Push Up Plus Overhead Press Works Nearly Every Muscle

Push Up Lat Row Start
Push Up Lat Row Start. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images

The push up plus an overhead press, or burpee plus an overhead press is a great compound exercise that targets nearly every muscle group. I can't remember exactly where I learned this exercise, but it's been my favorite 'go-to' strength exercise for years. It's a simple workout to use when you are unable to keep up with your full workout routine because of travel, holidays or other obligations. It's also a nice basic workout for those who dislike strength training, don't have much time, or don't have a lot of equipment or space.

It's a straight-forward way for just about any level athlete to get full body strengthening in one exercise. It's simple and effective. You also don't need to worry about specific muscle groups, exercise order, or reps and sets. When done properly, it works nearly every muscle in your body, elevates your heart rate, adds intensity, and wipes you out (in a good way) in about 10-15 minutes.

By combining this strength move with some basic cardiovascular exercise (walking, jogging, cycling, rowing, swimming, etc.) you'll have a complete workout that isn't too complicated and never gets boring. The exercise can be done daily if you use lighter weights, but if you go heavy, you will probably aim for about three times per week with a rest day between workouts.

Demonstration Videos:


Anyone can get the benefit of this workout by making a few modifications.

  • Select a set of dumbbells or a barbell that you are able to press overhead 15 times with good form. For most beginners, this will be weights in the 10-30 pounds range.
  • Start in the ready position with your feet about shoulder width and the dumbbells on the floor next to your feet.
  • Bend down in a squat position with your arms extended and grab hold of each dumbbell. Be sure to keep your back straight (not arched) and your head up. 
  • Start the exercise by kicking your feet out behind you to get into a push up position while using the dumbbells as handles. Maintain proper push up form with your body in a straight line from head to toe without sagging in the middle or arching your back.
  • Complete one full push up.
  • After you complete the push up, kick your feet back up to the starting position while still holding the dumbbells.
  • Using good squat technique, stand up straight while keeping the dumbbells close to your sides and in one smooth, controlled movement snap the dumbbells up to shoulder level by lifting them high and getting your elbows directly under the weights.
  • Now you are ready to perform an overhead dumbbell press. Again, complete this movement in a controlled manner, and return the dumbbells to the start position.
  • Lower the weights to hip level and squat back down keeping your weight over your heels, your back straight, head up and set the weights on the floor next to your feet.
  • That is one complete rep of the push up to overhead press.
  • I generally do three sets of ten with a break to catch my breath between sets. I can usually finish in ten minutes if I focus.

Modifications for Beginners
Beginners can use lighter weights, do modified push ups, go slower, step back into the push up one foot at a time and do fewer repetitions. If the basic push up is too difficult, you can make it easier by dropping to your knees and doing a beginner push up or substitute a 30-second plank instead of the push up.

Modifications for Advanced Exercisers
Top level athletes can make this exercise much more difficult by using heavier weights, increasing the pace of the repetitions, adding dynamic transitions (kicking both feet out and back to the push up at the same time, like a burpee) and adding more reps and sets.

To add one more move into the exercise, consider doing the push up and lat row before jumping back forward for the overhead press.

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