In the days of old the test of manliness was what we know it to be today. People didn’t run around asking one another his common question:
“How much ya Bench?”
Instead they would ask this one:
“Good Morning Good Sir, would you mind sharing with me what numbers which you press?”
Okay, it might not have been asked in that exact way but you get the idea.
It was back in the days when the Clean & Press were highly regarded as the true test of ones strength, this also used to be an Olympic event (along with some other lifts too), but it was seen as too dangerous for people to press heavy weight overhead in the ways they did, thus it was removed (with the other odd lifts as well) and the Clean & Jerk/Snatch were all that was left. This left the world without an ego movements so the modern times now favour the bench press because of powerlifting over the press (some call it Military Press others Overhead Press etc,) because it was the only pressing movement left they recognised.
Another reason people tend to favour this is because it’s easier and you can lift more weight that way. The Press, Bench Press, Incline Press, The Behind Neck Press are all part of the pressing family, it’s just that some are not as favoured as others due to their difficulty and effect on the amount of weight that can be lifted (hurting ones ego).
We have covered tips to improve both the Squat and the Deadlift, today’s will be revolved around the pressing movements, we shall start with the Press (Overhead Press) and then move in to the Bench.
On a side note, you will find if your press goes up your bench will too.
When Performing the Press there are 3 main things you want to remember:
– Assume the Position (Elbow, Wrist & Hand)
– Total Body Tension
– Press in a Straight Line
Only 3 tips while the others had 5, why only 3?
Keep reading and all will be revealed.
Assume the Position (Elbow & Wrist) –
Firstly you will now to adopt the correct pressing position. To achieve this you will want your elbows to be directly under the bar before your being your press, this means that your elbows, forearms and wrists will be in one STRAIGHT line. You want to avoid your wrists being bent backwards and in a poor position (people who moan it hurts their wrists don’t have the correct alignment and need to re-rack and start again).
If you’re sat now reading this I want you to make a fist and point your thumbs as your shoulder while having your elbow in front of your body pointing straight down to the floor. Notice what a straight elbow/forearm/wrist position looks like, now have your thumbs face each other by turning your from your forearms (like you’re holding a bar) you will find your hands are about shoulder width apart and level with your clavicle (roughly) , this is where your hands will need to be once you grip the bar. Straighten your arms out and take hold of the bar and move in until it rests on your clavicle with your elbow/forearm/wrist all lined up correctly.
Next we learn about a forgotten part of the press Total Body Tension. this can be the difference between a good press and a spinal injury.
Total Body Tension –
I’m sure you’ve seen it, you know, the reverse banana shape people take on while pressing a weight overhead (well they are actually pressing it away from them which leads to this, but that will be covered later) that send shivers down your spine as you think they’re going to snap in half. I know you’ve seen this and chances are you probably do it too, I know how easily it can happen because I used to do it too.
What was missing? Yep, total body tension.
When you set up/unrack and wall out the bar you want to grip it hard and firm, not you literally want to squeeze the bar as hard as you possible can, like white knuckle tight so that you create and irradiation effect that travels through the entire body recruiting multiple muscles and motor units ready for the press to begin (much like gripping the bar as described for the deadlift). You will also do well to secure your lower body by screwing your feet in to the floor (as with the squat) contracting your quads, glutes, core and upper back as hard as possible, you want your body to be TIGHT so that you have no power leakage at all.
Don’t forget your Power Breathing too, this will help increase inter-abdominal pressure meaning more stability and strength. Once you’ve got your body connected (as one whole unit) it’s time to get your pressing alignment right.
Press in a Straight Line –
This might sound obvious but you’d be surprised how often people try and press away from their body rather than directly over it, possibly due to too much bench and poor posture.
When you press a weight overhead you want to press in a straight line so that the bar stays over the centre line of your body, which will obviously be filled with tension and resistant to buckling in to the fabled banana shape.
There’s only one problem though isn’t there.… Your head gets in the way.
How do you solve the problem of your head being in the way? You simply draw your chin back allowing the bar to pass nicely by. Once the bar is past your head you don’t have to keep it drawn back and I would encourage you allow it to return to a neutral position so that you can finish the press with the correct alignment.
The finished press should find your biceps by or slightly behind your ears but never in front of them. This final position means your body and arms will be in once straight line (relatively speaking).
With those little tips you will find yourself hitting new numbers in your overhead work with ease, along with the added benefit of much stronger and more stable shoulders which will actually improve your bench numbers which leads us nicely on to the next set of tips which are to help you improve your bench.
The bench tips are as follows (some will look familiar):
– Assume the Position (Elbow, Wrist, Hand, back & Feet)
– Total Body Tension
– Pull the Bar Down (Between Nipples & Sternum)
– Press in a Straight Line
The tips are similar but not identical so be sure to read them carefully.
Assume the Position (Elbow, Wrist, Hand, back & Feet) & Total Body Tension –
For a good starting grip width I would advice using the same hand spacing as you would for your press, perhaps 1-2 inches wider if it’s more comfortable but that’s down to personal choice. Your elbow, wrist and hand position will need to be in a straight line just as with the press but you also now have to think about your back and foot position as you’re led down for this press variation.
Once you’re led under the bar (eyes should be under the bar before unracking) and have taken a firm grip you want to start to grip it tight and create the irradiation effect. Your shoulder blades should be drawn down and back (towards your butt) to create lots of upper back tension as this will become important for creating a stable base. When it comes to your foot position I encourage you to have both feet flat on the floor and directly under your knees (or slightly further back), for now keep your feet flat on the floor and drive your heels in to the ground and create tension throughout your entire lower body, linking this with a tight back means you’re giving yourself the best possible (and most stable) base to hit some big bench numbers.
Don’t forget your Power Breathing here too.
Your entire body should be tight, almost to the point of shaking, if it is then you’re ready and should have someone help you unrack the bar and hold it steady over your chest ready with your elbows turned slightly in, try to bend the bar in your hands as you hold it, that will help put your elbows in the right position for you to descend in to the press.
Now it’s time for the descent…
Pull the Bar Down (Between Nipples & Sternum) –
Yep. PULL THE BAR DOWN.
Once you’ve unracked the bar, take one more deep breath and get in as much extra air as possible you will want to pull the bar down to your chest while pull your chest up to the bar if that makes sense, it will touch somewhere between your nipples and the top of your sternum. As you pull the bar down you want to keep the mental image of trying to bend the bar (mentioned above) your elbows will be slightly tucked meaning you can get your lats in to the movement to help you press the weight back up. Pulling the bar down also creates even more tension and can help activate the stretch reflex and help you begin the press.
Press in a Straight Line –
As this tip says press in a straight line from where you came down, it’s pretty simple really. As you press begin to exhale and grind out that lift as fast as possible. As the press makes it’s way up keep a tight grip on the bar and keep the press moving, you will find your elbows mighty slightly flare on the way up once they get past the half way sticking point, this isn’t really problem but try to avoid deliberately flaring them unless you know exactly why you’re doing it, otherwise let it happen naturally and concentrate on pressing that bar in a nice straight line all the way to a new PB.
With the Presses covered that now bring us to the end of the this bout of lifting tips, it’s time to go out and practice what you’ve learnt. Don’t be afraid to remove some weight to improve your technique, trust me you will thank me in the long run.
Now of you go and practice.