Four Weeks to an Overhead Press PR: Week 3

Four Weeks to an Overhead Press PR: Week 3
Related Topics: Max Effort, Overhead Press, Strongman

On the path to developing a strong overhead press, it is important to address all involved muscle groups through main and accessory special exercises. Over the past few weeks, we have focused mostly on overhead press movements for max effort training. This week, we will go from pressing the barbell in a vertical torso position to pressing the barbell in a horizontal torso position.

Utilizing the bench press within an overhead press-focused training program expands the options a coach or athlete can choose from to create specific training effects and deliver desired training outcomes. Unfortunately, some fall into the trap of believing that main exercises must be ultra-specific to the task an athlete is training to accomplish.

While it is essential for any training program to regularly feature main exercises with similar motor patterns to the lift attempting to be improved, it is just as important to include main exercises that further challenge the muscle groups involved in the lift. For an athlete focused on the overhead press, bench press variations will effectively target the triceps, anterior and posterior shoulders, and the mid and upper back.

Here is how we will utilize a bench press variation in week three of the four-week plan to an overhead press PR lift:

Main Exercise

This week, athletes will utilize an axle bar to perform a close-grip bench press for a top set of three reps. Why this exercise? The bench press is a great way to develop the shoulders, pecs, arms, and mid/upper back. When performed using a close grip, the emphasis on the triceps, shoulders, and upper back is increased. Add to that the use of the axle bar, and that emphasis is amplified.

Essentially, we are using this exercise to introduce further variation to our programming approach while keeping the focus of the training relatively the same. This is how we avoid accommodation and continue to make long-term sport-relevant gains. This also helps reduce any pec, shoulder, or neck issues due to constant vertical torso pressing movements.

When executing this exercise, there are a few things an overhead press-focused athlete will want to keep in mind—first, temper expectations. If you have focused strictly on overhead pressing, you will likely not have the strongest bench press. If this is the case, take your time and work up to a challenging but manageable weight.

Second, be mindful of your elbow travel. This means keeping an eye on how deep the elbow travels during the eccentric portion of the press. Ideally, the elbows should travel no “deeper” than parallel with the lats. A close grip may extend this range of motion slightly, but it should be tolerable. Adjust the form immediately if you feel a significant stretch in the pecs or shoulders.

Third, athletes should focus on pressing the barbell towards the heel of the palm directly in line with the radius/ulna bones. If you are familiar with fighting techniques, this should be similar to a palm strike hand position, with the fingers extended to grip the barbell. Considering the axle bar forces an athlete to press with an open hand, it is vital to ensure the barbell is positioned to remain stable and allow force to be transferred efficiently.

As long as these parameters are adhered to, this exercise can be highly beneficial to the overhead press-focused athlete and will help to increase absolute strength, durability, and resiliency by further building the arm, shoulder, and back muscles. If you do not regularly train the bench press, leaving a set in the tank when performing this exercise or similar exercise variations is a good idea.

Accessory Exercises

As we move on to accessory exercises, the training focus is similar to the last few weeks; we will be training the triceps, biceps, pecs, shoulders, and back. Considering the main exercise focused on a horizontal torso pressing position, we will include some overhead press training within our accessory exercises to remain in practice.

Here is the accessory exercise programming for week three:

Barbell Push Press - 4 x 8

Incline DB Press - 4 x 10-12

Rolling DB Tricep Extension - 4 x 12-15

Hammer Curls - 4 x 12-15

Cable Pressdowns - 3 x 15

Plate Front Raises - 3 x AMRAP

As mentioned previously, athletes should strive to use the most challenging weights for each accessory exercise training set. No percentages are prescribed for accessory exercises, considering the fatigue accumulated during the main exercise. Ultimately, taking it easy will only cheat you out of improvement, so be disciplined and train with determination.

Slight Variations, Significant Improvements

When designing a Conjugate Method training program, avoiding getting lost in the world of exercise variation is crucial. Over the years, individuals who have never trained at Westside Barbell have criticized our use of exercise variations. These uninformed folks, unfortunately, believe we perform variations at random and add as many bands and chains to the exercise as possible.

Our philosophy has always been to introduce slight variations to bring about significant improvement in an athlete’s strength or ability. The intent is to continue to make gains in strength and ability without using every tool or trick at our disposal. We want to add in just enough variation to trigger a positive training response from the athlete. That’s it; that’s the goal.

Truthfully, Westside Barbell has been on the cutting edge of strength and conditioning training methodology and the use of strength and conditioning training tools for many years. Slowly but surely, many coaches are converting to Conjugate-style training, whether they want to admit it or not.

Why? Because the methods work, and if you’re working with real athletes and want to keep your job, you must deliver results. The Conjugate Method delivers results.

A few years ago, special exercises, specialty barbells, and accommodating resistance were considered profane by the exalted clipboard holders in training facilities nationwide. Now, you will see these training tools and philosophies used regularly.

Like Lou once said, these individuals are so far behind that by the time they catch up, they’ll think they figured this out for themselves.

Just remember, Louie told you so.


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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