Thursday 27th November 2014,
Travis Holley's

Day 283 of 365: Pushing The Press v2.0

As promised, I am back today to share with you how to perform a proper press.

Before I start, I have to preface this whole thing by saying that what I’m about to share with you may challenge what you think you know about the press.  I am going to ask that you approach this post, and my suggestions, with an open mind….Give it a shot….then decide whether it will serve you or not.  Can we all do that?  Great!

Here we go….

Now, I gave y’all some homework to do…Did you do it?  I asked you guys and gals to read/watch the article that Mark Rippetoe wrote for TNation.  I also asked you to watch the video of Nick pressing.  Hopefully you already done that, but if you haven’t, I’m asking you to start there before carrying on with this post.

***It’s important to point out that Nick performs 3 perfect presses before I tell him to transition to push press.  Just pay attention to the first 3 reps.***

I want you guys to see that what you think the press is, isn’t.  Sure, the strict press can be completely strict – more like a military press. But, the press, as it was intended, allows for a form of “kip” or torso assist….we will get to that soon.

As you can imagine, this torso assist/kip allows us to move much heavier loads than if we perform a military press with absolute rigid form.  There’s nothing wrong with the military press, and in fact, it should be trained as much as anything else.  My view is that we perform the press as it was intended, which actually allows use to move heavier loads.  Always a good thing, right?

So, how do we do this?
Well,  It’s got to start from the ground and work up.  So, let’s start there…

Stance and Grip
When we press, we’ve got to realize that as much force as we are producing on the bar, the bar is returning the same force back on us.  With that understood, it’s easy to see that our stance becomes very important.  If our stance is too wide, we are unable to transfer our power to the floor and barbell effectively and efficiently.

To set up properly, take a grip that is just outside of shoulder width. (This may vary depending on limb length and mobility, but this usually works for everyone.) After you take your grip, it’s now time to un-rack the weight and actually rack it up on your body.  Essentially, the bar should be resting on you shoulders, with you elbows slightly in front of the bar.  Doing this correctly should create a shelf for the bar to rest on until the press is initiated, AND is imperative to performing a solid press.  Once the upper-body is set, take a step back and place your feet directly under your hips.  For most of us, this should result in a 8-12″ gap between your feet.  Be sure to have your toes pointing forward or with a slight turn out.  Any more than that will result in a loss of force production.

Full-Body Tension
Once the set-up is established, it’s now time to engage the entire body in full lock-out.  The most effective way to do this is to squeeze your ass checks together, flex your quads/lock your knees, and try to “twist” your feet in a way that would bring your heels together and toes out.  Don’t actually allow your feet to move, but perform this tension-building step to activate the entire body.

There is more to it than that, but I will discuss that in “Breath”.

Breath
So the lower body is fully engaged.  What about the upper body?  This where your breath is super important.  Once the lower body is tight, it’s time to take an aggressive, deep breath in to fill all the voids in the upper body.  We do this by thinking about taking an aggresive breath through a tiny straw.  The breath should be audible to anyone in near you.

This breath is crucial.  It fills the voids and gives the spine stability.  It also forces the shoulders(and the bar, which is resting on your shoulders…remember?) to elevate.  This elevation does two things:
1. Decreases the distance that the bath actually has to move.
2. Gives us the room to perform the torso kip.

Kip
The “kip” is basically the result of the lifter taking the deep breath, contracting the abs and compressing the torso, then allowing the body to expand again.  This action, as seen in the videos, slingshots the barbell upward with more speed and power than what is possible in the military press, which allows for heavier loads to be moved.

Speed
As discussed in several previous posts, speed is our ally when moving heavy loads.  Heavy lifting can not be accomplished slowly.  In the press, the sticking point is usually is that point level to the crown of your forehead.  I’m sure everyone has experienced the sticking point….The bar is flying up there, but then all of a sudden, it’s like the bar just got 100lbs heavier.  That’s all because you were actually moving too slow.  The torso kip is extremely valuable to being able to produce enough speed and momentum to break through the sticking point, and therefore, complete the lift successfully.

Bar Path
Without control, speed and power are useless.  This is especially true with the press.  You can throw that barbell up as hard and as fast as you want, but unless the bar is following a efficient path, you will usually fail or at best never reach your full pressing potential.  The best way to think about this bar path is to send the bar straight up in the intiation of the press, but as soon as possible, the bar needs to begin traveling back.  We are much stronger with bar traveling close to our mid-line plane than with the bar shooting out and away from the body.  Makes sense, right?  So, throw that thing up there, but throw it back as well!

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About The Author

Travis Holley is a CrossFit Level II Coach, has a B.S. in Sport and Exercise Science from the University of Northern Colorado, and has 3 years of experience coaching a wide variety of individuals ranging from young athletes to grandparents, and everyone in between.