The shoulder press is both a compound movement and the essential foundation of the pressing series. Throughout time, the strict press has proven to be a highly rewarding tool in developing upper body strength as well as midline stability. In CrossFit the importance of core to extremity muscle recruitment is second to none, and thanks to the strict press, we’re able to both practice and perfect these motor patterns. When performed correctly, strict pressing will strengthen multiple muscle groups including the traps, deltoids, upper pectorals, triceps, and all trunk stabilizing muscles. To reap the benefits of the strict press, and all overhead lifts for that matter, you must adhere to the key elements of the movement: the setup, core stability, bar path, and the overhead position. Throughout this article we’ll talk about how these elements play into the overall movement as well as, the execution, points of performance, and some common faults associated with the strict press.

Firstly, let’s look at the setup. A properly executed setup is essential to any movement we do and the strict press is no exception. To setup for the strict press, first position your feet hip width apart and run through your bracing sequence. The bar will be placed in the front rack position, very similar to the front squat, with your hands just outside the shoulders. The difference from the front squat is that you’ll use a closed grip (thumbs around the bar) and, your elbows will be down and in FRONT of the bar; a slight outward point of the elbows is allowed. The head will remain in a neutral position with a forward gaze. The lowered elbow position and perpendicular forearms allow for direct pressing force which results in a vertical bar path. If the elbow is behind or “chasing” the bar, the bar path will become horizontal as you will now be pushing away from the body. The results of a proper setup not only decrease the chance of injury, but also allows for optimal muscle recruitment which is key in increasing overall strength. Now that we’re setup…let’s lift!

To begin the movement, allow the head to accommodate the bar. You’ll do this by pulling the head straight back as if to create a double chin. This provides room for the bar to move from shoulder to overhead in as straight a line as possible. With the bar path clear, keep your weight through your heels and begin pressing the bar overhead. Once the bar as cleared the top of the head, allow the head to return to a neutral position and continue to gaze forward. Continue pressing until the bar is overhead, locked out, and shoulders are active. To return to the starting position you’ll simply work in reverse. First pull the head back to clear the travel path of the bar. Keeping tension and control, allow the bar to slowly descend back into the front rack position. As the bar clears the face, allow the head to return to the neutral position while maintaining a forward gaze. Remember, core stability is crucial throughout this movement! Keep the trunk locked in place from the moment you receive the weight, until the moment you rack the weight. As with all things, practice makes permanent and the best way to do so is through the classic CrossFit prescription: technique, consistency, intensity.

The points of performance for this movement are as follows:
Proper setup
Constant core stability, ribs locked down
Weight remains through the heels throughout the movement
Bar travels straight up and down
Top of the press results in bar directly overhead, shoulders are active

Strict press common faults are as follows:
Improper setup (bracing sequence missing, elbows to high, thumbs not wrapped)
Weight not through heels (rocking onto the toes)
Hyperextension in the trunk (ribs sticking out)
Horizontal bar path (bar moves out and away from center of gravity, bar accommodates the face)
Passive shoulders or bent elbows in the overhead position

Once mastered, the strict press works seamlessly into all overhead movements especially the push press and eventually the push jerk. Moving from the sport of CrossFit to the sport of life, we can translate these motor recruitments to day to day movements such as placing or grabbing items off shelves that are overhead, changing a light bulb overhead, or simply just raising your hand to answer a question. No matter the application, the movement remains the same so, keep the points of performance in mind at all times, and ALWAYS work from core to extremity!


Coach Justin

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