If you’ve been going to the gym for a while now, I am pretty sure you have heard of the strict press, overhead press, military press, or shoulder press. They may sound different, but they actually refer to the same exercise. It’s when you lift a barbell or dumbbells from your shoulders to above your head, using only your upper body and core strength without any help from your legs.
This lift is known for its incredible power, but strangely, not many people do it. That’s probably because it’s considered one of the toughest barbell exercises, especially if you want to lift heavy weights. But don’t worry, in this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about the strict press.
So, what exactly is the strict press? Which muscles does it work? How can you do it properly? We’ll cover all these questions step by step, making it easy for you to understand and follow along. Plus, we’ll share some helpful tips to handle heavier weights like a pro. And the best part is, the strict press comes with a bunch of awesome benefits for your body. Let’s find out why it’s a fantastic exercise to add to your fitness routine!
What Is A Strict Press?
The strict press is a favorite among many bodybuilders for its rep tempo and ability to fully break down the muscle through time under tension. But don’t let that fool you, it’s not just for the pros. This exercise is perfect for anyone looking to add some mass to their shoulders and improve their upper body pressing strength.
The strict press is a shoulder press done while standing with a barbell. The defining feature of this movement is that it’s done with strict form, which means no leg movement and no eccentric body movement. That’s right, no cheating allowed! This lack of movement makes the strict press extremely challenging, but it’s also what makes it so effective. It forces you to use only your delts and upper back to control the weight, making it a great exercise to work on correct shoulder mechanics.
Unlike the push press and push jerk, the strict press is a lot more controlled and can be performed with variations of grips to hit different parts of the deltoids. This makes it a versatile exercise that can be tailored to your specific needs. Plus, it’s not just a mass-builder, it’s also great for improving your overall upper body pressing strength.
How To Do The Strict Press
The strict press is a fantastic exercise to target your shoulders and upper body strength, but it’s important to make sure you’re performing the movement correctly to get the most out of it. Here’s how to do it:
The strict press is a powerful shoulder exercise that demands precision and control. Follow these step-by-step instructions to perform the strict press with impeccable form:
1. Setup: Stance and Grip
- Begin with the barbell resting in the J-hooks of your rack, positioned at about mid-sternum height, just like you would for a squat.
- Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, ensuring your forearms are vertical. Avoid an excessively wide grip.
- Hold the bar with the meaty part of your palms, right over your forearms, and position your elbows slightly in front of the bar.
- Before lifting, focus on your core. Take a deep breath to brace your abdominal muscles, creating a stable foundation for the lift.
- Lift your chest by squeezing your shoulder blades together to create tension in your upper back.
- Tuck your chin slightly to move your head back and out of the way.
- With your core tight and chin tucked, drive your arms upward to lift the barbell directly overhead in a straight line over the middle of your feet.
- As the bar passes your forehead, push your head forward through your arms, returning your neck to a neutral position.
- Slightly shrug your shoulders at the top to fully extend your arms and lock out the movement.
- Lower the barbell back to your shoulders with controlled movement. Bend your elbows to bring the bar down while keeping your chin slightly tucked to move your head out of the way.
- Maintain a stable torso and lower body throughout the lift, avoiding any leg movement or momentum.
- Focus on maintaining proper form, especially as the weight gets heavier, to ensure a strong and effective overhead press.
- Do not bounce into your legs when receiving the bar back on your shoulders. Use control and stability to catch the bar.
The strict press is a fantastic exercise to build upper body strength and stability. Remember to start with manageable weights, and gradually increase the load as your form and strength improve. Mastering the strict press with perfect technique will yield significant benefits and help you reach new heights in your fitness journey. And remember, the key to performing the strict press correctly is to maintain strict form throughout the movement. So, keep your core tight, your back straight and your shoulder blades retracted.
Muscles Used During The Strict Press
The strict press is a compound movement that targets the upper body pushing muscles, utilizing the entire body in the process. The deltoids, triceps, upper back, and core are all engaged to perform the movement correctly and safely.
The deltoids, which are made up of three heads, are responsible for flexing the shoulder and bringing the arm up during the press. The triceps, which are made up of three heads, are responsible for pushing the weight up at around the halfway point of the press and for the lockout at the top. The upper back, made up of muscles such as the rhomboids and trapezius, provides stability to the shoulder and scapula, which is the base of the press.
The core muscles, including the abdominals and lower back, provide a stable foundation for the press and help to prevent leaning back, which can lead to injury. Additionally, the strict press also hits the serratus anterior and upper chest muscles.
Benefits Of The Strict Press
Building Bigger Shoulders
The strict press is a great exercise for building bigger shoulders as it targets the deltoids and upper back muscles. By pressing the bar overhead, you are working to build rounder and stronger shoulders that not only look good but also function well. This exercise is more effective than shoulder and lat raises for building bigger shoulders.
1. Full-Body Activation:
The strict press is a comprehensive workout that engages muscles throughout your body, including your deltoids, glutes, and lower back. This compound movement ensures that multiple muscle groups work in harmony to lift the barbell overhead.
2. Increased Upper-Body Strength:
By performing strict presses with proper overhead technique, you can develop upper-body strength and muscle mass in key areas such as the anterior deltoids, pecs, triceps, and trapezius. The focused use of upper body muscles without momentum or assistance from other muscle groups maximizes muscle growth potential.
3. Enhanced Core Strength and Stabilization:
During the strict press, your core muscles act as stabilizers throughout the entire range of motion. This activation not only strengthens your core but also improves overall stability, which carries over to other exercises and daily activities.
4. Improved Performance in Compound Exercises:
Incorporating strict presses into your training can enhance your performance in other weightlifting exercises, such as the bench press, deadlift, and push-up. The increased upper body strength and stabilizing capabilities gained from strict presses positively impact your execution of these compound movements.
5. Stronger Bench Press:
The strict press targets muscle groups crucial for a successful bench press. Strengthening the shoulders, triceps, and upper chest through strict presses can lead to improved bench press performance.
6. More Stable Shoulders:
The shoulder joint plays a vital role in upper body movement and stability. Strengthening the muscles around the shoulders, particularly the deltoids, can help reduce the risk of injury and enhance shoulder stability during various movements, both inside and outside the gym.
7. Core Stability:
Maintaining proper core engagement during the strict press is essential for stability and injury prevention. A tight core not only ensures a safer lift but also focuses the effort on the shoulders, maximizing the effectiveness of the exercise.
Incorporating the strict press into your strength training routine offers a multitude of advantages, from increased upper body strength and muscle development to enhanced stability and injury prevention. Remember to maintain strict form and engage your core throughout the movement to reap the full benefits of this powerful exercise. Whether you’re a seasoned weightlifter or just starting, the strict press can be a game-changer in your quest for strength and overall fitness.
8. Improving Bench Press Technique
The strict press can also help to improve bench press technique. Both the bench press and strict press work the triceps, deltoids, and chest, but in slightly different ways. By incorporating the strict press into your routine, you can develop better upper back strength and power that will transfer over to the bench press. This will help you with the eccentric portion of the bench press and improve your overall technique.
9. Improving Lockout during Lifts
The strict press can also help improve your lockout during other overhead lifts. This exercise helps to develop upper body explosive power, which will in turn help you to lockout other exercises that require an overhead position.
10. Building Tricep Strength
Finally, the strict press is also a great exercise for building tricep strength. The triceps are heavily engaged during the strict press, which will carry over to other exercises that require an overhead position.
The 3 Best Strict Press Alternatives
When it comes to making consistent success in the gym, variety is really necessary. The following is a list of the most effective alternatives to the strict press that make use of a movement pattern and concept that are comparable. However, there is a slight distinction between them in order to introduce a fresh stimulus.
1. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
The dumbbell shoulder press is a variation of the strict press that allows for modifications to the grip. One of the benefits of this exercise is that it can alleviate shoulder pain by allowing for a slightly neutral grip (palms facing each other) which is more comfortable for some people.
Additionally, the dumbbell shoulder press increases the stability required in the shoulders compared to the traditional overhead press. This is because the dumbbells must overcome lateral forces when pressing the weight overhead, which requires the lifter to ensure the dumbbells do not fall sideways.
How To Do Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Sit down on a bench with your back supported by the vertical backrest.
- Grasp a dumbbell in each hand, with the weights resting on your thighs.
- Use your legs to lift the dumbbells up to your chest level.
- Position the dumbbells just outside of your shoulders.
- Push the dumbbells upward towards the ceiling, straightening your arms and locking your elbows.
- Lower the weights back to the starting position just below your ears, and repeat the movement.
The Z-press is a hard variation on the strict press. It was made and named after the legendary strongman Žydrūnas Savickas, also known as Big Z. Sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you, you can do this exercise. That means you won’t be able to use your legs to lift the weight. Instead, you’ll have to use your core to keep your lower back stable.
The Z-press can be done one arm at a time with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
How To Do Z Press
- Start by adjusting the squat rack’s safety bars to be slightly below your front rack position for the barbell.
- Sit on the floor with your legs straight, maintaining an upright posture and pressing your heels firmly into the ground.
- Take hold of the barbell and position it securely in the front rack position, keeping your chest elevated.
- Brace your core, grip, glutes, and back while inhaling.
- Press the barbell upward, keeping your elbows close to your body as you do so.
- As the barbell passes your head, thrust your head forward through the space created by your arms.
- Extend your triceps and hold the barbell firmly overhead.
- Lower the barbell back to the starting position on your chest and shoulders in a controlled manner.
- Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps.
3. Handstand Push-Up
The handstand push-up is a challenging bodyweight exercise that builds shoulder strength and stability, and can be used as a substitute for the strict press. It’s considered an advanced variation and is typically only attempted by individuals who have already mastered the basics of the overhead press and push press.
It’s commonly used in Crossfit and is a great option if you do not have access to weights, as it serves as a highly effective bodyweight alternative to the overhead press.
How To Do Handstand Push Up
- Stand facing a wall, with your feet close to it.
- Use a kicking motion to propel yourself upward and into a handstand position against the wall.
- Once you are upside down, engage your core and glutes to maintain a stable position.
- Slowly lower yourself down towards the ground as far as possible.
- Push yourself back up to the starting position and repeat the movement for the desired number of reps.
Strict Press Common Mistakes
The strict press may seem simple, but it’s crucial to steer clear of common mistakes to perform the movement safely and effectively. Let’s delve into the errors and how to avoid them:
1. Improper Grip and Stance:
Avoid taking a grip that is too wide or too narrow. Find the sweet spots for your stance and grip based on our recommendations in the previous steps.
2. Collapsing Core and Arching Back:
Maintain a neutral pelvis and engage your core throughout the lift. Avoid arching your back excessively, as it can strain your lower back and lead to potential injury. Strengthening your core is essential for maintaining a stable and strong torso.
3. Forward Chest and Resting on Fingers:
Squeeze your shoulder blades slightly to keep your chest upright during the press. Ensure that the barbell rests on the palms of your hands with your wrists straight before initiating the lift, avoiding any weight on your fingers.
4. Pressing Around the Head and Not Tucking Chin:
Keep the bar path vertical and avoid pressing around your head. Tuck your chin to allow the barbell to move freely overhead.
5. Leaving the Head Back Instead of Driving It Through:
Once the bar passes your forehead, drive your head forward through your arms to reach lockout. This ensures proper alignment and completes the lift effectively.
6. Dropping the Bar Too Low on the Chest After Rep:
After each rep, maintain proper form and return the barbell to your original setup position on your upper chest and front shoulders.
7. Arching the Back Too Much:
Avoid excessive arching of the lower back, as it can lead to strain or injury. Engage your core to stabilize your spine and use an appropriate weight to prevent overloading.
8. Pressing the Bar Forward:
Work on improving shoulder mobility to ensure a straight bar path overhead. Practice mobility exercises and use lighter weights as needed.
9. Using the Lower Body for Assistance:
Focus solely on using your upper body during the strict press. Avoid recruiting your hips and legs for additional momentum. Maintain consistent hip and knee positioning throughout the entire movement.
10. Unbalanced Pressing:
Address any imbalances between your right and left arms to achieve symmetrical strength. Incorporate dumbbell overhead presses to work both sides equally.
11. Skipping Warm-Up:
Always prioritize a proper warm-up before engaging in any workout. Warming up prepares your muscles and joints, reducing the risk of injuries, especially in the shoulders, which are susceptible to strain during the strict press.
By avoiding these common mistakes and maintaining strict form throughout the movement, you’ll maximize the benefits of the strict press while ensuring a safer and more effective workout. Remember, practice and consistency are key to mastering this valuable exercise and unlocking your full upper body strength potential.
Difference Between Strict Press And Push Press
The strict barbell press and push press are both exercises that target the shoulders, but they have some key differences.
Strict Barbell Press: The strict press is a controlled movement that is performed with a slower rep tempo. It is designed to fully break down the muscle through time under tension. The strict press only uses the delts and upper back to control the weight up and down, not the rest of the body. It allows for variations of grips to hit different parts of the deltoids and allows the person to work on correct shoulder mechanics due to the controlled nature of the movement. It is considered as an overall mass-builder for the shoulders.
Push Press: The push press allows for the use of some lower body assistance. During the push press, you are allowed some slight leg drive to move the weight up and over your head. The grip is similar to strict press, but some people tend to use a slightly wider grip especially when going behind the head. Since the weight can go up on this movement, the shoulders will come less into play, and the hip/leg drive will make up more of this movement to assist with the momentum.
The strict press is a challenging exercise that requires proper form to execute correctly. Common mistakes include pressing in front of the body, overarching the back, using too much weight, and not using full range of motion.
By being aware of these mistakes and implementing the suggested fixes such as recording your press from a side-view, strengthening your core, releasing tight hip flexors, improving shoulder mobility, thinking of the strict press as a power move, and focusing on full range of motion, you can improve your form and get the most out of the exercise. Remember to always prioritize form over weight and work within your limits to avoid injury.
Rahul is a sports and performance consultant. Over the course of his 15-year career in the fitness sector, he has held positions as a strength and conditioning instructor, gym owner, and consultant.
He is deeply committed to assisting people in finding happiness and feeling good about themselves.
Rahul has a master’s degree in exercise science and is a certified NSCA CSCS and CISSN.