intensity movement that targets nearly every muscle in the body from head to toe.

Finally, the overhead power hold has a tremendous impact on a variety of movements, sports, and strength activities.  With that said don’t be surprised if this isometric drill causes your squat, bench press, deadlift, Olympic lifts, rows, overhead lifts, and loaded carries to receive a nice boost in strength.

The overhead power hold can also be modified by performing it in a kneeling position, half kneeling position, eyes closed fashion, single leg stand, dumbbell method, hanging band technique, offset method, trap bar loading, bottoms up protocol, single arm fashion, and more.