The strict barbell overhead press is a glorious lift, but as we work on it this month, it’s good to know there are other options. Maybe you don’t have a barbell. Maybe you don’t have high enough ceilings to pull it off in the place where you lift. Well, don’t worry; try one of these alternatives.
Dumbbell shoulder press
“Shoulder press” is the term to look for if you want to explore the kinds of overhead pressing movements bodybuilders favour. (Lifts in bodybuilding focus on what muscle you’re working, versus other strength sports, which are more attuned to what you’re doing with the weight.)
You can shoulder press with dumbbells or with any of a variety of gym machines that have you push against resistance overhead. These moves all work your deltoids (the muscles on top of your shoulders) as well as your triceps (the muscles at the backs of your arms that straighten your elbows).
Try it using two dumbbells at the same time, or one at a time, or with one or two kettlebells.
This one is the ticket if you have low ceilings or if you don’t want to get your core or lower body involved.
Z press is the name for what you’re doing when you sit on the floor, legs out in front of you (or splayed to the side, if you feel more stable that way), and press a barbell or other weights over your head. You can’t use your legs or hips to bend and stabilise your core as you press, which makes it a much stricter shoulder and arm exercise than a standing press.
You can also do seated presses from a bench or an inclined bench. If you’re working out at home, make sure the bench can take your weight as well as the weight of whatever you’re pressing. A dismaying number of home gym fails involve people who thought they could incline press from a lawn chair. Spoiler: they could not.
Aside from the above, you can press anything you want, really. In strongman competitions, people are sometimes challenged to press a giant rock overhead, or a heavy square box (I’ve done this one, it’s awful), or a sandbag. As long as you promise to be careful and not drop the thing on yourself, give it a try.