Bench Press & Overhead Press: Same Day or Separate Strategies?

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There are probably no two better push-based exercises than the overhead press and the bench press.

So, if you want to get a bigger and stronger upper body these two movements are a must.

However, you’ll typically find that one lift can be impacted by the other.

This generally means that the exercise you’re doing second in your workout isn’t completed with as much intensity.

So, this begs the question whether you should be doing both on the same day.

Let’s find out.

If you are following a push/pull/legs workout split there’s typically no way to avoid doing overhead press and bench press on the same day. However, you can vary the intensity of each pressing movement on subsequent training days. So, for one workout you perform a heavy strength-focused overhead press followed by a lighter, high-volume bench press. The next push workout session you perform a heavy bench press followed by a lighter, high-volume overhead press.

Vary the Intensity Of Your Lifts

I still view the push/pull/legs workout split as one of the best.

This is typically ideal whether you workout 3 or 6 days a week.

Plus, it allows you to hit every major muscle group.

Following a 3-day split you’ll usually focus more on pure strength training, i.e. heavy load with fewer reps.

And if you follow a 6-day PPL split then you have the opportunity to have a specific strength day and a specific hypertrophy day.

With that being said, you’ll generally find that one lift is affected by the other.

I would hazard a guess that most of you would perform a heavy bench press first in your workout, and this would be followed by a heavy overhead press.

But, in reality your overhead press suffers because your pushing muscles are already fairly fatigued.

That being said, I have spoken in more detail about the order of each exercise in the FAQ section below.

Nevertheless, the first option you have is to vary the intensity of each lift on different workout days.

Menno Henselmans: "There's a time and place for both high and moderate intensity. Learn to listen to your body, adjust your training accordingly, and you'll be on the path to sustainable progress."

And you can do this whether you follow a 3-day or a 6-day split.

So, the first workout you may perform a heavy 5×5 session on the bench press.

I would then follow this up with some lighter, but higher volume overhead pressing.

Perhaps, a seated overhead dumbbell press of 4 sets of 12-15 reps.

For my next push-based workout I would start off with a heavy 5×5 military press.

And then this is followed by an incline dumbbell chest press of 4 sets of 12-15 reps.

This way you can even out your training by ensuring that both the main lifts get some heavy strength work.

Plus, you get to perform some accessory work, which is not only good for hypertrophy, but will help with strength training too.

Have an Additional Specialization Training Day

You may wish to focus more on one of the two big pressing lifts.

If this is the case I would add in a specific specialization training day.

Stuart McRobert: "Specialization can be a great way to break through plateaus, but don't let it become your only tool. Experiment, find what works for you, and keep your training journey fun and sustainable."

So, I see nothing wrong with following the above mentioned protocol and then having another separate day that is specifically focused on either heavy overhead or bench pressing.

Obviously, this will depend on the workout split that you’re following.

Plus, you have to take your schedule and recovery into consideration.

So, let’s say that you want to focus more on the bench press.

I would then start on Monday with a heavy overhead press, e.g. 5×5.

I would also include other accessory work for both shoulders and chest.

This may include dumbbell overhead press, dumbbell chest press, lateral raise, chest flyes, etc.

Then on Thursday I would have a specific chest focused day.

Perhaps you could go slightly heavier and perform 3 sets of 3 reps of bench press.

Then you could finish off the workout with some more chest accessory work, e.g. weighted dips, weighted push ups, medicine ball chest throws, etc.

As I say, this will very much depend on the time you have available to you and your powers of recovery.

Change Your Workout Split

I’ve spoken above of having a specific specialization day for one of the push-based exercises.

Well, in reality this was more about focusing heavily on one of the target muscle groups, i.e. the pecs.

However, what happens if you’re not particularly specializing in one area and you don’t specifically have time to be adding lots of high-volume work?

If this is the case then you’ll probably need to change your workout split.

In fact, you may even need to change your training to a format that is less conventional.

I know that I’ve definitely done this before.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Don't get stuck in a rut. Change up your routine, try different splits, and keep your muscles guessing. That's the secret to continuous growth."

So, let’s imagine you only have 4 days a week to train, and no longer than 45-50 minutes per session.

This is probably actually quite standard for many of us.

And you can certainly get into fantastic shape with a workout split like this.

The immediate obvious choice would be to follow an upper body/lower body split, so you hit both protocols twice a week.

This way you could overhead press on one upper body day and bench press on the other.

Obviously, these specific training days would also include pull-based exercises like bent-over rows and pull ups.

However, that’s fine, as these won’t interfere with your pressing movements.

Something else to consider, and a training protocol that I have followed myself was to pick specific exercises that I really wanted to do.

So, I would pick 12 exercises:

  • Barbell Back Squat
  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Overhead Press
  • Bent-Over Row
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Front Squat
  • Power Clean
  • Pull Ups
  • Dips
  • Lunges
  • Barbell Biceps Curl

I would then split these between my four days by performing 3 exercises per workout.

Plus, there’s enough variety that I could do this without impacting on another exercise during my workout or even on the next day’s training.

For me, this would typically involve training Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I Do Overhead Press or Bench Press First?

Deciding whether to tackle the overhead press (OHP) or the bench press first in your workout is a strategic choice that can impact your performance, fatigue levels, and even injury risk. 

Both exercises are upper body staples, targeting your chest, shoulders, and triceps, but they have distinct challenges and benefits. 

So, I want to break this down in order for you to decide the best sequence for your goals.

Factors to Consider

Training Experience

Beginners: Start with OHP first. It targets smaller muscle groups with lighter weights, warming up your shoulders for the heavier bench press.

Intermediate/Advanced: You can experiment with both orders. Bench first might increase chest activation for OHP, but starting with OHP can prevent fatigue impacting heavier bench sets.

Training Intensity
Lee Haney: "Listen to your body. Some people thrive on frequent workouts, others need more rest. Adjust your split accordingly and don't push yourself to the point of injury."

High-Intensity: Prioritize OHP first. Bench press demands more energy, so save it for when you’re fresh.

Moderate Intensity: You can go either way. Consider your personal preference and muscle group focus.

Plus, as I’ve mentioned earlier, you can vary the intensity of both lifts on different training days.

Personal Preference

Some lifters find their groove with OHP first, while others feel stronger starting with bench press. 

Experiment and see what works best for your body and goals.

Potential Benefits of Each Order

OHP First
  • Warms up the shoulders and stabilizes them for bench press.
  • Trains smaller muscles first, preventing them from being overshadowed by the chest during bench press.
  • Can improve shoulder health and stability long-term.
Bench Press First
  • Provides a pre-pump for the chest, potentially increasing bench press performance.
  • Allows you to tackle bench press while fresh, maximizing weight and power.
  • Can be beneficial for hypertrophy-focused chest training.

Additional Tips

  • Focus on proper form: This is crucial for both exercises to maximize effectiveness and minimize injury risk.
  • Listen to your body: Choose the order that feels comfortable and avoids fatigue or pain.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment: Try both orders over time and see what yields the best results for you.

Does Overhead Press Increase Bench Press?

Both exercises pack a punch for your chest, shoulders, and triceps, their impact on each other’s performance sparks endless debate. 

So, does OHP truly boost your bench press? 

The Case for Synergy

Mike Mentzer: "The overhead press strengthens the deltoids and triceps, two key players in the bench press. Building a strong base with OHP can definitely carry over to heavier BP sets."

There’s undeniable overlap in the muscle groups engaged by OHP and bench press. 

Both target your:

Pectoralis major (chest): The prime mover in both exercises, though bench press activates it more directly.

Anterior deltoids (front shoulders): Key players in OHP, assisting with pressing the weight overhead.

Triceps: Crucial for extending the elbows in both lifts.

Here’s how OHP can potentially improve your bench press.

Strengthening anterior deltoids: Stronger front shoulders provide a more stable base for pressing the bar in bench press, improving form and potentially increasing weight capacity.

Improved tricep strength: Strong triceps are essential for locking out both OHP and bench press. Building tricep strength through OHP can carry over to heavier bench press sets.

Enhanced shoulder stability: OHP strengthens the rotator cuff and surrounding muscles, which can improve overall shoulder health and stability, reducing the risk of injuries that could impact bench press performance.

Don’t Overhype the Connection

While OHP offers benefits, it’s not a magic bullet for bench press gains. 

Some key points to consider:

Limited chest activation: OHP primarily targets shoulders and triceps, with less direct chest activation compared to bench press. So, if your goal is pure chest hypertrophy, OHP might not be the primary driver.

Individual factors: Genetics, training experience, and muscle weaknesses can influence how much OHP translates to bench press improvement. Someone with strong shoulders might see less carryover than someone with weaker deltoids.

Training intensity and volume: Overtraining shoulders with too much OHP can actually fatigue them, hindering bench press performance. Finding the right balance is key.

The Verdict

OHP can definitely contribute to improving your bench press, but it’s not a guaranteed shortcut.  

Here’s how to optimize your strategy:

Focus on both exercises: Include both OHP and bench press in your routine for well-rounded upper body development.

Prioritize proper form: Technique trumps weight in both exercises. Mastering form prevents injuries and maximizes muscle engagement.

Experiment with the order: Try doing OHP before or after bench press to see what works best for you. Some lifters find pre-activating shoulders with OHP beneficial, while others prefer fresh pecs for bench press.

Listen to your body: Don’t force OHP if your shoulders feel fatigued. Adjust your volume and intensity based on your recovery needs.

Should Shoulders Have Its Own Day?

Whether shoulders deserve their own dedicated workout day depends on several factors, including your training goals, experience level, and overall workout routine.

The Case for Dedicated Shoulder Days

Targeted Training: Focusing solely on shoulders allows you to isolate and fatigue these muscles more effectively, potentially leading to faster growth and definition. This is especially beneficial for individuals with lagging shoulders or those seeking sculpted aesthetics.

Variety and Motivation: Breaking up your routine with dedicated shoulder days can inject excitement and prevent boredom. Experimenting with different exercises and variations keeps workouts fresh and engaging, boosting motivation and adherence.

Improved Strength and Performance: Strong shoulders play a crucial role in various upper body movements, including push-ups, pull-ups, and overhead throws. Dedicating a day to them can strengthen their supporting muscles and improve overall functional capacity and athletic performance.

Consider these Downsides

Overtraining Risk: Shoulders, particularly the rotator cuff muscles, are susceptible to overuse injuries. Devoting an entire day to them, especially with high intensity or volume, can lead to fatigue and increase the risk of injury if proper recovery isn’t prioritized.

Neglecting Other Muscle Groups: Focusing solely on shoulders might lead to neglecting other important muscle groups, creating imbalances and hindering overall development. Aim for a balanced routine that incorporates training for all major muscle groups.

Time Constraints: For individuals with busy schedules, carving out a separate day for shoulders might not be feasible. Integrating shoulder exercises into existing workouts or combining them with other muscle groups (like chest or back) can be a time-efficient alternative.

Finding the Right Balance

Ultimately, the decision to dedicate a day to shoulders hinges on your individual needs and preferences. 

Here are some guiding principles:

Beginners: Start with 2-3 shoulder exercises incorporated into existing workouts, focusing on proper form and light weights. Gradually increase intensity and volume as you progress.

Intermediate/Advanced Lifters: Consider a dedicated shoulder day once or twice a week, ensuring ample rest and recovery between sessions. Utilize a variety of exercises to target all three deltoid heads (anterior, medial, and posterior) for balanced development.

Individuals with Specific Goals: If you have specific goals, like sculpted shoulders or improved athletic performance, a dedicated shoulder day can be beneficial. Tailor your exercises and routines to align with your desired outcomes.

Final Thoughts

As far as I’m concerned I see absolutely no problem with training overhead press and bench press on the same day.

However, I totally understand that one exercise can have an impact on the other.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is that if you are simply performing overhead press and bench press as your push workout, you can simply alternate between which one you do first in subsequent workouts.

Admittedly, from week-to-week, the exercise you do second may suffer slightly, but this still means that you are hitting both movements during each push-based workout.

That being said, you can of course follow my system of varying the intensity on different days, or even having one particular specialization day for the movement you wish to focus on more.

Plus, let’s not forget that you can of course change your workout split completely.

Next, make sure you check out my article to discover whether there’s an ideal bench press to overhead press ratio.

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