The Hidden Benefits of Overhead Squats and Push Presses

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Exercise Upgrades, Another TV Appearance, and Bonding with Men's Health

A few week’s back, I was contacted by one of the editors of Men’s Health to appear on some local New York news and represent the magazine.  To say this is an honor is an understatement in the extreme.

I appeared on WPIX11’s Wake-Up Workout alongside Jen Ator, Katie John and Guy Egan (all for Men’s Health) and WPIX correspondents, Linda Church and Dr. Steve.  The segment, titled “Battle of the Sexes” was set up to discuss two new books being released simultaneously by Men’s Health and Women’s Health magazines. Appropriately called The Men’s Health Diet and The Women’s Heath Diet, respectively, both books were written by Stephen Perrine and the editors of each magazine, respectively.

4480668688_3b12a416f0_zThe Overhead Squat

As I mentioned in the video, we can look at this as an “upgraded” version of the classic squat, but it’s worth noting that they are very different animals.  A traditional squat is fantastic because it’s calorically expensive, works numerous muscle groups, and helps to develop core strength.

The overhead squat does all of those things as well, but has the additional benefits of heavily engaging the muscles of the upper back.  Like many people, I sit at a computer quite a lot (Hey, those episodes of Spartacus: Blood and Sand won’t watch themselves), and so despite my generally active lifestyle, I am at risk for developing a weakened upper back area. This can lead to a “round-shouldered” effect.

That’s not a good look.  And aesthetics notwithstanding, this can be a recipe for creating and exaggerating unhealthy kyphosis or rounding of the back, as well as increasing the propensity for shoulder injury.

While there are certainly a number of exercises you can (and should) be doing to to counteract this (rows with scapular retraction, for example), the fact of the matter is that we always looks for exercises that have a lot of bang for the buck, so to speak.

The OHS is one such exercise. You’ll work your legs, core, arms, shoulders, and again, prevent weakness in the upper back.

The main drawback here is that you obviously cannot use as much weight with the OHS as you can with a traditional squat or a front squat.

Given that, this has a lot more benefit as a full body exercise which you can use in fat-burning workouts.  Unless you’re working your way through learning olympic lifts, I wouldn’t go too heavy here.

5030368512_b987607f08_bThe Push Press

Seriously, one of my all time favorite exercises, the push press is simply one of the best all-around pressing exercises you can do.  It’s like an overhead press, but 9.3 times more awesome.  Instead of simply pressing the weight overhead, use leg-drive and complete explosion.

Here is how I explain it to my clients:  Imagine your belly button as the “center” of your body.  When you perform the movement, think about exploding outwards and driving your arms and legs away from the “center” with equal force. Try to actually leave the ground when you do this.

Because of the explosive nature of the movement, you can use considerably more weight, which not only burns more calories, but will also help you build more strength and, of course, more muscle.

These two exercises, although difficult, will help take your training to the next level.  They are challenging, fun, but most of all, effective.

For your next workout, give either overhead squats or push presses a try, and let me know what you think!

What are YOUR favorite exercise “upgrades”?  Leave them in the comments!  If we get at least SIXTY comments, I’ll be back tomorrow with my FAVORITE upgrade of all time!


About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

Comments for This Entry

  • Craig OC

    My man, you had me at the Spartacus Reference!

    April 3, 2011 at 10:07 am

  • John Romaniello

    Excellent suggestion. Overhead lunges are a nice work-up. I like them with a plate to start. Highly recommended!

    March 30, 2011 at 6:30 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Second to swings, they're my favorite KB exercise. Nice!

    March 30, 2011 at 6:28 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Thanks for the kind words! That's a pretty intense variation - will def try it.

    March 30, 2011 at 6:28 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Yea it's crazy. When I first started with these a few years back, I started with the bar and it was still rough. I've never gone above 175 and that's insanely rough.

    March 30, 2011 at 6:27 pm

  • Bangkok Jay

    +1 for Push Press as my favourite exercise. Just tried the OHS and was shocked by how much less weight I could handle vs a standard dumbbell military press! Totally had me fooled on how strenuous the OHS can be and how much effort is required to maintain good form. TOTALLY RAD. Thanks, John.

    March 29, 2011 at 8:47 am

  • Alexander Ivanov

    Good Upgrades. Just tried my version of a push press yesterday.... OMG my body is in pain...:) In my version of P&P you basicaly perform Jump from a squat position with overhead press at the same time Try this... Regards.

    March 29, 2011 at 6:58 am

  • meg

    i'd thought i would be resting the DBs on my upper chest before the jerk upwards on the oush press. i imagine it would be insane to a push-press into OH-squat combo thanks for the video.

    March 29, 2011 at 2:50 am

  • Sandy Toddington

    Hi Roman, I like to do an upright row and then take it straight into a push press, I feel it really works my upper back and shoulders all in one move. Also i love step-ups but with a knee raise or take the leag back for a glute squeeze at the top of the move. I'm a great believer in combination moves, it allows you to work more body parts at once and lets you cut down on gym time. More great combo's from you are always appreciated. Thanks this is a fantastic site.

    March 29, 2011 at 12:15 am

  • Donovan

    Roman...gotta get you on tv regular-like. Thanks for all the exercise tips!

    March 28, 2011 at 9:38 pm

  • Herculana

    Hey I downloaded your FPFL and am unable to read it from my computer. I can see all the files there but even with the adobe reader it will not allow me to read it.....frustrated as I paid for it and cant get the much desired info of your program.....any help/suggestions. I am not a computer guru but have had no trouble in the past downloading books etc....thanks!!! Got the Breakfast Book however, dont get it???

    March 28, 2011 at 9:37 pm

  • john

    Looking forward to your favorite.

    March 28, 2011 at 9:11 pm

  • jane

    Looking forward to trying at gym tomorrow. I really liked ur combination move series works a great sweat heart rate up.. plus the guys are like what is this chick doing?

    March 28, 2011 at 9:06 pm

  • Darryn

    Great to see you sharing the OHS. I use it to increase mobility and upper back strength of athletes. We are seeing huge development in mobility and injury prevention by incorporating the OHS, especially if you can get the athlete/trainer to get 'ass' to grass.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm

  • chris

    overhead squat is definitely beastmode! i agree

    March 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm

  • Wanda

    I love the push press with kettlebells!

    March 28, 2011 at 6:32 pm

  • Lenore

    What are the pros and cons of doing these upgraded exercises with a barbell or kettllebells rather than with dumbells? Also, it seems much more difficult to squat with dumbells in rack position then press overhead from the bottom squatting position than to keep the arms straight throughout the exercise.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:11 pm

  • Rick

    Thank you for adding these exercises. Sometimes a simple reminder is a great way to add a forgotten exercise back to the routine.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:59 pm

  • Shane

    Both great exercises Roman. I like to add the overhead reverse lunge has it is a little easier and great for hip flexablilty has well as core strength. Also front squats has it overloads the quads and is great for the core. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing all this great information. Has a personal trainer i'm going to use some of your stuff.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm

  • Murray

    Really enjoyed looking at this this morning here in Australia...Good to see you were all having a good time, geat little exercises..

    March 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Yea, you'll need to be careful with the arthritis, but these are a great help! Just don't hurt yourself out there =)

    March 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Keep an eye out, then! I'll have a post on TRX and suspension training forthcoming.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Nice, sort of a power clean/overhead press combo. I like it!

    March 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Great suggestions! You should try walking deadlifts--perform a deadlift, take two steps, set it down. That's one rep. You get a little "farmers walk" mixed in with the deadlifts. Give it a shot!

    March 28, 2011 at 4:15 pm

  • John Romaniello

    It would depend on the back surgery. What was it? Are you able to work out regularly? You may need to run it by your doctor and physical therapist; that is what I suggest, to be on the safe side!

    March 28, 2011 at 4:14 pm

  • John Romaniello

    I love this. I do this with pull-ups/push-ups or squats/bent rows. I'll try it out!

    March 28, 2011 at 4:13 pm

  • Sharon

    Good point about the "round shoulder" effect. I too sit at a computer a lot, and have found that rows aimed at the upper back make a big difference. I have to be careful because of arthritis, however.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:11 pm

  • Pete

    One exercise I like is DB's or bar at waist level and explode to chest then press to overhead.

    March 28, 2011 at 3:53 pm

  • Jorma

    For all the women with questions about doing men's vs. women's exercises... well I know there are some guys who see women doing the... dare I say it... REAL version of the exercises and have to turn their heads and admire. Chicks who work out like dudes are just hotter.

    March 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm

  • Jennifer

    I have to say that I like the 'men' exercises better than the 'women' exercises! I agree the row was a little funny looking--I'm a big fan of doing rows on my TRX. (: But I do love the OH squat and the push press w/ a bar--good stuff, thanks!!!

    March 28, 2011 at 3:04 pm

  • Jen Bullen

    Love both of these! Esp. push press with barbell. Two of my favorite upgrades: 1. traveling pushups--works core and upper body HUGE. 2. traveling lunge with military press--quads, glutes, core, shoulders, biceps..... Killer calorie burn

    March 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm

  • Tim

    I love and incorporate both exercises regularly in my programs. The OHS I super set with Pull-ups. 1 set of 50. No, I don't do 50 pull-ups and then 50 OHS. I do as many pull-ups as I can then an equal number of OHS with as little rest as possible between sets until I've done 50. It fires me up.

    March 28, 2011 at 1:58 pm

  • cindy

    Are these exercises safe to do if I've had back surgery 1 year ago? .

    March 28, 2011 at 1:50 pm

  • John Romaniello

    I like to do both DBs and barbells. For the push press, I prefer barbells A LOT. However, a cool thing that I often do is DB overhead presses till failure, then use some body English and turn it into a push press for about 5 reps. For the overhead squat, I like to teach clients the movement with dumbbells and then move them to an empty barbell. There are benefits to both DBs and barbells for the OHS, but in the long run I think you're going to get more in terms upper back work from barbells, and more from dumbbells for shoulder stability.

    March 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Hey Lindsey - women can DEFINITELY to the "mens" exercises. The reason they're split up is was not to avoid detriment, but rather to increase benefit. Men need shoulder work more than women (generally). But all exercises work for all people, and you definitely don't have to worry about getting bulky or anything. And, of course, the reason the books are separate...there's more money in selling two books than one!

    March 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Thanks, Brony. Good steal from Eric and Nate, I like that variation because it allows you to transition pretty well to other movements. Excellent suggestion.

    March 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Thanks Stefani! Glad it was timely =) Let me know how you like the OHS!

    March 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Oooh man that sounds crazy. Feet on the bosu is particularly devilish. I'll try this with DBs and work up to kettlebells. Thanks for that!

    March 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Thanks bru! Workin' on my tv skillz. As for mobility stuff, I find "no-monies" to be great for upper body mobility. Stick-ups are great too. That combined with spiderman lunges, psoas stretches and leg swings for lower body and you should be set!

    March 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Yea, I've done this one! It's killer. I forget which article, but I read it on T-Nation. Probably a Thibs exercise. Really incredible though!

    March 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm

  • John Romaniello

    This sounds miserable...I'll let you know how it goes. As a frame of reference, how much weight do you typically start clients with? I feel like 95 pounds on the barbell and 45 pounds on the KB is a good place to start, but let me know if I'm off...

    March 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm

  • John Romaniello

    You know, I have found the same thing - last year I had some pretty bad tendonitis in my elbow, and overhead pressing KILLED -- but for some reason the push press was okay. Good point!

    March 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm

  • Shane Falconer

    Welcome to the torture set! I dare u to do this! 100 Frontsquats into an overheady type push press. (Elbows must be pointed in front of u.) Do as many of these as you can using a weight which activates hypertrophy & then after no more can be done in a set your rest break is...Kettle Bell Swings, Until you think you're ok to tackle another set of set of Front Squat Presses. Lactic training+hypertrophy+you can even ad more weight to bar orkettle bell and do it quicker to get a density effect. Best wishes!

    March 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm

  • Jorma

    Speaking of upgrades. Fred earlier mentioned push-ups and resistance bands. I've been doing a regular pushup under a cable machine with the cables each pulling out. You just load up the cables, pull them in under your pits and do a painful set of pushups on your firsts. Really cuts up the pecs.

    March 28, 2011 at 1:14 pm

  • Stefani

    That's funny you should mention that "round shouldered" effect - my husband wasjust saying the other day how he thought I always had good posture - but that it was looking like I was slumping or something - so it looks like I'll be "upgrading" my squat to take care of that little issue! Thanks for the timely info and congrats on your brolebrity status!!

    March 28, 2011 at 1:06 pm

  • lindsey

    Could the women do the men's exercises, too? I thought we women were in no danger of becoming bulky by doing 'men's exercises' so why did they differentiate between women's and men's??

    March 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm

  • Fred

    Brolebrity status? That's the darndest thing I ever saw! :) I love/hate experimenting with various push ups. One particular goodie is push ups with resistance bands - do them explosively with various hand positions and you're in for a treat!

    March 28, 2011 at 12:03 pm

  • Julie

    waow... So SIMPLE, but so effective! :) Thank you again Roman for all your stuff... All the best, Julie

    March 28, 2011 at 11:58 am

  • Jorma

    Thanks for the tips on the overhead squat. I've tried to add this 1 or 2 times per week, sometimes lighter weight and more reps and sometimes fully loaded. It's been a really welcome and challenging addition to my routine (which had gotten just way too routine). I also added the push-press, which is my new favorite exercise, with OHS at a close #2. I've also tried both with dumbbells instead of a bar. Push press with dumbbells is pretty easy; on OHS I can't get nearly as much weight up but it offers its own challenges. What do you think about that alternative? Should I keep it up or focus on the more traditional method? I've also looked at starting up other big moves, the Olympic lifts as a killer way to tax the whole body in a very short set. I've got a trainer that I am getting some pointers for and apparently he was trained on them by one of the best. So, I'm excited about adding those too. Moving the bar 7 feet or more is way more interesting than a little 18 in move if you ask me. I'd like to know your take on some of the best big moves and compound exercises.

    March 28, 2011 at 11:32 am

  • Tony Roe

    Overhead squats kick my ass. One of my favorite "modifications," if you will, is doing barbell reverse lunges with a front-squat grip (totally stole this from Nate Green and Eric Cressey). Keeping the bar held tight and elbows high while doing those is really taxing! Push press is awesome, by the way - I really like feeling the power of my leg drive through the movement. Keep getting more popular-erer.

    March 28, 2011 at 11:28 am

  • Jim

    Your a natural on tv. Great job. I love the push press. I use it once a week and it has really helped my explosiveness. One of my favorite upgrades is renegade rows with my feet on a Bosu. You can't use as much weight, but you really have to stabilize your core.

    March 28, 2011 at 11:18 am

  • Seth

    cool beans. thanks

    March 28, 2011 at 11:09 am

  • Sunny

    LOVE the push press and cleans! Have to say I love the explosive lat raises in your FPFL program as well! It made me think, "What else can I try explosively??"

    March 28, 2011 at 10:57 am

  • Roland

    Hey John, Great job man, you're mad TV skills are improving too. What is your go-to mobility movements to improve OHS form/posture?

    March 28, 2011 at 10:32 am

  • John

    I just hit month 2 of Nate's hero program, and I've got os's to do. Never did them before, but I'm looking forward to it!

    March 28, 2011 at 9:52 am

  • John Romaniello

    Oooh good thought. That was a great workout. For anyone who doesn't know or hasn't read it, you can check my shoulders of doom article here:

    March 21, 2011 at 11:06 am

  • John Romaniello

    Fo'sho! Interesting row, I assume meant to hit rear delts a lot. You get to use light weight, which is nice for people who train at home

    March 21, 2011 at 11:03 am

  • John Romaniello

    Simple upgrade, but super effective. For quad development, I'll take front squats over back squats any day

    March 21, 2011 at 11:02 am

  • John Romaniello

    Yes, the push press has carryover to a ton of other exercises; everything from the bench press to the deadlift. Glad you're liking it man!

    March 21, 2011 at 11:01 am

  • John Romaniello

    Thanks for the kind words, Julian. Let me know how you like the overhead squat - your upper back (and hips) will be screaming!

    March 21, 2011 at 11:01 am

  • Jim

    I use the OHS with dumbells as a warm up to my routine. Great pre-warm up excercise. I incorporate the push press as part of my regular routine which inlcudes Squat, BP, Deadlift and pull up. Great workout. Trains all the muscle groups.

    March 14, 2011 at 10:24 am

  • Julian

    Hi Roman, Great job on the TV spot, glad to see your getting some recognition. Feel very proud for you. Good article with regards to the two exercises, often use the push press and it is a great exercise. Never used the OHS but will defiantly put it in now, my back is my week spot and I sit at a PC all day due to work, so anything that helps with my back and posture will get a look at by me. Great article, keep them coming.

    March 14, 2011 at 3:55 am

  • Darren

    I have to agree with the others-the push press is a great upgrade as it works on a great stretch of the lats and chest, while reducing pain in my elbows (i have tendinitis in the left one), plus also giving my lower back a bit of a stretch also. I have a bit of scoliosis so I feel it just overall helps my posture.

    March 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm

  • Shan

    nice. that was a funny looking row she was performing!

    March 11, 2011 at 6:38 pm

  • Carlos Alejandro B

    very very cool roman! i enjoyed the push press on your SHOULDERS OF DOOM WORKOUT... very nice!

    March 11, 2011 at 4:50 pm

  • Gary Deagle

    The Push Press is quite possibly my favorite exercise. Good article, the overhead squat is very humbling.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:05 am

  • Alex Siddy

    I have recently been experimenting with the overhead squat because of the exact reason you gave. I am active but spend a lot of time on the computer and the OS is awesome for hitting the upper back where I need the support otherwise I will start looking like the hunchback of Notre Dam. I've heard of the Push Press but never gave it much thought, might have to introduce this baby into my regular workout. Congrats on the TV appearance also, good stuff!

    March 11, 2011 at 9:17 am

  • JMJ

    Great job on the video. Dr. Steve was sttttttrrugggling with the OHS. My upgrade, if you will, is Front Squats over Traditional Back Squats. Love 'em.

    March 10, 2011 at 9:27 pm

  • Jared

    Ive completely fallen in love with the push press lately, to the point where I'm doing it multiple times a week, not always pushing toward a PR, but just getting more familiar with the movement. Very few lifts have given me as much of a feeling of accomplishment as finally being able to put 205 over my head for reps. Also seen a huge carryover in upperback strength and development thanks to it, which has helped me hit deadlift PR's while actually decreasing deadlift frequency.

    March 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm

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