Illustration of a natural lifter overhead pressing 225 pounds.

How Much Should You Be Able to Overhead Press?

The common strength standard for natural lifters is to overhead press two plates, bench press three, squat four, and deadlift five. That’s a 225-pound overhead press. 100 kilos.

That seemed high to me, so I surveyed 580 guys from our newsletter. It turns out that if you can lift 135 pounds overhead, you’re stronger than most guys who have been lifting all their lives.

A 225-pound overhead press is even more impressive. Even among the guys who have been lifting for over a decade, only 2% of them have ever pressed 225 pounds overhead.

In the rest of the article, I’ll break it down by year, giving you realistic rates of progress. By all means, blow past them. If you train your press like a powerlifter trains his squat, I bet you can get 225 pounds within a few years.

Caveats

I also run Bony to Beastly, a bulking site for naturally thin guys. Many of our readers come from that site. So, as you can imagine, our newsletter leans thin. Most of these guys succeed at bulking up, though, so by the time they’re ten years into lifting weights, they’re up to at least a healthy body weight.

We didn’t ask our readers to test their one-rep max. Rather, we asked them the most weight they’d ever overhead pressed. It’s safe to assume that most of the beginners were doing sets of at least 4 reps.

I checked our numbers against the numbers on StrengthLevel. They estimate that the average beginner can press 66 pounds and the average intermediate 142 pounds. That’s similar to what we have, so I think our survey is representative of what the average lifter can overhead press.

How Much Can Beginners Press?

Survey results graph showing how much the average male beginner can overhead press during his first year of lifting weights.

Over the past decade of coaching guys, it’s common to see skinny beginners start by pressing an empty barbell (45 pounds) for sets of 6–12 reps. I’ve never seen a beginner press 135 pounds within their first few months, but within the first year, a few cross that first major milestone.

Many beginners lack the shoulder mobility or stability to lift weight overhead, and others lack the postural strength or coordination to keep their torsos rigid while doing it. It’s a hard lift to learn. 

If you have trouble pressing weight overhead, start with push-ups. Push-ups are famous for working your chest, but they also work your front delts and triceps, just like the overhead press. They also work your postural muscles (such as your abs and obliques) and serratus anterior (under your armpits), developing the postural strength and shoulder mobility you need to press weight overhead.

After 1 Year of Pressing

Survey results graph showing how much the average man can overhead press after 1 year of lifting weights.

After a year of training, most people are still pressing less than 135 pounds. That remains true forever. Most people never press 135 pounds overhead.

It’s a hard lift to make progress on. Many guys like using one–pound “microplates” to make progressive overload easier.

After 3 Years of Pressing

Survey results graph showing how much weight the average man can barbell overhead press after 3 years of training.

After training for three years, a quarter of guys could press 135 pounds overhead. Nobody could press 225.

After 5 Years of Pressing

Survey results graph showing how much the average natural lifter can overhead press after 5 years of lifting weights.

After five years of lifting weights, over a third of guys could press 135 pounds overhead. Nobody could press 225 pounds overhead. And most people plateaued at these milestones forever.

Lifetime Press Standards (10+ Years)

Survey results showing how much weight a natural lifter can expect to overhead press after a lifetime of lifting weights.

After ten years of lifting weights, 2% of guys managed to finally put up 225 pounds. I don’t think that represents any kind of genetic limitation, though. I suspect two-plate overhead presses would be far more common if people trained them with the same fervour as their bench press.

Summary

Most guys never overhead press more than 135 pounds. It isn’t a popular lift, and most people don’t train it as seriously as they do their squat, bench press, or deadlift. I suspect we’d see much higher numbers if people took it more seriously.

Still, if you can press 135 pounds overhead, you’re stronger than the average lifetime lifter. You’re one of the stronger guys at the gym. It takes most guys 3–5 years to do it.

If you can press 225 pounds overhead, you’ve got a truly impressive overhead press. I haven’t ever seen anyone press that much weight overhead, even when I was training at the gym all the college football players trained at.

Alright, that’s it for now. If you liked this article, we have similar articles about how much you should be able to squat, bench press and deadlift.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified conditioning coach with a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 70 pounds and has over a decade of experience helping over 10,000 skinny people bulk up.

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8 Comments

  1. Sebastian on May 7, 2024 at 12:09 pm

    thanks a lot!
    I hope to reach at least 135lbs for reps in the future. I always used to do seated dumbell press. I can still press a bit more with dumbells seated than with the barbell standing. I am working on this. 🙂 surprisingly for me the barbell feels much better for the shoulders . Helps avoiding inpingment in the shoulders. Glad that I started with barbell OVP.

    • Shane Duquette on May 7, 2024 at 1:26 pm

      My pleasure, man!

      How much are you lifting now? Is 135 far away?

      I prefer the standing overhead press. I feel like it’s a more athletic position. And, as you said, I find it feels smoother and more natural for my shoulder joint.

      There’s nothing wrong with the seated dumbbell overhead press, though. That’s a great lift, too.

      • Sebastian on May 7, 2024 at 2:55 pm

        So far 105lbs for sets of 8. Which is not overly impressive since I am 6ft tall and weigh somewhere in 185–190lbs region. I used to lift and do calisthenics since my early teenage days. In my teens and twenties with a lot fervor. In my thirties with a little less effort. Meanwhile I am 41 and restarted 2 years with more effort and science (thanks to your site) and bulked up again from 165lbs. I tend to lose weight easy. I am still improving and regaining from time to time. Maybe I get to a 135lbs OHP and 220lbs bench press before father time catches up.

        • Shane Duquette on May 7, 2024 at 3:16 pm

          Ah! You’re very close! 105 pounds for 8 reps puts your estimated 1-rep max at 130 pounds. Now, admittedly, you might not care about your 1-rep max. Maybe you want to do your working sets with 135 pounds. You’re further away from that.

          …But if you wanted to put up 135, you could use a simple trick: warm up to heavier than your working set. Maybe you start by pressing the empty bar for 10 reps, then pressing 75 pounds for 6, 105 pounds for 3, and then 115 pounds for 1–2. If the weight moves quickly and smoothly, warm up to 120 pounds next week. If your form is bad, the bar moves slow, or your shoulders hurt, stick with a lower weight until it feels fast and athletic. Keep going until you get a casual 135.

          Make sure to eat enough food while doing it. You probably need to gain a little weight to support the extra muscle growth.

          Congratulations on gaining those 20 pounds! That’s great!

          What’s your bench at?

          • Sebastian on May 7, 2024 at 4:16 pm

            Sounds worth a try. Bench is one of the better lifts. 175lbs for 8 at 185lbs bw or 180lbs for 8 at 190lbs bw. My strength is extremely related to my bw here.



          • Shane Duquette on May 8, 2024 at 2:56 pm

            Ah, great! Benching 180 pounds for 8 reps is equivalent to benching 225 pounds for 1 rep. I’m guessing you want to get your working sets up to 225, but, similar to your overhead press, you could probably bench 225 for a single with a little practice.



  2. Sebastian on May 8, 2024 at 4:23 pm

    You are right. I am not looking for single 1-rep max. So there is some work down the road. If possible I like to do working sets for 6-8 reps on the big upper body lifts. On a good day the first 5 reps of an 8 rep set feel like a breeze, but I am still close enough to failure that I can’t do ninth rep. Low reps are grinding from the start. I am sure my actual 1-rep max without specific training is lower than the calculation. But I a made a resolution: ramp up working set OHP to 60KG, roughly 132lbs. I am planning two push days and a full body workout each week and we will see how long it will take.:-)

    • Shane Duquette on May 8, 2024 at 6:45 pm

      Awesome 🙂

      Good luck! Let me know when you get it!

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