When doing a (standing, overhead) press as described in Starting Strength, are your elbows supposed to stay in a vertical plane, under your hands and in front of your hands (more or less), staying at the same distance from each other as you press the bar up? Or should they travel out, away from each other some, during the movement?

When I do it, my elbows tend to flare out some. I think this changes the muscle recruitment in the exercise. I'm not sure if this is a form error that I should correct (reducing the weight if needed), or if I should just ignore it.

I didn't see this fully addressed in Starting Strength, but I may have missed it. Rippetoe talks at length about a proper vertical bar path, and all the photos of people doing the lifts are profile shots, never straight on.


2 Answers 2


Sometimes flaring is unavoidable, but you should avoid it if you can. Essentially it wastes energy on an already difficult lift. A good setup for overhead standing press is as follows:

  • Thumbs around the bar--as long as you are a beginner
  • Hands grabbing just outside the shoulders (this will bring your elbows up some)
  • Bar across the deltoids (shoulders), not the collar bone
  • Elbows slightly up, but not all the way
  • Keep your core tight
  • When moving head back to clear the bar, bring elbows directly under the wrists as you go up
  • Shove your head through when the bar is about forehead level
  • Finish in the Rippetoe alignment (bar over scapula over mid-foot)

The basic setup is from an article I read from Bill Starr, who has greatly influenced Rippetoe and posts regularly enough on the Starting Strength site. The key points to this set up are the fact that with the hand placement, your elbows are forced into the proper start position, and there isn't a lot of room to flare them at all. This will improve your triceps strength, and put you in a position where solid lats will help be a stable platform to push the bar up from. Your whole body needs to be tight throughout the lift. Your abs are a big part of getting that bar up, and not overextending your lower back.


Sorry to answer my own question. Berin Loritsch gave a great answer. It turned out I had a pretty serious mobility problem in my lats and upper back.

Taking Berin's advice, I circled back and addressed the problem a few years ago. My elbows would flare out whenever I tried to press overhead. When switched to using a PVC pipe and pressing with the form Berin describes, I realized that my upper back and lats were very tight and inflexible, and that I didn't have the range of motion to press correctly. I spent a month stretching my lats and practicing pressing an empty PVC pipe with correct form, and eventually I became mobile enough to press correctly.

That kind of mobility (lat tightness contributing to lateral elbow movement) isn't discussed much when people talk about pressing, I thought I'd post this in case anyone else has the same problem.

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