If you have been reading my site for a while then you probably know by now that I have an insane obsession for overhead pressing. Not only does putting weights over your head look badass, but as a drug-free lifter you need to get strong at vertical presses if you want to reach your true shoulder size potential. Even if you were to add 1-2 inches to your shoulder size you would be really surprised as to how much bigger you would look, 1-2 inches goes a long way.
Back to the topic at hand, on my journey to building a really strong shoulder press I have tried a lot of things. Although I have learned a lot about pressing in the past year and my progress has been going up, it hasn’t been going up as fast as it could and it will partially be because of the reason that I will give you later on in this article.
I’ve already mentioned in previous articles that if you want to get good at any lift then high exercise selection is a must (while also incorporating a multitude of rep ranges as well which is something that I will address in another article). For example, if you want to build a really strong Deadlift then you can’t only do that lift. You need to perform a variety of different pulls and you need to get strong at all of these variations overtime and your conventional deadlift will go up automatically (granted that you are using the right variations). This is why you will see a lot of powerlifters who utilize a bunch of variations in their program, heck sometimes you won’t even see them do the competition lift until a few weeks out from the competition!
Back to the vertical presses, I was doing a ton of variations with a ton of different rep ranges but my numbers still weren’t going up that fast so then I was like now what? I was doing Z presses, shoulder pin presses, Landmine work, Viking presses, unilateral presses, closegrip benching and the list goes on!
So then I decided to go back to the drawing board and study the masters of the overhead press: strongman competitors. Whenever you want to take your knowledge to the next level you always want to learn from the best. After watching a couple of videos and documentaries, I noticed that one of the patterns was that most (if not all) strongman competitors used thick bars and axles for their overhead work (not for all events but for a lot of the events they had to use axles or thick circus dumbells).
I noticed that even though some of these strongmen were pressing dumbells or barbels that had a 3 inch handle they were still extremely strong which shocked me! To make it even crazier, I noticed that when they had events where they had to press regular 1 inch bars it literally looked like a pencil in their hand, it was a joke to them and that allowed them to lift even more ridiculous amounts of weights overhead.
This was really one of the main holes in my program and it makes a lot of sense because literally all of the presses that I have been doing were with thin handles. Also I noticed that I was noticeably weaker when I would slap on a 2.5 inch handle on the bar or dumbell so I knew from then on that it was a weakness that needed to be addressed.
What exercises do I like to do fat handle work with?
First off if your gym doesn’t have any axle bars then you could easily purchase some fatgripz, but I like to do a lot of my assistance work with the fatgripz. For example, I use fatgripz religiously on:
-One Arm Standing DB Strict Press
-Neutral Grip Seated Machine Shoulder Press
-DB Z Presses (one or two arms)
-(Landmine Presses already have a thick handle so there is no problem there)
And the list goes on.
Another important thing that people don’t mention about fat handles is that they let you get a really good training effect with less weight which is always good. So the fact that you will be using a 2-4 inch handle will give the low back, delts and elbows a bit of a “de-load” if you will although your hand(s) will be working overtime.
Should you only stick to one kind of fatgrip or handle thickness?
In my opinion you shouldn’t if you are trying to maximize your potential on the overhead press. For example, I am currently using 2.5 inch fatgripz for certain pressing variations, but you could best believe that in the near future I will also purchase some 3 inch handles to challenge myself even more. Remember that the fatter the handle then the easier the weight will feel in your hand(s) when you go back to the regular thin handle.
For example, if you could do a one arm dumbell push press with 150lb for 1 rep with a one inch handle then what do you think will happen when you are one arm dumbell pressing 150lb with a 3 inch handle? The answer should be obvious and it’s that the original one-inch dumbell lift goes up automatically. The reason why it goes up automatically is because when you go back to the pencil thin handle you will be able to crush and hold it a lot tighter plus its just one less thing to worry about during the lift.
Another thing that you need to understand is that fat handles could be implemented to improve other lifts. For example, if you are trying to get bigger forearms then you should be implementing a bunch of fat handle work on your curl variations in order to improve your hammer curls and reverse curls.
I know that there are a ton of other ways to improve your OHP, but I thought that I would shed some light and dedicate an article to this idea because it is important and overrated in my opinion. I’ve had a lot of trials and tribulations with my training (I am still having them till this day too), but fat handles are definitely here to stay in my programs and it’s the accumulation of tips like this that add up to the big picture in the end.
Now you are one step closer to reaching your shoulder pressing potential, let me know your thoughts down below!