- Begin in a rack by setting up a short bench (one with a half back pad used for overhead pressing) or an incline bench set to ~75-80º. Adjust the J-hooks behind the bench to be ~6 inches behind and ~2 inches below your estimated lockout position. I also recommend setting up spotter arms if inside a power rack for safety.
- Sit on the bench facing away from the bar. The low back should be comfortably arched and feet should be flat on the ground creating a stable base.
- Reach back and grip the bar with a slightly-wider-than-shoulder-width grip (or slightly more narrow than your normal flat bench press grip). From here, carefully lift the bar up and over the J-hooks and bring it out over you until your arms are perpendicular with the ground and your upper back/shoulder blades are in comfortably secure positions. If you have the ability, utilizing a spotter here will make this step much easier.
- From the lockout position, initiate the eccentric by slowly breaking at the elbows and allowing the upper arms to extend/adduct. It's very important to note that your elbows should be slightly forward and "tucked" to create a more efficient bar path and better utilize the triceps/pecs.
- As you descend to and past your nose, note that the goal is NOT to alter the bar around your head and face. The setup should already allow space for clearance without resorting to intraset shifts. Getting to the terminal end of the range-of-motion will be marked by the inability to further lower the bar passively within the line of press. Do not force it by "pulling" the bar down or internally rotating the shoulders to try to touch the upper chest.
- Once this end point has been reached, a controlled reversal back to lockout will complete the rep. The bar path should resemble a slight "up and back" arc rather than a straight press up in order to stay within the line of optimal power and stability for the working muscles and joints.
- Upper back mobility
- Shoulder mobility
- Shoulder pain
- Elbow pain
- Low back pain
- Poor trunk stability
- Seated DB OHP
- Seated Deadstop Barbell OHP
- Machine OHP
- Seated Smith OHP
- Standing DB OHP
- Standing Barbell OHP
- Seated Swiss Bar OHP
- Seated Barbell OHP (no back support)
- Barbell Z Press
- 3-5 sets per week
- 2-5 sets per session
- 3-12 rep range
Applicable Intensity Techniques:
- Load Drop Sets
- Cluster Sets
- Supersets (One of my personal favorite ways to utilize supersets with Seated Barbell OHP is to perform a lateral raise variation as pre-exhaust)
Being completely transparent, there are a few variations of overhead presses that I would prefer over the seated barbell version over a longer time horizon.
The reason for this is mostly due to the somewhat unnatural positioning required from the shoulders, scapulae, elbows and wrists in order to perform a proper press in this pattern with a straight barbell. Note that I specified with a STRAIGHT BARBELL. Because even slightly changing modalities to something like a Swiss Bar, Smith machine or to DBs can eradicate most, if not all, of the qualms I have with this movement.
Likewise, the nature of the barbell locks us into a fixed pattern with can be a positive (like when we're trying to move the most absolute load) and also a negative (such as when we have mobility restrictions). I tend to view this trait as further to the "con" end of the spectrum than some others due to the risks that attempting to load unstable positions can have. Not only that, but poor mobility patterns inherently mean that less load can be used relative to the trainee's actual muscular strength/power levels. This can be a double-whammy when it comes to hypertrophy training.
Ok, ok. I will stop being a negative Nancy. Now that we've touched on a couple of my concerns with the Seated Barbell OHP, let's dive into why, despite these concerns, I still see utility in and often program it for my clients.
For starters, this is about as bare-bones, caveman as you can get. This movement is never going to be the sexiest, but for those who are working with minimal equipment (or in case an international virus shuts our favorite commercial gyms down) throwing some heavy Seated Barbell OHPs into the mix might be just what your delts need to break through that plateau of growth.
Additionally, the Barbell version offers something that the DB variation does not; namely, the ability to work in lower rep ranges and higher absolute intensities. Though I've already mentioned that I generally prefer DBs when viewing programming from a macroscopic lens, it would be remiss of me not to mention that they're not suited well for rep ranges below ~8. This is for a few reasons but the main factor is that stability becomes an exponentially important aspect of maintaining the integrity of a set the closer you get to failure. And as you can imagine, trying to control TWO heavy loads is much more unstable than ONE (dumbbells versus a barbell for those who are a little lost). So in this manner we can effectively say that using a barbell is a better option for strength and power goals.
Knowing these pros and cons, how do we go about structuring a program to make the best use of the Seated Barbell OHP without experiencing the downsides?
The simple answer is to program it in cycles.
Since we know that most of the benefits of the Seated Barbell OHP can be traced back to its ability to improve overhead strength, we can actually stagger our implementation so that it is in our program when we're in a strength-building (or higher intensity) phase but not when we're performing more volume at moderate intensities. In this way, we're able to effectively extract the value without having to experience the negative side effects of prolonged use.
Clearly, the Seated Barbell OHP is not perfect. But even imperfect movements can be a net positive when programmed intelligently.
Primary Use Case:
- Increased pressing strength/power (both vertical and horizontal patterns)
- Hypertrophy of the Delts and Triceps