November 07, 2021 8 min read

Whether at your local fitness center or in your home gym, all you need is a barbell to build your upper body strength with full-body power moves. You’ll see many variations of the overhead press, but few are as efficient at helping you get ripped as the barbell push press.

The explosive barbell push press will bulk up your shoulders and build muscle with just a few reps in your routine as this popular Olympic lifting move hits multiple major muscle groups as you lift your barbell overhead.

Read on to learn more about the barbell push press and get in on the action.

What is the Barbell Push Press?

The barbell push press is a variation of the barbell overhead press in which you use your lower body to push a barbell over your head explosively.

Sexy fit woman performing a shoulder press exercise

This full-body move gets your lower body, upper body, and core working, making it popular amongst bodybuilders and weightlifters everywhere.

How to Complete a Barbell Push Press

So, how do we complete the barbell push press? Let’s break it down, step by step.

 

  1. Starting Position: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grip the barbell with palms facing away from you. Rest the bar across the top of your torso. The bar should be sitting on the front of your shoulders, and your elbows should be pointing forward.
  2. Dip into a very shallow squat by bending your legs.
  3. Push through your heels to straighten your legs. As soon as your legs straighten, lift the bar above your head, pausing at the top. Think, explosive!
  4. Bring the bar back down to the front of your shoulders. As you lower, dip back into your shallow squat.
  5. Straighten your legs and return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for your desired numbers of reps in each set.

Good Form in Your Push Press

Make sure that you maintain good form throughout your barbell push press to avoid injury and get the most out of every rep. Before you dive into this one, we recommend that you complete the movement without any weight to get your body used to how it should feel.

Good form in a barbell push press looks like this:

  • Your hands are gripping the bar just outside of your shoulders
  • You wrapped your thumbs around the bar
  • Your elbows are slightly in front of the bar
  • Your spine is neutral throughout the exercise, with no extension in your lower back
  • Your torso moves straight down and up, without bending forward nor leaning backward
  • Your “squat” is more of a dip than a squat. Be careful not to drop too deep.
  • You are engaging your core for the entire move
  • You are completing each rep in one fluid motion. Meaning, you begin to lift the barbell as soon as your hips reach full extension (your legs are straight), without pausing

Common Mistakes

Avoid these common mistakes that many weightlifters make when completing their barbell push presses:

  • Lifting too early: Don’t begin raising your bar until your legs are straight.
  • Arching the back: If you are arching your back, your weight is probably too heavy. Drop down a bit until you can fix your form to prevent a lower back injury.
  • Leaning forward: Make sure that you are not leaning forward as you lift, or you will be pushing the barbell out in front of you. We want to keep a vertical motion with our barbell.
  • Squatting too deep: Remember, this is a dip, not a squat. Taking this move into a full squat will turn it into more of a thruster, emphasizing lower body-driven momentum more than the barbell push press.
  • Bumping your chin: Enough lifters have made this mistake that we feel we should mention– Be careful not to bump your chin as you lift the weight overhead.

Barbell Push Press Variations and Modifications

We love the barbell push press just as it is, but there are several variations and modifications that you can try out as an alternative to what we described here.

Variations

If you’re looking for a variation of the barbell push press to try out during your next workout, check out some of our favorites here.

    1.Dumbbell Push Press: For a greater challenge, swap out your barbell for a set of heavy dumbbells.

     

    This equipment swap makes the exercise more difficult because you will need to stabilize the weight in both hands instead of distributing it across your upper body.  Grip your dumbbells above your shoulder with your palms facing away from you and complete your push press.

    Check out this article about the dumbbell push press to learn more about this great exercise.

      2. Barbell Split Jerk: This move is like the barbell push press, with the added moving of bringing one leg back into a split stance. As you lift the barbell into your push press, jump your legs up and land in a staggered stance with one leg behind you. A word of warning – Practice this movement without the weight first. It requires more coordination than you might expect!

        The barbell push press is a variation of the also popular overhead press, another Olympic weightlifting move. If you love this workout and are looking for other similar exercises, these overhead press alternatives for upper body mass are a great place to start.

        Modifications

        The barbell push press is considered an advanced weightlifting move. There’s no shame in taking a modification if you need one, especially if recovering from an injury. Try these simple options until you are ready to complete the traditional barbell push press described above.

        • Lower the weight: As with most exercises, a basic modification is to lower the weight. You can reduce the weight on your bar or pick up just the bar itself without any additional weight. If this is still too challenging, complete the exercise with just your body weight until you are ready to work up to your barbell.
        • Swap out your equipment: Swap out your barbell for something you are more comfortable with, such as a kettlebell or dumbbells. Keep in mind that a heavier set of dumbbells will be more difficult because you will be isolating the weight on each side, so remember to opt for very light weight if you use dumbbells as a modifier.
        • Rack the weight after each rep: Stand with a squat rack positioned in front of you. Rack your barbell after each rep. Doing this will give you a break and a minute to reset your form between reps. Over time, you can phase out the squat rack, completing more reps in a row without rest.

        What Muscles Are We Targeting with a Barbell Push Press?

        We love the barbell push press because it is a compound move that hits multiple muscle groups with every rep. Adding this full-body move to your exercise plan will help you build size and strength in no time.

        As you push your bar over your head, you’ll feel some serious upper-body work. As a type of shoulder press, the barbell push press primarily targets your shoulders (deltoids), triceps, and upper back, which carry the weight as you lift your barbell over your head.

        For more shoulder-centric work, take a look at this article on compound shoulder exercises for strength.

        Using your lower body to help you lift that bar will engage your quadriceps and glutes. Your quads and glutes help you dip into the shallow squat and then give you the leg drive to push your torso (and weights) upwards. You will also get some work in your hips as you extend upward.

        Researchers agree on the benefits of a strong core. Your core is working overtime to keep your torso straight and your barbell moving vertically instead of pushing out in front of your body.

        One study found that a strong core enhances your motor performance skills and can even prevent musculoskeletal disorders and improve your quality of life.

        Benefits of the Barbell Push Press

        There is a reason that the barbell push press is so popular amongst weightlifters and bodybuilders. Whether you are an experienced pro or a beginning in the gym, you can get in on these great benefits of the barbell push press.

        • Improve overhead stability: This move allows you to add more weight when lifting the bar overhead, thereby improving your stability during overhead lifts. If you make the barbell push press part of your routine, you will see this stability improve over time.
        • Get stronger: As a full-body workout, the barbell push press helps you get stronger faster by targeting many muscle groups at once.
        • Lift heavier: Because the barbell push press has a smaller range of motion, you can lift heavier weights than you might be able to in similar exercises. In addition to this smaller range of motion, you will also be using your lower body to help you lift the bar, further increasing the amount of weight you can handle in each rep.
        • Improve your weightlifting technique: In general, this compound move can help improve your technique and prepare for more complex compound movements. One popular movement that the barbell push press can prepare you for is the split jerk, which we described above in our variations section.

        Frequently Asked Questions about the Barbell Push Press

        You’re almost ready to hit the gym, but first, let’s answer the questions that weightlifters most often ask about this popular exercise.

        How Many Repetitions Should I Complete?

        The barbell push press is a strength exercise to help you bulk up but not necessarily improve your endurance. Shoot for 5 reps, if you feel like you can complete more than that, that is a sign that you can lift heavier - Add more weight to your bar and keep your rep count low.

        What’s the Difference Between the Push Press and the Overhead Press?

        The barbell push press is a variation of the overhead press. There are two critical differences between them.

        • Wrist Rack Position: Unlike the press, your wrists should fold back a small amount when holding the barbell for your barbell push press. Alternatively, you should stack your wrists and position your elbows just in front of the shoulders during the press. This difference in positioning is significant because the push press involves a heavier weight, so you will need to use your body to support some of the weight.
        • Legs: The push press incorporates your legs because you use them to help you lift the weight, unlike a press, which instead draws strength from the upper body.

        How Should I Incorporate the Barbell Push Press into My Workout Routine?

        We recommend incorporating the barbell push press into your strength training routine, either on days that you dedicate to strength exercises or before you complete your cardio for the day. Be sure to complete strength training at least twice a week.

        study in Sports Medicine found that strength training twice a week is optimal for muscle gain.  

        The barbell push press is a total body workout that can fit well in many areas of your routine, but most weightlifters that we know regularly complete barbell push presses on upper body days because of their shoulder focus.

        Now that you are a barbell push press pro, it’s time to get working on those shoulders. This simple but powerful move belongs in every weightlifting or bodybuilding routine, so what are you waiting for? Add this exercise to your gym routine now for bigger shoulders and more muscular legs.