Four Weeks to an Overhead Press PR: Week 4

Four Weeks to an Overhead Press PR: Week 4

The Conjugate Method provides many different ways to set up an athlete to achieve a new PR in a specific lift. One of the most effective ways to do this is following a four-week max effort training plan that accounts for fatigue while providing effective absolute strength-focused training.

Over the past four weeks, the training has been designed to train specific aspects of the overhead press. In the first week, the strict press focused on starting strength and trunk stability during a standing overhead press. Using the strict press, the athlete must exhibit sound pressing and bracing fundamentals to perform a strict press that correlates with current overhead press strength.

Additionally, the emphasis on the fundamentals is increased, as the exercise called for a top set of five reps.

As we moved on to the second week, the chosen exercise variation was the Z press. During the first week, the strict press focused on the fundamentals and execution of a standing press without the assistance of leg drive. This helps to improve absolute strength and explosive power in the press, both standing and seated. The Z press takes this emphasis a step further, placing the athlete in a seated position to complete the press.

Not only is the athlete seated, but they are seated with no back support. This is unlike a standard seated overhead press, where an athlete would be seated in a rack and back support meant for the exercise. The Z press calls for an athlete to sit on the floor with the legs out in front, establish a solid trunk brace, and strictly press the barbell using only the arms and upper torso to apply force. This enhances the tricep, shoulder, upper back, and trunk strength.

Considering this lift is new or challenging for most, the Z press is performed for a top-set single rep to allow the athlete to focus on execution without worrying about managing output throughout a multi-rep set. During multi-rep Z press sets, posture can become an issue if the athlete is not actively focusing on remaining braced and upright. Poor posture in the Z press can result in a mid or upper-back injury. 

During the third week, the close grip bench press is the chosen variation to focus on triceps and anterior shoulder strength. The triceps emphasis is amplified by performing the close grip bench press using an axle bar. The axle bar further burdens the triceps, resulting in more triceps-focused work being performed, leading to stronger triceps. 

As far as sets and reps go, the third week calls for an athlete to work up to a top-set triple. This will achieve enough motor unit recruitment to qualify as valuable max effort training but will limit the recovery burden and help set the athlete up for a PR lift during the fourth training week. 

It is now time to attempt a PR lift in the overhead press. Here is how it will be done:

Main Exercise

This week's main exercise is the standing overhead press or push press working up to a top set single with the goal of establishing a new PR lift. When working up to a top-set single to establish a new PR, it is important to be mindful of how you manage your energy during warm-ups. 

One of the most common mistakes athletes new to Conjugate and max effort training make is mismanaging energy reserves while working up to a max effort single, triple, or five reps. Any time an athlete works up to a top set, the focus is on the top set. With that in mind, only take the warm-up attempts you need while getting to the top set of the day with as much energy in reserve as possible. 

Doing this requires an athlete to have knowledge of self, which will provide the ability to know how many warm-up reps are needed and how substantial the jumps in weight between sets will be. There is no rule of thumb here; some athletes need more sets to feel ready to attempt a max-effort lift, while others do their best to get to the top set of the training day as quickly as possible. 

No matter the way an athlete chooses to go about it, establishing a plan to properly manage energy each training day is critical to ensuring each training day is as beneficial as possible. It is a simple concept; if you do not have the energy to train with optimal intent, you are getting far less out of the training day than would have been possible otherwise. 

Be smart and manage your energy to allow all workout goals to be accomplished each training day. 

Accessory Exercises

Considering this week is a max effort attempt week, athletes will likely be a bit fatigued following the main exercise. This week the accessory exercise volume will be reduced a bit to allow athletes to advance on recovery for the next max effort upper body training session next week. 

Here are the accessory exercises that will be performed following the new PR attempt:

Barbell Rows - 3 x 5-8

DB Bench Press - 3 x 10-12

Rolling DB Tricep Extension - 3 x 10-12

DB Bicep Curl - 3 x 12-15

Standing Lateral Raise - 3 x 15

As mentioned above, the goal is to lower the volume to account for the overall intensity of the training day and lessen the recovery burden placed on the athlete. The selected movements are basic but effective. The intent is to target major muscle groups involved in the press while keeping the weight moderate to light. 

On to the Next

Now that a new PR lift has been established, it is time to begin planning to achieve the next PR lift in the overhead press. Fortunately, the Conjugate Method provides a practically limitless programming platform that always provides a way to increase strength, speed, and sports performance, provided the athlete or coach possesses the knowledge required to manipulate the methods to their will. 

Unlike other strength training methods, where PR lifts are few and far between, the Conjugate Method provides results that lead to athletes achieving at least one PR lift every month. Ultimately, it depends on where the athlete is in their training and if absolute strength is the primary focus. 

For powerlifters, it is ideal to achieve a new PR lift in at least one variation once every four weeks. These expectations can be extended to once every six to eight weeks when training athletes. However, in the case of the athlete, we are more concerned about overall strength and conditioning development and how it transfers to their sport than posting new PR lifts regularly. 

However, if training is dialed in correctly, then PR lifts should happen regularly. The notion athletes should expect to achieve a 5-10lb PR once every year is absurd and a belief pushed by those who want to protect themselves from being held accountable for the lackluster training results they provide. 

Ultimately, absolute strength is the ruling strength. If absolute strength increases, an athlete has the potential to jump higher, run faster, and be overall more explosive than they were previously. No matter if the max effort lift calls for a top set single, triple, or set of five, always strive to achieve a new PR lift. This intent and effort will lead to the recruitment of the largest motor units, increasing absolute strength and sports performance. 


Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.

Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.

Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics.

Burley Hawk

Burley Hawk

Burley Hawk is the Digital Content Manager at Westside Barbell and a Conjugate Method strength coach. Training and studying under Louie Simmons over the past decade, Burley has attained the experience, knowledge and understanding necessary to master the Conjugate Method.

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