The 8th of Dan John’s Ten Commandments of Lifting is, “You have to put the bar over your head.”
If we accept our previous supposition that training isolated muscles is a myth, on par with Nessy and the Sasquatch, then you can see how Dan’s 8th Commandment is so fundamental. No other movement trains the entire body as effectively as taking a weight from the floor to overhead.
In many gyms this is verboten. Much in the same way I described my grandfather’s response to his neighbor setting a field on fire, the response to inflated egos taking on more than they can handle is to remove the possibility of the threat entirely. Therefore there are many gyms across America where if you starting pressing weight over your head the management will politely ask you to leave.
Martin Rooney has a very funny video on this subject, that if you haven’t seen I suggest you check it out.
In this spoof he talks about the overhead press, but overhead lifting also includes the push (or jerk) press, the overhead squat, the snatch and the clean and jerk, and most of their supportive exercises, not to mention older, more esoteric lifts like the windmill and the saxon bend.
So why did the overhead press get such a bad rap? Martin alludes to it in his video. Up until the seventies the overhead press was one of the Olympic lifts along with the snatch and the clean and jerk. Historically, how much weight one could get overhead was considered an indicator of strength, each of these three lifts were a way to standardize how that weight got overhead.
It is human nature that once an achievement is made it must be exceeded, no matter what the venue. My favorite example is rap music. The early rap of the eighties and early nineties, while so angry and aggressive at the time, seems tame and even cute compared to what passes for mainstream rap now.
In weightlifting, records must be broken. As athletes began attempting more and more weight in the overhead press form began to morph. They began arching their backs more and more until eventually the overhead press began to resemble a standing bench press as the larger, stronger pectoral muscles came into play.
Technically this is not an overhead press, but it was decided that there was too much grey area in the judging of this lift, the strict disciplinarian was at a disadvantage to the more liberal lifter who would sacrifice form for poundage, often to the detriment of his lower back.
In the general world the removal of the overhead press was a sign that it was dangerous or inappropriate. As it began to disappear so then did many of the other overhead lifts, frequently without asking why.
As physical culturalists it is our job to ask why, both “Why are we doing this?” and “Why are we not doing this?” Don’t be afraid to ask why.