Natasha Barnes – Barbell Overhead Press

One of the most important rules of training for climbing is that the worst kind of training is the training the gets you injured.  However, an unfortunate reality of climbing is that it is really hard on our shoulders.  All of the overhead pulling combined with our tendency to hang incorrectly means climbers need to actively care for their shoulders to avoid injury.

However, not all injury prevention methods are equally effective.  Here’s an article by professional climber and chiropractor Natasha Barnes in which she makes a case for the barbell overhead press being the single most effective exercise climbers should be doing to care for their shoulders.

“A correctly performed overhead press is the single most useful strength training exercise for shoulder health in climbers.”

“Unlike other pressing variations it does not isolate one muscle or one joint, it uses the full kinetic chain to transmit force from the ground all the way up to the hands to press the bar overhead.” – Natasha Barnes

Why The Barbell Overhead Press:

As we stated above, there are loads of shoulder injury prevention exercises out there for climbers including those with resistance bands and light dumbbells.  While there is definitely nothing wrong with these exercises, Natasha believes that they are all less effective and less efficient at keep climbers’ shoulders injury free.  Here are the main reasons she prescribes the barbell overhead press:

  1. Pressing is a true antagonistic movement to all the pulling we do in climbing.
  2. As mentioned above it trains the entire body much like climbing.
  3. It keeps the shoulder balanced by training all the muscles around the shoulder including the rotator cuff.

Ultimately, Natasha’s goal with the barbell overhead press is to truly strengthen the stabilizing muscles around the shoulder while preserving range of motion and balance.  With an approach like this getting stronger is a form of injury prevention.

It is important to note, as Natasha does, that full body strength training exercises like this one are only effective when preformed properly.  Take the time to learn the correct form otherwise your injury prevention work will quickly cause injuries of its own.

More From Natasha Barnes:

Click through below to read more about why Natasha likes the barbell overhead press so much.  While you are there, check out the rest of Natasha’s website  It is full of great articles in which Natasha shares her knowledge as a chiropractor and bodyworker to help climbers specifically.

Then, if you are in the Bay Area and are interested in working with Natasha in person, be sure to contact her at the Motus Rehab Clinic in San Francisco, CA where she practices.

Full Article: Natasha Barnes – Barbell Overhead Press

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(photo courtesy of | @natashabarnes |@climbingperformancetherapy)

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By | 2017-09-18T06:38:25+00:00 December 31st, 2016|2 Comments


  1. Cesar January 10, 2018 at 10:00 am - Reply

    How interesting. Commonly you hear of people talking about using face pulls/etc to prevent injury when doing the overhead press or bench press – you need the pulling movement in that plane to counteract the pushing movement. And now here you’re suggesting using the pushing movement to prevent injury when doing a pulling movement in that same plane.

    I guess the lesson is you need to do pulling and pushing movements in a given plane to prevent injuries 🙂

  2. Gerry Banning December 31, 2016 at 10:03 am - Reply

    I’ve been telling my climbing friends this for several years. Bill Starr, an important lifter and educator from the 60’s. 70’s and later, maintains that when lifters were doing the overhead press, no-one even knew what the rotator cuff was. Those injuries just didn’t exist. (His articles are available on the CrossFit Journal if you have a subscription). In his day, the overhead press was THE test of strength, like the bench press is today. He recommended the overhead press for individuals who had shoulder injuries.

    Unfortunately the movement was taken out of the Olympic lifts in 1972 and eventually became the “forgotten lift” (Bill Starr’s words). I’m hoping it will come back, especially for climbers. In my opinion, the shoulder press done sitting down isn’t nearly as effective as the barbell overhead press; or, the overhead press done unilaterally while standing.

    This article gets it right. The video isn’t quite as good. It’s important to avoid excessive “lean back” when doing the lift (although the lifter is in a competition, and does get the white flag.)

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