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I have been trying to master the standing overhead press for some time now, and every time I try to go a just a little bit heavier my lower back starts to hurt. Now I am aware that I need to brace my abs and glutes, yet I still seem to have this pain.

I decided that I will swap out the standing version for a while and instead to the seated version.

Will I get strong enough from the seated version to eventually be able to perform the standing version pain free, or are these exercises too different to have any carryover?

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I will try an upload a form check video in an edit to my question. Thanks! –  Usedtobefat Nov 4 '13 at 20:31
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What is your rationale for doing any overhead press? If its just shoulder growth sure, replace away. But as @Kate correctly points out seated press strength won't carry over as well to standing press for stabilsation reasons. –  Lego Stormtroopr Nov 4 '13 at 22:44
    
I am not really sure which answer to accept since all of you mentioned the lack of shoulder mobility being a possible cause. As it happens that is indeed what my issue is, and I am currently working on shoulder mobility exercises before I try again. Thanks for the input! –  Usedtobefat Nov 7 '13 at 14:15
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3 Answers

It sounds like the problem with your (standing) overhead press is either form or maximal isometric strength in the core. Changing to an exercise that removes both of these factors and doesn't improve them does not seem like a productive way to increase your overhead press.

Without a lot more details on your training history (sets, reps, loads, frequency), it's difficult to know how to fix this. Maybe increased volume or frequency with the lift will help. Maybe your shoulder mobility is such that getting into proper overhead position is difficult enough that your lower back position gets mangled, and so you should work on your overhead mobility with wall slides, Hindu push-ups, handstands, and more diligent shoulder warm-ups. Maybe you need to deload. Maybe you need to do more supplemental lower-back and abdominal work. It's tough to know without a detailed log of your training as well as a form check video.

So yes, you could replace the (standing) overhead press with the seated overhead press. It just won't help your standing overhead press.

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To answer your question best, you need to understand why you are doing overhead press. If you are doing Starting Strength or Strong Lifts, it's best to leave it in there and keep working on it--in those programs it's used for both core work and shoulder work. If your goal is simply to have stronger shoulders, then there's no reason to remain standing. If you fancy training like a strong man, then it's best to leave it in.

If your back is hurting during overhead press, then you are doing something wrong:

  • Your pelvic floor needs to be in a neutral position. When your core muscles are weak, it is common to hyper extend the lower lumbar position to force the weight up. When you tighten your glutes and abs, it helps maintain that neutral position.
  • Minimize your lay back. Some lay back is necessary just to clear the bar past your face, however an exaggerated lay back can put your lumbar in a bad position to support the weight.
  • Generate bar speed by pushing hard against a tight base. When your whole body is tight, you aren't robbing yourself of precious bar speed by pushing against a soft base. That lets you put more power into the bar and less pushing your body down.

There are some things that can prevent you from being in a favorable position, most notably shoulder mobility. If you can't get your arms straight up over your head, you can't keep the bar in a position you can put more power into. If you have hyperlordosis, there are a number of stretches and strengthening exercises to help you correct that postural problem--which will in effect take care of the first point.

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No. What's preventing you from doing the standing form correctly is not your shoulder strength.

Increasing your shoulder strength in the seated version will actually make it more difficult to do the standing version properly, because your shoulders will be able to support even more than your core is able to brace.

(Edit: I'm removing my advice to simply deload and work back up. That's one thing that could work for you. Instead, I agree with Dave's answer that we can't know what will help you without accurately diagnosing the root problem, be it form, core strength, or shoulder mobility, among other things.)

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