4 Movements to Improve Your Overhead Press

February 28, 2016 Updated: February 29, 2016

If you love overhead presses but find getting your hands overhead is a chore, here are some easy movements that can help you unlock your overhead mobility. 

Do these four exercises in the order listed because each one will help you progress to the next. 

The Open Book

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  • Lie on your right side and bend your left knee, bringing it above your waist.
  • Place your left knee and shin on a foam roller.
  • Straighten both arms in front of you, bringing your palms together.
  • Now reach your left hand behind you and try to place your left shoulder to the floor without letting your knee lift off of the roller.

Aim for three sets of eight with very good form. 

Wrist to Wall

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  • Sit on a low bench or your foam roller so that you are as low as comfortable, and your knees are above your hips. Press your low back and head tightly to the wall.
  • Place the back of one wrist on the wall and slide it up toward your head, so the arm comes as close to vertical as possible. Hold your arm here for a second.
  • Slide the wrist back down keeping it in contact with the wall the whole time. 
  • First master one arm. Then do two at a time. No need to rush. Focus on slow and methodic movement.

Repeat 8–10 times for one set. Aim for three sets, but decrease the rep count and add a set if it’s too painful or fatiguing and your form is being compromised.

Down Dog


The good old down dog from yoga can make big improvements in your ability to reach overhead.

When you’re in position, keep these points in mind:

  • Extend your arms, fully pressing your palms into the floor with the fingertips spread.
  • Extend your lower back as much as you can.
  • Push your chest toward the floor.
  • Flex your knees to decrease tension in the hamstrings. This will allow a for a straighter and more extended spine.

Hold for three to five seconds at first. To rest in between, use a push-up plank or set your knees on the floor. Aim to build up to holding for a full 30 seconds.

Overhead Hold

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Use a light kettlebell for this exercise.

  • Start the bell in the rack position (as pictured). Keep the wrist straight and stomach and buttocks tight. 
  • Using two hands, press the bell into the overhead position.
  • Make sure that your elbow and wrist are straight when you hold and that the stomach and buttocks remain tight.
  • Lower the weight with two hands. When you feel stable and are pain-free, you can use one hand to raise and lower. 
  • It’s important to maintain a hard grip on the handle at all times. this will help cue your wrist to stay straight. 

Aim to eventually hold the kettlebell overhead for a full 30 seconds. But start easy with 5-second holds and focus on good form. Progress to 10-second holds and then to two 15-second holds. Use a heavier weight when you can hold 30 seconds with great form.

Thomas LaFera is a personal trainer in NYC. His interest and expertise are in mobility, kettlebell lifts, and barbell training. He is also a Russian Kettlebell Challenge-certified coach and an NCSF-certified personal trainer. His home base is Elysium Fitness on West 72nd Street. Visit ElysiumFitness.net or call 212-721-1010.