13 Overhead Press Cues To Increase Strength (With Pictures)

top 13 overhead press cues to increase strength

When learning the overhead press, or trying to implement technical improvements, I aim to have lifters focus on 1-2 cues. 

These cues will focus the lifter on the important technical aspects of the lift, or their own weaknesses, to help them execute the movement more efficiently.

This results in better technique and a stronger overhead press.

My top 13 overhead press cues are:

  • Stack Your Arms
  • Squeeze The Bar
  • Take Your Bench Grip
  • Squeeze Your Glutes
  • Dip First
  • Touch Your Shirt
  • Ribs Down
  • Head Through The Window
  • Press Back
  • Stick With It
  • Accelerate Through The Lift
  • Lock The Elbows And Shoulders Together
  • Control The Descent

In this article, I will cover each of these cues and the scenarios on when lifters should use them to increase their overhead press strength.

What Is An Overhead Press Cue?

an overhead press cue is a phrase that helps the lifter achieve specific positional or movement outcomes

An overhead press cue is a phrase that helps the lifter achieve specific positional or movement outcomes.

Cues can range from phrases that aim to improve the position of the body/limbs to cues focused upon specific muscle groups.

You will not be able to implement all these cues at once, I suggest picking one or two that address your needs as a lifter.

If your setup is poor, then you would select a cue that helps you set up more effectively. If you struggle most at lockout, then you would pick a cue that targets this range of the movement.

Cues can vary massively across lifters, just because it works for you, does not mean it will work for everyone else. Experiment with a range of cues, and ways to phrase your cues to make them more effective for you.

Here are 13 overhead press cues and when to use them.

Interested in learning more about the overhead press, check out our other guides: 

Overhead Press Cue #1: Stack Your Arms

overhead press cue 1 - stack your arms

This is my favourite cue for those learning to do the overhead press for the first time, and for experienced lifters looking to improve their strength and technique.

It’s great because it applies all the way through the lift, from set up to lockout.

The idea of stacking your joints is aligning them on top of each other – much like when you are standing it’s easier to stand with your hips over your knees and your knees over your ankles, rather than a staggered position.

This creates a much more stable and efficient position to produce force from.

How To Implement This Cue:

When you set up to unrack the bar, ensure your wrists are directly under the bar with your elbows set in line with your wrists.

Aim to maintain this position as you reset at the bottom of each rep as well.

Throughout the lift you will want to maintain this position, and as you lock out the weight you will want to add your shoulders to this ‘stack’ – so that your wrists, elbows and shoulders are all aligned below one another.

When To Use This Cue:

This cue can be used across all levels of lifters. 

Beginners will likely use it most with initially figuring out the set up and execution for the lift. It can be easy to let the elbows flare and deviate from the stacked position if you are not focused on it or setting up correctly.

Advanced lifters may use it more at lock out, aiming to align the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints for a stronger and more stable lock out.

Overhead Press Cue #2: Squeeze The Bar

squeezing the bar hard in your hands prior to the un-rack will help stabilise your wrist position further

Squeezing the bar hard in your hands prior to the un-rack will help stabilise your wrist position further.

A tighter grip will also help the bar feel lighter in your hands to many lifters

How To Implement This Cue:

Set the barbell in the base of the palm, wrap your thumb around the bar and squeeze the bar in your hand as hard as possible.

Having the thumb around the bar is a far stronger position than not using your thumb.

When To Use This Cue:

This cue should be used during your set up and throughout your sets for as long as it takes to become a routine part of your set up.

Lazily gripping the bar with minimal effort is a problem seen across all pressing exercises and holds lifters back from expressing their maximal strength.

Overhead Press Cue 3: Take Your Bench Grip

overhead press cue 3 - take your bench grip

Many lifters feel strongest overhead pressing with the same grip as their bench press.

While this will not be the case for everyone, it may be relevant to powerlifters looking to maximise consistency across their pressing movements.

How To Implement This Cue:

Set your grip width the same as you would for your bench press training.

The rings are a useful reference point here.

If you would usually bench press a certain distance from the rings, you can use this to help you replicate the same position for the overhead press.

If you do not usually have a reference point, or do not bench press, I would aim to establish one for the overhead press to create a consistent set up across training sessions.

When To Use This Cue:

Use this cue if you are unsure of where to start your grip width or are a powerlifter looking to maximize consistency across varying pressing movements.

Repeat this at the start of each set in order to ensure consistent form and movement execution.

Overhead Press Cue #4: Squeeze Your Glutes

squeeze your glutes help create a more stable base to press from and prevents you from arching your lower back

This cue is to help create a more stable base to press from and prevents you from arching your lower back.

No amount of shoulder strength will be enough to save your overhead press from an unstable lower body.

How To Implement This Cue:

Once you have unracked the bar, take a stance around shoulder-width apart. Keep the feet level, staggered stances are never as stable to press from.

Before you initiate the press, actively squeeze your glutes.

Visualize holding a coin between them and holding it there throughout the lift if you cannot do this naturally.

When To Use This Cue:

This cue should be used if you feel unstable in your lower body when performing the overhead press.

If you feel your weight shifting towards your toes or heels throughout the lift then this will help you stay more centred.

Want to train your shoulders like a powerlifter?  Then check out my article on How Do Powerlifters Train Shoulders?

Overhead Press Cue #5: Dip First

The first rep of the overhead press can often be the hardest for many lifters.

This is as there is no eccentric (downward) phase prior to it and therefore no ‘rebound’ helping your press.

Dipping the bar downward slightly prior to the first rep can help lifters with this first rep and a more even difficulty across the set.

No one wants to start a set with the hardest rep.

How To Implement This Cue:

Once you have unracked the bar, instead of pressing from the position you are set in, allow the bar to descend for 1-2 inches before pressing the bar.

This will help the first rep feel more like a normal rep, rather than pressing from a complete dead stop.

When To Use This Cue:

This cue is for the lifters that find the first rep significantly harder than the rest of the set.

I know if I try and press the bar from a stationary position I will end up grinding out that first rep, yet proceed to finish the set far more easily.

By dipping first I am able to complete the first rep far more easily and in line with the difficulty of the rest of the set.

Overhead Press Cue #6: Touch Your Shirt

overhead press cue 6 - touch your shirt

Squatting high, not touching your chest in the bench press, or not locking out your deadlifts are commonly discussed in regard to limiting your strength and hypertrophy progress.

The same goes for cutting your range of motion short in the overhead press.

This cue gives you a point of reference for each rep and ensures you are getting the most of your pressing.

How To Implement This Cue:

Ensure that every rep comes down to the same point and lightly touches your T-Shirt.

This can be paired with the ‘Dip First’ cue to ensure your first rep is starting from this full range of motion as well.

When To Use This Cue:

This cue is for the lifters that are cutting their range of motion short and need a reference point for each rep to ensure consistency across a set/block of training.

However, everyone may not have the mobility to perform this range of motion. If so, you can look to find other reference points for your range of motion such as passing the bottom of your chin.

Overhead Press Cue #7: Ribs Down

overhead press cue 7 - ribs down

You often see lifters leaning back excessively throughout the overhead press, shifting more and more load from the shoulders to the chest the further back they lean.

This limits your actual shoulder press strength progression and the muscle growth of your shoulders from the exercise too.

This cue ensures that you keep your torso in the correct position and helps stop you from leaning back excessively which will flare your ribcage upwards.

How To Implement This Cue:

The ribs down cue is as simple as maintaining a natural torso angle, just how it would be at the initial un-rack.

Much like bracing for the squat and aiming to stack the ribcage and pelvis, you want to maintain this similar position for the overhead press.

Cueing ‘Ribs Down’ will help you keep this position throughout the lift.

If you struggle to perform this motion or understand what it should feel like, think of doing an ab crunch. The feeling of contracting your abs and bringing your rib cage down towards your pelvis.

When To Use This Cue:

Use this cue if you tend to lean back throughout the top range of the lift.

Set the rib position prior to pressing and maintain it throughout the rest of the lift.

This is especially important if you feel the overhead press in your chest more so than your shoulders.

Overhead Press Cue #8: Head Through The Window

as the bar passes your eyeline you will want to drive your head forward and position yourself under the bar

As the bar passes your eyeline you will want to drive your head forward and position yourself under the bar.

This again helps prevent you from leaning back, but also makes it far easier for you to finish the lift and puts you in a stronger position to press from.

How To Implement This Cue:

As the bar passes your eyeline, begin to drive your head forward, thinking of your arms as creating a window for you to push your head through.

When To Use This Cue:

Use this cue if you are a lifter that finds the top range of motion increasingly difficult or even fail at this point just above your head.

If you find yourself looking upwards and shifting your head back at this range of motion cueing your ‘Head Through The Window’ will help put you in a better position to complete the lift and produce more force from the shoulders.

Overhead Press Cue #9: Press Back

overhead press cue 9 - press back

Pressing straight up in the overhead press is a common mistake.

The bar starts in front of you at the bottom due to the nature of the movement with your body being in the way of centering it initially.

However, as the barbell passes your head you will have the room to begin to press back and bring the bar over your body.

This further stacks your joints, from ankle to wrist, rather than pressing out in front of you.

How To Implement This Cue:

As the barbell passes your head you can begin to press back.

Think of it as a gradual shift backwards from in front of you to directly above you as you lockout rather than a sudden shift backwards and then straight up again.

When To Use This Cue:

Use this cue in the top range of motion as you pass the top of your head.

This will be of use to lifters that struggle at lockout, find the barbell drifting forward towards the top of the movement or feel their weight shift towards their toes in this phase as well.

If you find your weight shifting towards your heels you have likely pressed back too far.

If you are lifting in a basement with a low ceiling, check out my article on 7 Tips For Overhead Pressing in Gyms With Low Ceilings.

Overhead Press Cue #10: Stick With It

having the patience and commitment to keep with the lift when it feels hardest is massively important in the overhead press

The overhead press is a lift that I see so many people fail unnecessarily. 

The hardest part of the overhead press feels notably harder than many other lifts and often like you are grinding a lot more than you are.

Many lifters would complete the reps they fail if they just ‘Stick With It’ for slightly longer.

Having the patience and commitment to keep with the lift when it feels hardest is massively important in the overhead press.

How To Implement This Cue:

When the bar feels like it is coming to a stop, keep pressing and driving the bar diagonally backwards.

In these most difficult stages of the overhead press it is very easy to let the bar drift forward and lose the bar path you want to achieve.

When To Use This Cue:

The portion of the lift where it feels hardest, and as if the bar is going to come to a stop, keep pressing for a second longer than you usually would with other compound lifts.

You will be surprised at how much more you can grind an overhead press compared to a squat, bench press or deadlift.

This cue may see you completely new PBs where you would have normally given up.

Overhead Press Cue #11: Accelerate Through The Lift

overhead press cue 11 - accelerate through the lift

Much like the top of a squat or bench press, lifters are seen to stop exerting maximal force once they are through the toughest part of the lift. Coasting their way through the top end of the lift to lock out.

This cue aims to ensure lifters are applying maximal force throughout the entire lift and not lazy with completing each rep.

This will carry over to maximal pressing better as you will be required to exert maximal force throughout the entire rep there.

How To Implement This Cue:

Once you are passed the hardest point of the lift, typically the portion of the lift passing the face, continue to put maximal effort into the lift.

Aim to move the bar as fast as you can throughout and beyond this range through to lock out.

When To Use This Cue:

Use this cue in all of your sets from warmups and lighter sets to maximal effort attempts.

While some lifters may see no benefit as they are already exerting maximal force, many will be surprised how much this improves their pressing and highlight the lack of effort they may use beyond the hardest part of the lift.

Overhead Press Cue #12: Lock The Elbows And Shoulders Together

overhead press cue 12 - lock the elbows and shoulders together

The overhead press is similar to many other compound lifts in the fact that you want your joints to work in unison. 

No successful squatter has ever locked out their knees notably earlier than their hips and vice versa.

The same logic applies to the overhead press, if you are locking your elbows or shoulders earlier than the other this will make the rest of the lift far tougher to complete.

How To Implement This Cue:

As you get the bar overhead, focus on driving the bar back while extending your elbows.

If you focus too much on elbow extension you will find the bar is too bar out in front of you and it is very hard to lock out your shoulders to finish the lift.

If you focus too much on locking out your shoulders you will find the bar drifting too far back making it harder to lock out the elbows to finish the lift.

When To Use This Cue:

This is most useful on heavier attempts as it will not cause a significant issue on lighter attempts that are easier work through.

With heavier loads or maximal attempts, there is a higher chance of form breakdown and these lockout related issues.

By focusing on loading the correct part of the movements and extending the shoulders and elbows in unison the lift will be much easier to complete.

Overhead Press Cue #13: Control The Descent

overhead press cue 13 - control the descent

The better the downward phase, the better the upward phase.

If you rush your descent and just let the bar fall down to your chest again you are likely to be in a poor position to press from and have less tension in your upper body as well.

By controlling the bar down to your chest you can ensure you maintain maximal grip of the bar, a stacked position of the wrists and elbows, keep your rib cage position and touch your T-shirt. 

See how this controlled descent sets the base for several of the other cues I have listed so far.

By controlling the descent you can capitalize on so many of the other aspects that make you a stronger presser.

How To Implement This Cue:

Rather than letting the bar fall tensionless to you chest, or lazily bringing it down, focus on actually controlling the descent.

Load your shoulders and triceps to control the movement, keep your arms stacked under the barbell and continue to maintain the position of your torso and lower body.

When To Use This Cue:

Use this cue on every set.

From warmups to maximal effort sets, this will improve your pressing strength and technique.

Final Thoughts

This guide covered the most common cues I use for the overhead press.

Cues can be incredibly useful for helping us improve our strength and technique, however, it is important to acknowledge that cues need to be used specific to your needs and that not all cues will work for everyone.

From this list, identify the cue that will have the most impact on your overhead press, and then use that cue on its own until it becomes an automatic process.

Check out our other cues for the squat, presses, and deadlift: 

About The Author

Jacob Wymer

Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.