In this article, I’m going to cover assistance work for the barbell overhead press (often just called OHP). I covered the movement extensively in this article, so this is just going to cover some exercises which can help you build a stronger press (aside from doing other pressing movements). This approach has helped me get my OHP one repetition maximum to 100kg/220lbs at a body weight of 85kg/187lbs.
Vertical Pressing vs Vertical Pulling
Vertical pressing in this case would be the OHP. Take the amount of volume you do for this and multiply it by 2 (or even 3). That’s the amount of volume I recommend you do for your vertical pulling. This helps to improve muscular imbalances and overall posture. It also strengthens a lot of the muscles that stabilize the overhead press movement. A couple options for vertical pulling movements are below. These are just my personal favorites.
Chin Ups and Pull Ups
Any variation is fine. I usually match my pressing volume with chin up and pull up volume. If you can’t do 10 body weight chin ups, use bands to assist the movement as shown in the following video.
The chin up variation shown above by Jordan Syatt uses a neutral (or hammer) grip. This is the easiest variation of chin ups. I would recommend starting with band-assisted neutral grip chin ups, then doing regular neutral grip chin ups, and then doing underhand chin ups as shown below.
Once you’re able to do 10 underhand chin ups, you can move on to pull ups. A regular pull up is done with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you). A pull up tutorial video is below.
Ring pull ups are also fantastic, but you need access to gymnastic rings to do them.
All you need to perform chin ups and/or pull ups is a pull up bar. If your gym doesn’t have one or you work out at home, the cheapest option is a doorway pull up bar. If you have the room and would also like to be able to do dips at home, a pull up and dip station might be for you (but at that point I’d just buy a power rack). Yet another option would be a mounted pull up bar (or one without rings). You can also add weight to pull ups with a weighted vest, chains or a dip belt.
These are generally easier than pull ups and less taxing overall, so I get the rest of my vertical pulling volume from them. If you don’t have access to a lat pulldown station, another option would be to just do more chin ups or pull ups (possibly assisted with a band).
Band Pull Aparts
These are an excellent option to get more pulling volume in as well. They will hit your rear delts and upper back as a whole. Joe DeFranco explains more about this approach in the video below.
You’d need some jumpstretch bands for this movement.
You obviously need strong arms to be able to press heavy weight. The exercises for this are basic.
Dumbbell Curl (Biceps)
Hammer Curl (Biceps and Brachialis)
Tricep Pressdown (Triceps)
Skull Crusher (Triceps)
Other Things to Consider
Exercises for shoulder health and thoracic mobility will help a lot with your OHP technique and ability to develop strength in that particular movement. You can either do these things after your primary workout or as a separate workout in the context of active recovery. I do a combination of both.
As always, this is just my personal approach. I’m not a doctor or personal trainer, just a guy who lifts.