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Shoulder Press Progressions

Let's walk through a barbell shoulder press progression, going from simple to complex. The criteria for the progression is how many moving parts or joints are involved, and the number of phases of the exercise.

  1. Barbell Shoulder Press: as simple as it gets. We press the barbell overhead, with no leg drive. Ideally the barbell remains stacked over the forearms and shoulder as much as possible throughout the repetition. We are also looking to avoid excessive lumbar extension during all of these variations.

  2. Barbell Push Press: upper body movement looks the same as a shoulder press, but now we recruit our legs to assist with the lift. First, we dip into a quarter squat position. Next, we explosively perform triple extension of the lower extremity while pressing the bar overhead. While lowering the bar down, it's okay to soften the load by slightly bending the knees, hips and ankles. The weight you use for a push press will most likely be more than a shoulder press, if the training goal is strength.

  3. Push Jerk: now things get complicated. We start off similarly to a push press. What changes is that while the bar is being pressed overhead and traveling up, our body dips down into a quarter squat. Proper technique involves catching the barbell overhead in a quarter squat position. As a reminder, we want to look out for excessive lumbar extension, especially in that catch phase.

  4. Split Jerk: the most complex progression. From the start, everything looks very similar to the push jerk. What changes is in the catch phase. Instead of catching the barbell overhead in a quarter squat, you catch the bar in a split squat, or lunge position, with that front knee not going past 30-45 degrees of knee flexion.

Make sure you check out the video for demonstrations on the execution of each progression.

Which of these lifts is your favorite to program?

With gumption,


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