How To Break Through Overhead Shoulder Press Plateau

How To Break Through Overhead Press Plateau

For the longest time my overhead press was stuck around 130lbs. No matter how much rep-work or deloads I did, my shoulder strength wouldn’t improve.

It wasn’t until I said “fuck it” and tried a new strategy that I finally saw some real change.

The strategy is to dedicate an entire 30 minute session to shoulder overhead press.

You might be thinking – what the hell?

And I get it.

But if you’ve really been struggling to improve your overhead press for some time now, it’s best you hear me out.

Now you can still do your regular routine. But this is going to take a separate 30 minutes of your day.

My recommendation is to have your overhead press sessions two days on, one day off. Take two days in a row off if you feel your body needs it.

If you’re exercise routine is a back/chest/leg split, then you’d be having your overhead press sessions on the same days as your leg and back sessions.

This is because you want to give your shoulders adequate rest time and upper-push days, like chest days, won’t help you.

How To Break Through Overhead Press Plateau

You will get to your work area and start a countdown of 30 minutes. You will fit in as many, or few, sets it takes to fill your 30 minute countdown.

Here is a quick layout of the Shoulder Press Session:

  • Two Warm-up Sets

Your first 2 sets will be increasing warm-up sets of 5 reps each. Take as little rest time necessary.

  • Two or Three Working Sets

Your working weight is the weight you are currently stuck on.

You will aim for 5 reps per set on your two or three working weight sets.

If you fail to reach 4 or 5 reps, you will take a three to five minute rest period. If you reach all 5 reps, take as little rest time you feel necessary.

  • End with Heavy/Single Sets

These last sets will be heavier sets and lastly single sets.

For these ending sets it’s perfectly fine to perform your reps similar to a Push Press.

This Push Press is essentially the Overhead Shoulder Press, but with a slight bounce from your legs; you want the minimal leg bounce necessary.

Every set you will incrementally increase the weight on the bar.

You want your body to get used to handling weight heavier than your working weight.

Eventually you will reach single sets. These are sets that are so heavy, you can only perform one single rep.

This is perfectly fine.

Your last set should be an attempted single Overhead ‘Push’ Press.

This is essential because you want your body to get used to holding heavier weight over your head and a controlled (not slow) negative.

Here’s a sample illustration of a session

Warm-Up Set – 115lbs – 5 reps
1 to 5 minute rest

Warm-Up Set – 125lbs – 5 reps
1 to 5 minute rest

Working Set – 135lbs – 3 reps
3 to 5 minute rest

Working Set – 135lbs – 3 reps
3 to 5 minute rest

Working Set – 135lbs – 2 reps
3 to 5 minute rest

Heavy/Single Set – 140lbs – 2 reps
3 to 5 minute rest

Heavy/Single Set – 145lbs – 1 rep
3 to 5 minute rest

Heavy/Single Set – 150lbs – 1 rep
3 to 5 minute rest

Heavy/Single Set – 150lbs – 0 reps
DONE or use lighter weight

Why does this work?

You’re giving the overhead press your complete focus. Since you’re body isn’t tired from previous movements, you’re able to give your shoulders the attention, time, and energy they need for the lift to improve.

Your overhead press form is going to improve. The special treatment you’re giving this movement will result in increasingly better form and technique. Especially since it’s costing you an additional 30 minutes out of your day.

You will improve your mind-muscle connection. You’ll notice when you’re shoulders are taking an unnecessary beating. In turn, you’ll avoid overworking your shoulders so you can make consistent progress without any hiccups.

Additional Tips

Your shoulders should be the very first muscles you workout. When your shoulders are given priority they will be at their strongest. This is opposed to working your shoulders after an intense body workout.

Use a barbell for the overhead press, if possible. I find that a regular barbell is the best way to perform the exercise. Fixed barbell weights tend to jump the weight up too much to be useful. Curl bars aren’t as easy to manage, especially when you start pressing 135lbs or more.

You need to increase the weight very incrementally. This means you will only bump up the working weight by 5lbs (2.5lbs each side) at a time. You can also use 1.25lbs plates – I never used them but it stands to reason they’d be incredibly useful with this movement.

Grip the bar very, very firmly. The more intentional you are with your grip, the more control you will have with the movement. The straighter you can make the bar path, the easier this movement will be.

Make sure you shrug at the top of the movement. To avoid shoulder pain make sure you shrug at the top of the movement. This avoids rotator cuff issues because when you shrug you make space between your arm and AC joint. When you don’t shrug, you don’t create space – hence shoulder impingement.

There is no need for additional shoulder exercises. The only other shoulder exercise you need for direct strength carryover is the push press movement.

Your overhead press strength should be half of what you lift for bench press. Obviously this rule isn’t cut and dry. But it does give you an accurate idea of whether or your OHP is below or above where it should be. When I first used this strategy I was below where I should be. Nowadays I’m about where I should be. And you can be too.

Recap – How To Get Through Your Overhead Press Plateau

  1. Dedicate time to your overhead press.
  2. Warm-up and practice your form and technique.
  3. Get your body used to pressing heavier overhead than you’re used to.
  4. Use the Push Press modification; use minimal bounce as necessary.
  5. Have as many progressing overhead shoulder sessions as possible.

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3 Comments

  1. Do you think training the ohp 3x a week is enough to make progress for the lift?

    • Yes. But if you’ve always struggled with OHP like me, then I suggest focusing on shoulders and training them as many days a week as you can. At least until you hit the numbers you’re looking for. Be smart and listen to your body.

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