By Andrew McGunagle
How important is overhead work if you’re a powerlifter? You’ll never need to hoist weights over your head in competition, so is it useful to dedicate lots of training time to overhead pressing variations? Here’s my take on the topic…
Durability, sustainability, resilience – these terms should frame more strength training discussions. If you’ve got big lifting goals you’re far from, then you must understand your pursuit is going to take years. Not weeks, not months, but years.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – impressive lasting specific adaptations rely on the bedrock of general development. Appreciable movement capacity, diverse movement skills, and impressive muscular development will make it much easier to get strong. Specialize too significantly too soon, and you’ll make it difficult to realize your true potential.
If you’re skinny and weak by competitive powerlifting standards, then should you really be paring your sessions down to the three competition lifts and a handful of fairly specific assistance exercises? Is it wise to lose the capacity to put your arms overhead without compensation if you’re not competing at an elite level?
Answer those questions as if you’re a coach, then compare your answers to what you actually do as a lifter. If the two don’t line up, it may be time to make adjustments to your training.
Keep in mind that, if you’re a powerlifter, you don’t necessarily need to press a barbell overhead to get the benefits of overhead work. Press dumbbells or kettlebells. Do one arm at a time.
Are these variations as good as the standard barbell overhead press? It’s easy to argue the barbell is king, but you can still get the same shoulder, triceps, and upper back development from other variations. If unilateral variations are friendlier to your bench-weary shoulders, there’s your answer right there.
Get stronger overhead in the 5-12 rep range and pair this with a smart nutrition plan that enables you to put on size, and your bigger shoulders should translate to a bigger bench. Overhead work will eventually stall and reach a point of diminishing returns. That’s fine. As long as you’ve filled in this “gap” in your strength and physique, you’ll be a better lifter than you would’ve been if you had just benched.
Thanks for reading!