Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Benjamin Stone
Humanity has probably spent more time, money, and effort on the pursuit of stronger and flatter abs than space travel. Who's to say why our core muscles seem to matter more than charting the rest of the universe? It's best not to question it too much. Instead, let's make getting that stronger, leaner middle that much more attainable. How? It's not crunches, bends, thrusts, or even a special mix of sawdust and snake oil you bought from a dude wearing a muscle shirt that said "ripppped!" (Yes, ripped with extra P's illustrates that he's serious about your health.) The answer to crafting a dream middle? The overhead press.
Stop. Before you tweet that the folks at POPSUGAR have lost their collective minds, we mean it. The overhead press really is a great ab exercise! How is it possible that an exercise seemingly unrelated to the midsection can be great for your abs? The answer will surprise you.
According to Toronto-based personal trainer Nathane Jackson, CSCS, "The press is not usually thought of as a conventional exercise to train the abdominals, but anytime you are required to balance a load overhead, if done correctly, your core will undoubtedly need to be stable to prevent injury." So, while you're not conditioned to be focusing on your abs when doing the press, your body can't help but harness the power of your core in order to properly do the exercise. You just outsmarted your body!
That's all great, but if you don't actually know how to do an overhead press, you'll not only have soft abs but you could also wind up with a torn rotator cuff or a bruised head if you're not careful. With that in mind, here's exactly how you should do the move:
- Step 1: Hold a dumbbell in each hand (don't worry, you can use kettlebells if that's your preference) with your palms facing each other and the weights raised to just above your shoulders.
- Step 2: Press the weights up until you straighten your arms. As you get more advanced, you can rotate your palms forward when the arms are fully extended.
- Step3: Carefully lower the weights to the start position.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography
Caution: The end of the rep is the most important part. If you lower the weights without care, you could very easily lose control and you'll wish the worst of it is a slight bruise on your forehead. This can go wrong very quickly if you're using weights that are too heavy for your fitness levels, you're swinging the weight around, or you're just not being careful. Our advice: start with a low weight that you can almost laughably lift. Your shoulders aren't as strong as your chest, arms, or abs so don't expect them to be able to do what other parts of your body can do. Trust us.
Jackson's Trainer Tip: Be sure you have been screened by a professional and cleared to perform any type of overhead press. Much of the mid to older population does not possess the required shoulder mobility necessary for pressing overhead. If shoulder mobility is compromised, while you work on re-creating a fully functional joint, I suggest substituting a Barbell Angled Press (a two-handed version of the landmine press, which, due to its offset in weight, also provides a great core stability option).
Now that you know how to do it, you can really benefit from each rep. If you want to kick it up a notch, Jackson told us that you could also "try performing a single-arm version, as the offset in load will require even greater core activation to counterbalance." What does that mean for you? Doing this move one arm at a time results in a greater impact on your abs. Consider this our early (or late) birthday present to your health and beach selfie game. You're welcome!