7 Tips to Improving Your Overhead Press With Long Arms

Just like having long arms puts you at a disadvantage for bench pressing, it also puts you at a disadvantage with overhead pressing.

When you have long arms, you have to pay attention to your training strategy to get stronger. 

My top 7 tips for overhead pressing with long arms are:

  • Strengthen your triceps.
  • Strengthen your upper back.
  • Take longer rests in between sets
  • Train with dumbbells
  • Do Z presses
  • Improve your overhead stability
  • Pay attention to your bar path

In this article, I’ll discuss why long arms are a disadvantage for the overhead press and provide tips on how lifters with long arms can improve their overhead press strength. 

Overhead Press Mechanics: Regardless If You Have Long Arms

Whether you have long arms or not, there are some cues you should follow when performing the overhead press.  

Place Your Hands Right Outside Your Shoulders

When setting up for an overhead press, your hands should sit no more than an inch or two outside your shoulders.

If your grip is too narrow or too wide, you won’t be able to lift as much weight since you’ll lose tightness in your upper back. You’ll be more likely to arch your back or curve the bar around your head, which causes you to lose power and makes the lift more inefficient.

You’ll also want to make sure the bar rests on the meaty part of your palm. You can generate more force from your forearms this way, and it’s easier to stabilize the weight overhead than if you were holding the bar in your fingers.

Keep Your Elbows and Forearms Vertical and Your Wrists Straight

Keeping your elbows and forearms vertical ensures your wrists, forearms, shoulders, and torso stay in alignment. This helps you maintain tension in your upper back and allows you to follow a straight bar path.

It’s also important to avoid bending your wrists. Bending your wrists will often result in your elbows getting too far in front of you and cause a loss of stability. For lifters with poor wrist mobility, it can also cause discomfort in the wrists.

Don’t Flare Your Elbows

A small amount of elbow flare is normal during the overhead press, but excessive flaring takes your body out of alignment. You’ll lose some of your power and it will make the lift harder to complete. It can also cause shoulder or elbow pain.

You’ll know you’re flaring your elbows too much if you look at a video of you overhead pressing from the side angle, and you see your elbows go behind the barbell as you’re pressing the weight overhead.

Brace Your Core and Squeeze Your Glutes

Doing this allows you to maintain tension in your midline and protects your spine from injuries. It also prevents you from hyperextending your back, especially as you become more fatigued.

Many lifters arch their backs because they’re afraid of hitting their chin or nose with the bar. You can avoid this by leaning your head back slightly until the bar has cleared your head.

Push Your Head Through the Window and Shrug Your Shoulders at the Top of the Movement

As you’re completing the rep, push your head through your arms (a.k.a, the “window”) and shrug your shoulders. 

This prevents shoulder impingement and makes it easier to lock the weight out overhead.

Why Are People with Long Arms at a Disadvantage for the Overhead Press?

Improving Your Overhead Press with Long Arms (4)

1. They Have a Greater Range of Motion

Long-armed athletes have to move through a greater range of motion when performing the overhead press.

Although you can arch your back to reduce the range of motion in a bench press, you can’t do so with the overhead press. Arching the back in the overhead press causes the bar to follow a curved bar path instead of a vertical one, which makes it harder to complete the lift. It can also lead to back injuries.

There’s also no benefit in using a wide grip on the overhead press like you can in the bench press. A wide overhead press grip places more stress on the shoulders, and it can weaken the lift since you can’t generate as much power.

2. The Bar Has a Greater Distance to Travel

Lifters with long arms have to press the bar several more inches overhead than lifters with short arms. Because of this, they spend more time under tension and have to expend more energy in order to complete the lift.

This is also why it can take long-armed lifters a longer amount of time to complete each rep. Even if two lifters have the same level of strength and perform the same amount of reps at the same weight, the lifter with shorter arms will be able to complete their reps faster.

3. Having longer arms means you Having Longer Arms Means You Have Less Overhead Stability

When a lifter with long arms performs an overhead press, the bar is further away from the stronger muscles in the core, glutes, and legs than it is for a lifter with shorter arms.

For this reason, individuals with long arms have a more difficult time stabilizing the weight overhead. They have to work harder on strengthening the stabilizer muscles in the upper body so their shoulders don’t give out under a heavy load.

4. It’s Harder for Long-limbed Individuals to Put on Muscle Mass

Everyone’s individual musculature is different, but in general, taller individuals tend to have a harder time gaining muscle mass. And because more muscle mass often means more relative strength, it stands to reason that a lifter with long arms won’t be able to overhead press as much weight as a lifter with short arms.

Obviously, there are exceptions to this, and your strength levels also depend on things like genetics, how often you train, and what kind of routine you follow. But in many instances, having long arms makes it more difficult to build muscle, which can impede your strength gains.

8 Tips for Improving Your Overhead Press with Long Arms

If you have long arms, then start implementing some of the advice below to ensure you’re continuing to add strength to your overhead press.

1. Strengthen Your Triceps

strengthen your triceps if you have long arms when overhead pressing

The triceps are one of the primary muscle groups used in the overhead press. They are responsible for the lockout portion of the lift. If you have long arms and you also have trouble fully extending your elbows in the overhead press, strengthening your triceps can help.

Some of my favorite tricep strengthening exercises include:

  • Narrow grip bench press
  • Dips
  • Skull crushers
  • Tricep pushdowns
  • Diamond pushups

For more exercises that strengthen the triceps, check out the article 16 Best Tricep Exercises to Increase Bench Press Strength.  While this article discusses tricep exercises to improve the bench press, the same exercises will improve your overhead press as well if you have long arms.

2. Strengthen Your Upper Back

Although the overhead press doesn’t target the upper back directly, keeping the upper back tight is an important component of the movement. If you set up for the lift correctly, you should feel tension in your traps and lats as you’re holding the bar on your shoulders.

Strengthening the upper back muscles will allow you to keep your upper body tight, and you’ll be able to maintain proper form for a longer amount of time. This is important for lifters with long arms because it will prevent you from becoming too fatigued and overcompensating with poor form.

Exercises such as barbell rows, lat pulldowns, pullovers, dumbbell flyes, and rear delt flies can all be done to strengthen the upper back.

If you’re wondering if you can train shoulders and back in the same day, check out the article Can You Workout Shoulders and Back Together?.

3. Take Longer Rests in Between Sets

With longer arms, you have to do more work to get the bar overhead. And because you use more energy to complete the lift, you accumulate fatigue more quickly. Taking longer rests in between sets will ensure you’re ready to perform your subsequent sets.

How long to rest in between sets depends on what movements you’re doing and whether your training is focused on strength or hypertrophy.

It is commonly recommended to rest 3-5 minutes in between sets when training for strength and 1-2 minutes when training for hypertrophy. Long-armed lifters may require rest intervals at the higher end of these ranges.

4. Train with Dumbbells

Overhead pressing with long arms puts more stress on your shoulders. To give them a break, you should do more dumbbell work. This will also allow you to correct muscle imbalances and strengthen the smaller muscles in your shoulders that the barbell overhead press doesn’t target.

Dumbbell shoulder exercises include:

  • Seated or standing dumbbell presses
  • Arnold presses
  • Rear delt flies
  • Lateral raises

5. Do Z Presses

The Z press is an advanced exercise that targets several muscle groups in the shoulders, upper back, and core.

It’s performed while sitting on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you. The Z press removes your ability to use any leg drive, so you have to rely on your core, shoulders, and triceps.

For long-armed lifters who are inherently at a strength disadvantage when it comes to the overhead press, the Z press is an excellent exercise. Even though it’s a compound exercise, it isolates the shoulders more than the overhead press.

The Z press forces you to use more control, and your scapula has to work harder to stabilize the shoulder. This benefits the overhead press because it encourages proper form and helps prevent injuries.

If you’re looking for more ideas on how to train your shoulders, check out the article How Do Powerlifters Train Shoulders? (Definitive Guide).

6. Improve Your Overhead Stability

Overhead stability is an important part of maintaining shoulder health, which is essential for lifters with long arms. Since you’re placing more stress on your shoulders, you have a greater risk of injury.

Working on your overhead stability allows you to stay more stable under heavy loads, maintain tension in the upper body throughout the entire lift, and remain injury-free.

Waiter carries and Turkish get-ups are two overhead stability movements that have the added benefit of training the core. A strong core will also help keep your torso stable, which will prevent you from collapsing with a heavy weight overhead.

If you have access to one, you can also do overhead presses or overhead carries with a bamboo bar.

A bamboo bar is a training tool that targets the stabilizer muscles in the shoulders and upper back. It uses oscillating kinetic energy to challenge the muscles. When using a bamboo bar, it’s important to maintain proper form in order to manage the weight.

This has a lot of carry over to the overhead press because it instills good movement patterns and strengthens smaller muscle groups that are often overlooked.

7. Pay Attention to Your Bar Path

When you have long arms, getting the bar too far out in front of you by just an inch or two can make it more difficult to complete the rep.

The bar should travel in a vertical line at all times during an overhead press. If you curve the bar around your head, you’re just making it travel further than it already has to.

You’ll also waste more energy than necessary since you’ll have to do more work to get the bar back in proper alignment.

Final Thoughts

Even though having long arms is a drawback in the overhead press, you can still make progress. You’ll have to work harder, but it is possible to overcome your biomechanic disadvantages and develop a strong overhead press.

More Overhead Press Resources

About The Author

Amanda Dvorak

Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.