I'm ready to learn the overhead barbell press, but am very confused about the head, neck, and torso motion. When do you tilt in, when do you tilt out?

Can someone clarify this? The arms are clear but not the neck, head, or torso.

UPDATE: What's confusing me? Some sources talk about moving your head out of the way, and then bringing it back again once the bar passes. That's simple enough: move the bar up as far as you can till your head blocks it, move your head back, and, once the bar passes it, return your head. But SS describes something totally different: not that your head is in the way, but simply you need to get the bar overhead, so you move your torso? This is confusing: If I push the bar straight up, and so never come into the path of my head, what exactly am I doing with my torso? I'm supposed to lean forward, to place my head under the bar? I'm not sure I'm understanding that correctly, but, if I am, that's a confusing thing to do. Why do I need to stick my head out under the bar. Unless something else is meant.

  • What have you read so far, and what is confusing about that source? Commented May 15, 2012 at 4:23

2 Answers 2


My answer is based on an excerpt from Mark Rippetoe's Starting Stength (3rd Edition).

  1. Lean back slightly by pushing your hips forward.
  2. Drive the bar up straight.
  3. As soon as the bar crosses your forehead, get under the bar. "Move your body under the bar and drive it to lockout. Don't move the bar back - slam yourself forward under the bar. When you do this correctly, you will find that the forward torso movement contributes to lockout at the top: as the shoulder drives forward, the contracting deltoid and tricep bring the upper arm and the forearm into alignment, thus driving up the bar."

The motion back and forth is all driven through the hips. The torso, neck, and head all lean backward and slam forward together as one. Figure 3-18 in the above article shows a good picture of this.

Additional response to your edited question:

"If I push the bar straight up, and so never come into the path of my head, what exactly am I doing with my torso?"

  • If you push the bar straight up from the starting position, it will hit your chin or nose, unless you've moved your head back, or if your torso is inclined because you've pushed your hips forward. Which one should you do? SS prescribes the whole-torso leanback, rather than just tucking your head out of the way. I suspect this is for three reasons.
    • First, it allows for a vertical bar path. The bar travels from the starting position on your deltoids to the finish position directly above your midfoot. This path is not vertical if you simply tuck your head out of the way. It is vertical if you incorporate the whole-torso leanback. (See Figure 3-16.)
    • Second, movement of the head independent from the torso would cause significant changes in chest and upper back tightness.
    • Third, your hips and core can contribute to the lift towards lockout as you slam your body forward underneath the bar.

Again, I refer you to Figures 3-16 and 3-18 in the article I link to above. They give the best pictures I've been able to find on this topic. If you understand this, but are having troubles putting into action when lifting, another way to think about this is pushing your hips forward at the bottom of the lift, and then pulling them back under the bar as you push it up towards lockout. This gets you focusing solely on your hips. It's the same movement, just a different thing to attend to, which helps some people.


Lean back while the bar is at the bottom. Squeeze your whole trunk, particularly the glutes.

Push the bar straight up. As soon as possible, lean forward and get your head under the bar. At the top, you lock it out slightly behind your head. This image from the book makes everything clear:

overhead press in four stages

The bar travels in a straight, vertical line.

I strongly recommend buying the book and reading it thoroughly at least twice. This method should be sufficient to alleviate any confusion about his method. If you are questioning his method, that's entirely valid, but a separate question.

  • Yeah, I own the book, and have indeed read it more than once. Like I said, talking it over with others here has been super helpful. Thanks for your help!!! Commented May 15, 2012 at 21:47
  • @S.RobertJames Sorry, I assumed you were using the wiki. My bad; I didn't read your post carefully enough. Commented May 15, 2012 at 21:53
  • This helps a lot. How do I do move my torso in and out while making sure not to round my back or have it do the lift (a big no-no, and also dangerous). Commented May 16, 2012 at 2:21
  • @S.RobertJames I'd have to see a video of your current form to really give anything useful beyond this, but what I do is lean back at the bottom, everything tight, then squeeze my shoulders back, hard, as I lift the bar and push my head through. Commented May 16, 2012 at 2:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.