I just read an article that states that one way to improve overhead press'ing is first to clean the bar, this would better tighten the lats/core as opposed to pressing directly off of a rack. Does anyone have any experience with this approach? My current press is 155 for 5 reps or a single of 175lbs.

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(link to discussion of cleaning first: http://articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/friday-technique-video-overhead-press/)

  • Won't that burn more energy? And reduce your overall strength? Jul 24, 2014 at 15:34
  • @Kneel-Before-ZOD - that was my thought, but it actually seems to work. Not sure if it's the momentum or the body getting in better position by performing the clean first Jul 24, 2014 at 18:06
  • In mt experience, the momentum allowed me to lift higher weights; however, it reduced my repetitions as I exerted too much energy in the initial lift. Jul 24, 2014 at 18:56
  • @Kneel-Before-ZOD that's my experience too. If you get near a bodyweight press, cleaning your bodyweight up isn't that easy and uses some gas. Certainly the kind of gas you'd like to save for your soon-to-be press PR.
    – Eric
    Dec 8, 2014 at 21:38

3 Answers 3


Our strength levels on the overhead press are currently about the same. I've always struggled with it, but recently have started seeing some steady progress. There are some differences from cleaning the bar first and lifting out of the rack:

  • The clean catch position is a bit wider than out of the rack.
  • A clean catch is better suited to finishing with a push press or jerk rather than a strict press.
  • Balance can greatly affect the amount of force you need to produce.

I've found that for me, the following technique points have helped me perform better with the strict press:

  • Use a false grip. The bar should be sitting across the palm with the thumb outside the bar. I find it helps transfer power better; but I do need to use wrist wraps to support the grip.
  • Initiate the lift with the lats. This provides the force to get the bar off my shoulders to about eye level.
  • Get under the bar as soon as possible. With the bar over the crown of my head, I have better leverages to lock out the lift--and it consumes less energy.

These are all things you can do directly out of the rack. With the second bullet point, it should take care of what cleaning is supposed to do before you press. One thing you do want to be careful of is that cleaning the bar first does require a lot of energy. If you do enough sets, you run the risk of fatiguing more quickly.

You may need to work on work capacity rather than strength. Work capacity training takes what you can do for 3x5 (about 70%) and expands it to 5x8 or something along those lines. The first three weeks you would increase one rep per set, and the next couple weeks you would add a new set. After you give yourself a little rest, you should be able to drop the volume and increase the weight over the next few weeks until you hit a new PR or two. My coach usually works this into my training at different stages, and I find it really does help. The added reps also really help you fine tune your technique.

In general, I find I really have to increase the volume on this lift to get it stronger. There's a number of strongmen (like Kalle Beck and Bryan Hildebrand) who also echo this sentiment. In one of the American Strongman Radio webcasts, Hildebrand would work up to a top set As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP), and as he took weight off the bar he would keep doing AMRAP sets until it was just the bar. By the time it was there, he was so fatigued he could only get around maybe 12 reps. It can't be done every training session, but the massive volume day really helped keep driving his press up more than anything else.

NOTE: in strongman you have to clean whatever implement in any way you can during competition. Many strongman do train a clean to get the bar in position and then press for reps. However, just as many also train the press separately. They also train both a strict press and a push press/jerk. The push press would be used for competition, but the strict press is there to build strength throughout the lift.


If you do the clean, stop and hold the position, then do the press, you will not see any advantage over entering that position directly. If you do the clean then transition directly into the press, however, you may see an increase in the amount you can lift, but this will be due to using the momentum of the clean for your lift. The same stationary position will take the same amount of force, regardless of how you got there.

I recommend trying for some higher weight presses by doing cleans first, and carefully keeping track of the set position the clean brings you to. If you can do more weight by cleaning first, it is likely you need to shift your normal press starting position to the position you reach from cleaning.


Sometimes cleaning the weight makes me feel stronger in the press. This effect usually fades after the first rep or two. The feeling is that everything is already tight and locked from the clean. Also, because the weight is so easy to clean relative to my max power clean, feels light as I press.

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