When it comes to compound movements, one of their biggest strengths lies in the fact that they utilise multiple muscle groups simultaneously. This is great in terms of generating metabolic stress and promoting overall hypertrophy. However, it is very common for certain muscle groups to not grow in tandem. In the case of the overhead press, its reputation as the go-to shoulder exercise is sometimes called into question when lifters fail to elicit any significant amount of growth in their deltoids.
Muscle dominance is a concept whereby the human body favours a particular muscle group over others in certain movements. In the case of the overhead press, there are instances where lifters display tricep dominance in achieving full extension, despite the anterior deltoids being the prime mover.
While a lack of shoulder hypertrophy may seem like the only problem that arises from such a predicament, that's not the worst of it. Synergistic dominance is when the prime mover steps out of the equation, forcing the synergist muscles to intervene and double up. With enough frequency, inflammation and impaired mobility can occur.
Location and equipment courtesy of TripleFit
Using paused repetitions can be helpful in forcing the prime movers to “turn on” and reminding the body what it feels like to actually have them activated. Applying this to overhead presses can assist the tricep-dominant presser in bringing his/her shoulders back into play. You can even employ double pauses – once during the concentric and another during the eccentric portion of the lift.
Of course, where you pause will also determine how effective this exercise will be. For most, pausing at a point where one's elbows are slightly below their shoulder joint will allow you to place a palpable amount of tension on the deltoids. From a first-person view, the barbell would be just above eye level. Pauses can be held for up to two seconds before completing the repetition as normal.
Due to the extra time-under-tension afforded by the pauses, lifters will seldom need to go beyond five or six repetitions per set. Aside from remedying synergistic dominance, paused overhead presses can also be useful for blowing past plateaus involving both muscle size and strength. Just remember to hang in there during the pauses!