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Use some calculated body English to build bolder shoulders

Goal: Size, Strength
Bodyparts: Shoulders

Those who play by the rules tend to live cozy, conventional lives, devoid of the extraordinary, free from improvisation. But when it comes to your physique, sometimes you have to throw the rule book into the furnace to get the results you want. And one of those rules in the smoldering ash is the one that calls for strict form at all costs. Generally, this part of the lifter's code is one worth following but occasionally, as with the push press, its worth ignoring.

"The push press is essentially a military press but you let the legs and hips add a little push," says Taylor Simon, MSc, BA, CSCS, co-director of Taylored Fitness ( in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. "This helps give a bit of momentum to the movement, allowing you to lift a little more weight. And the more weight you can lift the bigger and stronger you will get."

It turns the overhead press into a full-body movement that happens to focus on the delts, much the same way that the deadlift is a full-body movement that emphasizes the hips and lower back.

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On shoulder day, after a good warm-up, you more than likely start your day with a few sets of overhead presses. These can be done in a machine, with dumbbells, standing or seated -- you're at no shortage of exercise options for this fundamental mass-builder. But the standing military press is generally considered the best for strength and size because it calls on your entire musculature to complete the movement. This also allows you to handle heavy loads. However, because so much of your energy is devoted to holding your posture throughout the move, there is usually a clear ceiling for how much poundage you can put on the bar, unless you "cheat" by adding a little spring into the exercise with your legs. That little extra acceleration on the bar, which defines the push press, allows you to use more weight than you can on a strict military press. But the "push" to go with that "press" needs to be a bit more precise than you may think.


  • "The two main keys are that you use the glutes, not the quads," says Simon. "To do this, make sure that you sit back a bit as you begin the movement. All too often, people just bend the knees which leads to quad dominant movement. You have to sit your ass backwards as you squat down to make sure the glutes become the primary mover."

  • "And as with any overhead press, you don't arch the back too much," he adds. "At the top of the movement there will be some lower back arch -- that is normal. When the weight is pressed overhead, your low-back should not be more arched than it would be if you were just standing there normally. Keep the knees slightly flexed and your hips slightly flexed to ensure those big lower body muscles are supporting the weight and your spine."

  • "I use this exercise during strength phases and during power or explosive phases," says Simon. "During strength phases I like to do 5-6 sets of 6-8 reps at the end of a workout." For size, you can also perform 3-4 sets of 6-8  reps prior to your normal shoulder work.

  • "For explosive or power days, I would do the push press at the beginning of the workout and on any day of your program. Perform 8-10 sets of 4-6 reps with about 60 seconds rest between sets. Will take a long time but it will be awesome, explosive power training."