3 Press Fixes

Whenever I teach and coach the press at seminars, the same faults show up.

1. Grip width
2. Wrist position
3. Elbow/shoulder position

It’s a little difficult to discuss this without a visual aid, so I made an explanation video below after a press workout. Starting Strength does a good job explaining grip width, but for some reason people usually use too wide of a grip. I first wrote about proper wrist position on the SS forums in 2009, and it still is a common fault. Basically the bar needs to be over the heel of the palm instead of back in the hand or fingers. Lastly, over the last couple of years I’ve put more of an emphasis on maintaining proper external rotation during the press as it will distribute the force application through the full muscle bellies of the triceps and anterior deltoid. If these three flaws are present, then it will inhibit press progress. If you are doing these three things wrong, then it will behoove you to accumulate several weeks of work with lighter loads to develop and train the musculature through proper mechanics and range of motion.

Other pressing related sources:

Better Push-Ups video, external rotations role in push-ups and benching
The Lats While Benching article, discussing the anatomy of external rotation during benching
Internal Rotation Post, showing some MWOD fixes for internal rotation
Pressing a Dead Horse post, talking about some programming, but general methods of improving the press.

55 thoughts on “3 Press Fixes

  1. But a serious question: I’ve always used the most narrow grip possible, at the innermost portion of the knurling. I have naturally wide shoulders, and this grip puts my hands in front of my shoulders. Should I actually widen my grip a little? It seems like the bar is almost out in front of me too much.

  2. Great info. My press is stalled at 115lbs, so looking forward to incoporating these changes.

    Question: When doing reps do you bring bar right back to touch clavicle or just slightly above? Just wondering if I am cheating the movement by not touching.

  3. The University of Washington’s (Go Dawgs), football team has been having their knees blow up left and right. We have 10 or 11 guys out with mcl or acl injuries. Fans are starting to grumble and blame turf, technique and the strength and conditioning program.

    In your opinion is there anything that a strength and conditioning program can do to make its players more or less susceptible to these types of injuries?

  4. I often find myself succumbing to the idea that a wider press grip is better, thanks for the helpful reminder. I’m sure it’s for different reasons, but a good way to keep it in mind is that chins are always easier with a more narrow grip- at least they are for me.

    Side note: I hate when the only chin up bars available are those two-handle jobs that force an extremely wide grip. Dear Cybex, what’s so hard about a horizontal bar suspended in space?

    • I rage about this all the time. And if they are intent on the two wide, sloped, bars, why can’t they just connect them with a straight bar for anyone who doesn’t have a 5′ shoulder span?

  5. Very helpful. I had problems with external rotation before. Fixing that and my grip width helped a LOT. I still have lordosis though (I’m working on it), which hurts my force distribution. So I always think “ass tight, hips forward” when it’s time to press.

  6. Good post, as usual. It seems to me like the press is the most technique-dependent of the 4 big lifts, meaning if your technique isn’t spot-on its easy to miss lifts and hard to maintain steady progress. Actually, when I switched from the LP to the Texas Method, which was way back in like June, my best press was something like 152 x 5 x 3, and since then I can’t say I’ve made any progress. In fact I’m pretty certain I couldn’t do that today, and I’ve been consistent in following the program. I’ve found it difficult to progress not pressing heavy during bench week like you do in the TM. It’s like I lose momentum. I’m grinding away though and hoping to set some PR’s soon.

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  8. My friend justifies a wider grip with external rotation because “it involves the lateral deltoid more”, is this true and should he prefer it if his goal is bodybuilding?

  9. Justin, I think you posted about this before, and I made some changes to my technique, especially keeping the elbows from flaring. My poundage did take a hit, but I’ve adapted and the movement feels much better. Thanks for the video, it’s nice to see it in action.

  10. Great info Justin. Video and post very informative. After I watched on Wednesday did my training for the day and incorporated what I learned about the external rotation into my benching. It was harder and I dropped the lbs some, but the position felt much better. Had to fight the muscle memory though of wanting to flare the elbows out.

    Excited to press tomorrow and utilize this information.

  11. Timely article/video! I have been pressing with bad form (more olympic press than shoulder press) and have been fighting to rack on my front delts. I watched the video yesterday and again last night right before pressing. Without over-extending (as in an olympic press) and keeping the bar over the clavicle I was able to push through a two week stall!

  12. External rotation during the press or bench press would mean having the wrists NOT in line vertically with the elbow. You must be in neutral rotation for the wrists to directly above elbow. So if I’m understanding you right, the bar (and wrists) must be behind the elbow joint during, for example, bench press?

  13. Thanks for the tips. My press form is pretty good but I used your tips as a checklist last night to actively remind myself of good mechanics. I also sometimes favor a wider grip because I have wide shoulders and long arms, but I moved in closer last night and really stressed keeping the elbows in and I felt very strong. Close-grip benching after my bench worksets has improved my tricep strength and I can feel the difference in my press, especially when concentrating on keeping shoulders in external rotation.

    Btw, ever think of getting your dogs Therapy Dog Certification? I know they’re Good Citizens and they seem like they have a great temperment for therapy work. My wife and I just got our German Shepherd certified and we’re looking forward to getting him into some local hospitals and schools. We have a VA hospital here that I want to visit with him.

  14. If someone’s having no trouble on the overhead press, but the bench is excruciating on the shoulders, what in the hell does that mean?

    I apologize if this is written elsewhere, I’m not a very good website navigator. I can overhead press just fine (not to say I’m not weak, working at around 165 lbs. for 5 sets of 3), but I tried to bench press yesterday (still weak there, at around 235 lbs. for 5 sets of 3-4), something popped, and now it hurts to wash my hair.

    Let me be specific, for anyone with a little anatomy know-how: I’m fine at the bottom of the lift, but right about the middle it feels like someone is hysterically stabbing the front of my shoulder joint with an ice-pick. I usually try to push through it, but it gets a little wobbly from there and I lose a lot of momentum.

    I’m a Marine, so my primary healthcare provider is some dumb fuck in the Navy who only knows what a shoulder is because it’s not near his asshole. Any tips? Any suggestions on how to fix my shoulder? I’ve tried shoulder-humping the floor but all it does is make my wife laugh, and there’s no physical therapy for that kind of hurt.

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