Push press vs. Military press
A client of mine recently asked two questions regarding overhead lifts. (1) What’s the strength transfer between a military press and a push press and (2) which one of the two lifts is best for hypertrophy purposes.
Here are my thoughts on the subject.
(1) Both lifts can help the other out. If your military press goes up significantly your push press will also go up. Pushing your push press up might not have the same transfer to the strict press, but it can be helpful in a general strategy to get your military press higher.
The amount of carryover you will get from your military press to your push press will be an individual thing.
It depends on your levers; people with longer limbs will gain more on the push press by strengthening their strict press than people with shorter limbs: that’s because they must press the bar over a longer path, which means that the arms do more job than if they had shorter levers.
Leg strength and how you use your legs in a push press also plays a role in how much adding strict pressing strength will help the push press. Someone who has super strong legs and use a very strong « kick » to get the bar moving will benefit less from strengthening their strict press. Those with weak legs or those who don’t use them efficiently during a push press will see a bigger benefit from gaining on their strict press.
But in general, adding strict overhead pressing strength will help your push press a lot provided that you at least maintain your technical level.
Now, the opposite (push press helping the strict press) isn’t always true. I do like to use the push press to boost overhead strength. I feel that just getting the body used to handling big weights overhead will help any form of pressing (military, incline, flat). So in a way improving your push press improves your overall pressing potential. That doesn’t necessarily translates into direct improvements in strict overhead pressing performance.
For example if someone’s weak point is at the start (first half) of the military press, the push press might not help much when it comes to getting the strict press stronger, because the push press is basically bypassing the weak link (although if we are talking strictly .about gaining mass, that’s not necessarily a bad thing).
And if someone uses a very powerful leg drive when push pressing, the transfer to strict pressing will be much less than if only a slight drive is used.
However if someone’s sticking point in the strict press is about forehead level, the push press will be of great help.
If your goal is to get your push press to go up as high as possible, then you must work on improving the leg drive: making it as powerful as possible. However if you are using the push press to boost your military press performance you should use a minimal leg drive, just enough to use 5-10% more weight than you would use in the strict press. In fact a method I like is to do your push press sets with your target weight in the strict press and gradually (week by week) try to do the lift with less and less drive until you are doing it as a strict press.
(2) Now, which of the two lifts is best to build deltoid size? Let’s examine the pros and cons of both:
Strict/military press: PROS: keep the shoulders under maximal load from start to finish, can’t use momentum or a stretch reflex, which makes the deltoid do more of the pressing weight. CONS: you use less weight, possibly creating a lesser overload on all the pressing muscles, weak starting position that can be hard on the shoulders (if you do a real military press: bar starting on the front of your shoulders.
Push press: PROS: allows you to bypass the weak link which means that you can use more weight. As a result it’s possible to create a greater overload on the muscles. CONS: if leg drive is too powerful (especially if you have short arms) the upper body pressing muscles might not be under load for very long, which could greatly diminish hypertrophy stimulation.
My personal opinion is that IF YOU HAVE LONG ARMS the push press is a superior deltoid-builder than the strict press provided that you only use a slight leg drive. If you have short arms then the strict press will be a superior size builder in the delts.
Here’s a good specialization program to boost your strict pressing performance.
MONDAY – STRICT STRENGTH
Strict press 5 x 3-5 using the double progression model (the goal is to do all 5 work sets with the same weight, if you can do all 5 sets for 5 reps, you can go up in weight at the next session. If you get something like 5,5,5,4,3 you stick with the same weight).
First half press (from bottom position to eyes level) 5 x 3 (try to use 10% more than what you used in the strict press, work doing the lifting action explosively but without leg drive, and lower back down slowly)
Negative press (lift as a push press, lower back down to the shoulders as slowly as possible, especially from forehead to shoulders) 5 x 1 ideally using the same weight as on your first half press
Front squat 5 x 3-5 using the double progression model
Deadlift 5 x 3-5 using the double progression model
Bent over row 5 x 6-8 using the double progression model
WEDNESDAY – OVERLOAD
Push press with diminishing leg drive* 5 x 1 with your target strict press weight at the end of the cycle (be realistic… you wont add 60lbs in 4 weeks! a 10% increase is very realistic over a 4-6 weeks period for a spec routine)
Push press (normal leg drive) 5 x 3 with the same load as above, but this time you can use a strong leg drive
High incline bench press (60 deg. or 3rd pin setting on most adjustable benches) 5 x 3-5 using the double progression model
*Diminishing leg drive means that you use the smallest leg drive possible and you strive to use less and less leg drive each week, until you can do it without any leg drive (which would mean a PR in the strict press)
Floor press 3 x 3-5 using the double progression model
Preacher curl 5 x 6-8
DB hammer curl 5 x 6-8
Decline DB triceps extension 3 x 8-10
SATURDAY – STABILITY/GROOVE
Zavickas press (strict press performed sitting down on the floor with extended legs) 5 x 3-5 using the double progression model
Bradford press (press just above forehead, bring behind neck, press just above forehead, bring to the front, this is ONE rep) 3 x 6-8 reps
Seated DB press constant tension (from neck level to just above forehead) 3 x 10-12