If you’re able to get the bar off your shoulders during the overhead press, but fail once the bar clears your head, it’s a sign that you have a weak overhead press lockout.
Training the overhead press lockout requires some adjustments to your routine, but it can be done, and you should start to see positive results within 6-weeks of implementing some of my tips below.
My top 8 tips for improving your overhead press lockout are:
- Shrug your shoulders and push your head forward at the top of the lift
- Brace your core and squeeze your glutes
- Keep the bar close to your body
- Strengthen your triceps
- Work on your overhead mobility
- Increase your overhead pressing volume and frequency
- Incorporate different overhead press alternatives
- Do overhead pin presses
Tip #1: Shrug Your Shoulders and Push Your Head Forward at the Top of the Lift
If you’re able to clear your head but fail to completely lock the bar out overhead, you may have technique issues that prevent you from achieving the full range of motion.
Once the bar is almost all the way overhead, shrug your shoulders and push your head “through the window” – in other words, push your head forward through your arms. As you push your head forward, shrug your shoulders up towards your ears.
This allows you to stack the bar directly over your shoulders and the rest of your body, which stabilizes the weight and helps you complete the final portion of the lift.
In addition to helping with your lockout, following these cues will also help prevent shoulder impingement, which occurs when your rotator cuff rubs against the acromion (the outer edge of the scapula).
Tip #2: Brace Your Core and Squeeze Your Glutes
Many lifters don’t treat the overhead press as a full-body exercise, but it is. In addition to the shoulders, pecs, and upper back muscles, the core and glutes play a large role in the overhead press.
Just like you would brace your core during a squat, you should brace your core before an overhead press. It stabilizes your torso and protects your spine while allowing you to drive more power through the bar. This gives you the ability to push through your sticking points and achieve full lockout.
Squeezing your glutes is also an important part of being able to lock out your overhead press. Doing this prevents you from hyperextending your back and pushing the bar through an inefficient movement pattern.
A slight arch in the overhead press, also called a layback, is okay. However, an excessive arch not only increases the risk of injuring your lower back, but it creates a curved bar path and forces you to do more work, as I discuss below.
Tip #3: Keep the Bar Close to Your Body
A common mistake with the overhead press is bringing the bar too far out in front of the body. This makes it more difficult to complete the lift because the bar has further to travel and the weight can pull you forward and throw off your balance.
Many lifters push the bar forward because they’re afraid of hitting their chin or nose. However, doing this makes the lift inefficient because you have to work harder to align the bar path as you’re pressing the bar overhead.
To avoid this, tuck your chin and move your head slightly backward until the bar passes your head. You’ll be able to drive the bar overhead with more power since it follows a more efficient bar path, which makes it easier to complete the lockout.
Tip #4: Strengthen Your triceps
The triceps play a huge role in all pressing movements, including the overhead press.
Similar to the bench press, the triceps are used in the overhead press to extend the elbows. If you’re having trouble with your overhead press lockout, you may have weak triceps in relation to the other muscles groups of the upper body.
Movements such as close-grip bench presses, dips, skull crushers, and tricep pushdowns all target the triceps. Incorporating these movements into your routine can strengthen the triceps and help improve your overhead press lockout.
I recommend dedicating an entire workout to tricep-focused exercises in order to overcome your overhead press lockout issues.
Check out the article 16 Best Tricep Exercises to Increase Bench Press Strength for more recommendations on exercises that target the triceps.
Tip #5: Work on Your Overhead Mobility
Having good overhead mobility is not only necessary for maintaining shoulder health, but it also allows you to get into the proper setup position and keep tension in your upper body.
It also makes it easier to keep your arms stacked over the rest of your body and push the bar in a straight line. And by being able to keep the bar in an optimal bar path, you’ll be able to lock out the weight more easily.
You’ll know if you have poor shoulder mobility if you stand against a wall with your back and heels touching, and if you raise your arms straight overhead you can’t get the back of your arms and wrists on the wall.
Some shoulder mobility drills that help with the overhead press include:
- Shoulder dislocates
- Foam rolling your lats
- Child’s pose
- Thread the needle
- Mobilizing the pecs with a lacrosse ball
Tip #6: Increase Your Overhead Pressing Volume and Frequency
As someone focused on strength development, you should prioritize the “big 3” powerlifting movements like the squat, bench press, and deadlift. But if you want to also get better at overhead pressing and improve your overhead press lockout, you need to do it more often and at varying intensities.
Some powerlifting programs such as the Texas Method and Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 have days dedicated to the overhead press while other programs treat it as an accessory on bench days.
How you decide to train the overhead press depends on your current training routine, whether you have extra time available to spend at the gym, and personal preference.
When you add more shoulder work to your routine, you should make sure the extra volume doesn’t negatively impact your other lifts and you can still recover properly. If you can add another full day of training dedicated to the overhead press without impacting your other lifts, you should do so.
If not, you can add the overhead press and other shoulder accessory movements to your bench press days. For competitive powerlifters, the bench press should still take precedence over everything else. Any extra shoulder work should be completed after your bench press sets.
If you’re already training the overhead press, you can simply increase the number of sets and/or reps. For example, you can increase your sets and reps from 3×5 to 3×8 or 4×12. This puts you in a hypertrophy, or muscle-building, range.
By adding more muscle mass, you can increase your overall strength. This will make every aspect of the overhead press easier, including the lockout.
Tip #7: Incorporate Different Overhead Press Alternatives
While more overhead pressing can help you progress, doing different exercises can give your body and mind a break from doing the same thing over and over. It also gives you an opportunity to practice movements you don’t normally do and train muscle groups that are otherwise neglected.
Incorporating movements such as push presses, landmine presses, dumbbell presses, and Z presses allows you to train the muscle groups that the barbell overhead press doesn’t target.
This will help you build overall strength in your shoulders, which will make it easier for you to lock out the bar even when the weight gets heavier.
Check out the article 9 Best Overhead Press Alternatives for additional exercises that can strengthen your shoulders.
Tip #8: Do Overhead Pin Presses
Overhead pin presses are a pressing movement with a partial range of motion. The idea behind them is similar to that of the board bench press. It allows you to specifically train the mid- to end-range of the overhead press, which is where many lifters fail.
The pin press is best done in a power cage or by using a squat rack where you can place spotter arms at a high level.
To perform the movement, adjust the safeties so the barbell sits anywhere between your eyes and a couple of inches above your head, depending on where your sticking point is.
Use the same grip that you would use for a regular overhead press, and make sure your elbows are slightly in front of your body. They shouldn’t flare out to the side, as this can cause shoulder impingement.
Brace your core, then push the bar up until it’s overhead. It may take a few seconds to break the bar off the pins; this is normal. If this happens, you can lean back slightly to initiate elbow extension and get the bar moving. If you can’t get the bar off the pins at all, you may need to lower the weight.
Once you’ve completed the rep, lower the bar slowly. Make sure it comes to a dead stop before you begin the next rep. Bouncing the barbell off the pins defeats the purpose of the exercise since you’ll be using momentum to press it overhead.
Other Overhead Press Resources
- Bench Press vs Overhead Press: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Overhead Press In Gyms With Low Ceiling (7 Tips)
- 9 Best Overhead Press Alternatives (With Pictures)
- Does Overhead Press Help Bench Press?
- Can You Overhead Press Every Day? (Pros and Cons)
- Does Overhead Press Make You Shorter? (Science-Backed)
- 7 Tips to Improving Your Overhead Press With Long Arms
- 13 Overhead Press Cues To Increase Strength (With Pictures)
- What Is The Best Overhead Press Grip Width & Hand Placement?
- Is It Better to Do Shoulder Presses Standing or Sitting?
- Why Is My Overhead Press So Weak? (7 Fixes That Work)
Improving your overhead press lockout requires making adjustments to your technique, training your triceps and working on overhead mobility, increasing your overhead press volume, and training the mid- and end-range portion of the lift.
It will take some time, but if you focus on addressing your weaknesses and building your overall shoulder strength, you should see progress in your overhead press lockout within a few weeks.
If you’re having trouble with your lockout in the other powerlifting movements, check out these guides:
About The Author
Amanda is a writer and editor in the fitness and nutrition industries. Growing up in a family that loved sports, she learned the importance of staying active from a young age. She started CrossFit in 2015, which led to her interest in powerlifting and weightlifting. She's passionate about helping women overcome their fear of lifting weights and teaching them how to fuel their bodies properly. When she's not training in her garage gym or working, you can find her drinking coffee, walking her dog, or indulging in one too many pieces of chocolate.