Lift Something Heavy – Over Your Head

The overhead press is one of the most effective shoulder exercises and it also has other important benefits. So, here are some reasons why I think that you should lift something heavy over your head on a regular basis.

Resistance or strength training not only develops your muscles but also strengthens your bones and keeps your tendons and cartilage supple and healthy. This can reduce the risk of injuries, fractures and broken bones as we age, and who doesn’t want that?

Research has also shown that resistance training, especially the kind that loads your entire skeleton (also called “axial loading”), can increase spinal bone density to create an entire strong and healthy body. And what better way to load your entire skeleton than by lifting something heavy over your head using a movement called the Overhead Press?

Not convinced yet? OK. Before I tell you how to do an Overhead Press, let’s talk about its benefits. 

Increases Core Strength

Doing an overhead Press requires all of your stabilizing muscles in your torso to engage to keep your posture good and strong as you move your arms up and over your head. This includes the muscles: rectus abdominis, erector spinae, and the external obliques. The overhead press requires activation of all three of these muscle groups, especially when the lift is done with dumbbells, and unilaterally (one hand at a time). 

Improves Shoulder Strength

The two main muscle groups involved in the overhead press are the anterior deltoids and medial deltoids. These muscles make up the front and the center part of what we think of as the shoulder area. But if we follow the entire movement, the anterior deltoid begins the lift, the medial deltoid keeps the lift going, and then the posterior deltoid stabilizes the lift when you get to the top.

Maintain Back Strength

The trapezius (or trap if you’re cool) is a major muscle in your back which moves, rotates, and stabilizes your scapula (or shoulder blade if you’re less cool) plus it keeps your head and neck on. The trapezius will engage (along with your posterior deltoid) to stabilize the weight during the overhead press when you do what is called the lockout (when you hold the position at the top of the lift). 

Increase and/or Maintain Skeletal Strength

Nearly any type of strength training creates resistance against your muscles in order to strengthen them. That resistance then produces a strong pull on the adjacent bones when the muscles contract. That strong tug on the bones stimulates the bone-building cells in your body to be activated. The force (or loading) on the skeleton, through its axis, has been shown to stimulate the bone’s natural function of increasing its density. The greater the load on the skeleton, the greater the effect it has on the density of bone.

Now, are you convinced? Ok! Good…

How do you do an Overhead Press?

It’s really quite simple.

  1. Stand with your heels hip-width apart and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Hold both dumbbells (or barbell or resistance band) with a 90-degree bend at your elbow.
  3. Start with your elbows at shoulder height.
  4. Keeping your core strong,
  5. Press your hands overhead without letting your back arch.
  6. Don’t press in front or behind your head – press over your head (as much as you can).
  7. Lower your hands back down to the starting position. 
  8. Repeat. 

As simple as it is, the overhead press involves technique and precision, especially when the weight gets heavy. So here are some things to watch out for:

  • Don’t press in front of your body.
  • Don’t arch your back (too much).
  • Don’t start the lift in your legs and let momentum do all the work.
  • Don’t stop before you get your arms straight.

Approximately 26.2 million postmenopausal women have either osteoporosis or osteopenia and are at an increased risk of fracture, particularly at the vertebrae, forearm, and hip. Of these three body parts, fractures of the vertebrae are the most common (approximately 56% of all fractures). One potential intervention for increasing or maintaining vertebral bone mineral density (BMD) is weight-bearing exercise. So let’s all take advantage of this low-cost, nonpharmacologic intervention whether you are a postmenopausal woman or not.

Strong bones are important for everybody and every body.

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