Three exercises to perfect your press

Three exercises to perfect your press

People like 90-degree angles. We use them to design everything from tables to rooms to books because we find symmetry attractive—especially T shapes. I think that fascination is why you see so many people pressing incorrectly.

In the gym, you see tons of push-ups with people flaring out their elbows to 90-degree angles, or shoulder presses that look more like shoulder impingement. This is crazy, because those decisions aren’t based on anything anatomical. People just assume that exercises should look neat and orderly.

The thing is, you are not a table. Your anatomy is structurally sound at all sorts of different angles. Take the lunge, for instance. It takes a ton of heat. People say that to maintain “proper form,” you should keep a 90-degree angle with your shin and thigh. This is entirely unnecessary, but don’t just take my word for it. Ask a small child to get off the ground. I guarantee (s)he performs a perfect lunge without an issue, with the knee tracking safely to around the ball of the foot, all without any formal education on the matter.

The same holds true for pressing. When new clients have trouble protecting their shoulders during a push-up or overhead press, I usually walk a little too close to them and ask them to push me back. I’ve yet to see a client who hasn’t immediately adopted perfect pushing form, and I don’t think that’s because of my body odor. It is because good pushing mechanics are natural.

Good pushing mechanics might feel foreign to you initially, but here are three great exercises for dialing in your form.

Push-ups on the foam roller (video)

Doing push-ups on the foam roller forces your shoulders to stabilize, and lowering your chest to the roller makes it very hard to do the exercise with bad form (without falling over).

Bottoms-up kettlebell floor press (Video)

This is another exercise that almost forces you into proper form because of how challenging (i.e., nearly impossible) the movement becomes when you stray from it. The kettlebell give you immediate feedback if you stray in any direction.

1.5 Shoulder Presses with a 5 second negative (Video)

Breaking the shoulder press down into a half press followed by a full press really drills good mechanics, and the slow eccentric phase will ingrain that angle into your mind forever.


All three of these exercises are incredibly challenging and should be performed with very light weight at the start. However, drilling these good mechanics will instantly correct any form problems you have on the bench press or military press, and as a result, will help you lift more weights. 

Try adding these exercises to your routine and watch your pushing ability immediately improve.

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Eat a hamburger, pass out on the floor.  Nobody’s perfect.

Eat a hamburger, pass out on the floor.  Nobody’s perfect.