Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Press

"How much can you bench?" A silly question often asked between members of the male sex of the human race. The result of this question seems to determine the strength of the individual answering the question. The question is flawed. A person with a strong upper body (big bench press numbers) may have really weak back, hips, and legs (since these muscle groups are not stressed sufficiently during the bench press). Also there are few times during which an individual is lying on the ground (or a bench) and required to press some heavy object away from his/her chest. If you want to know how strong a person's upper body is in a highly functional way the question to ask is "How much can you press?"

Bill Starr Pressing 

The press may not be clear to you. So in the following paragraph I'll try to clear that up by describing some variations of the press that you may have heard of or seen before. 

The press is an exercise during which the lifter raises the barbell from the shoulders to overhead with locked out elbows in a smooth continuous motion. There are many varieties of the press. Most commonly referred to is the military-press in which the lifters heels are touching (read narrow stance) and the barbell is lifted to locked out elbows at a rate that matches a judges rising finger while the legs and torso remain rigidly fixed in position. The Olympic press was a contested lift until 1972, after which is was not contested due to the difficulty to judge the lift. Lots of hip and torso movement are allowed in the Olympic press, but knee bending was not allowed. This link has an article written by Bill Starr describing the Olympic-style press and if you click here you can access 3 videos in which Tommy Suggs coaches lifters in the Olympic-style press. Note: Tommy Suggs and Bill Starr are former Olympic weightlifters that were part of the York crew when the US was actually competitive in Olympic weightlifting.  Back to press variations. The push-press allows a dip and drive motion (read knee bending) to propel the barbell off the shoulders and uses the triceps to lockout. Here is Donny Shankle doing a push-press. The jerk is similar to the push press with regard to the dip and drive part but the lifter then jumps under the bar and catches it with locked out elbows. The jerk is the last portion of the "clean and jerk," which is a competition lift in weightlifting. The jerk differs from the press in that it happens very fast. During the press the bar rises continuously and during the jerk the bar is, well, jerked up. Another version of the press (that I use) is the strict-press. Typically I just call it the press. The strict-press is simply the military press with a normal shoulder-width stance with minimal torso and hip movement. The torso and hips must be moved to keep balance. Obviously unlike the military press I have no judge telling me how fast to lift the barbell. Please have a look at this video of Justin Lascek Cleaning and Pressing 240 pounds with strict form (no knee bend during the press).

Unlike Justin many people fool them selves into thinking they are great pressers when in fact they are bending their knees to accelerate the bar off their shoulders. This is really a push press. This guy thinks he is pressing 205 in reality he is push pressing 205.

A good compound barbell exercise should recruit as much muscle mass (via multiple muscle groups) as possible. In addition to using lots of muscle, but no less important, are the coordination and balance aspects of good exercises. This latter quality, balance, is one of the many reasons the squat is so good (it is hard to get a very heavy squat up unless you keep it balanced). The press puts the barbell overhead. As a lifter increases in strength, therefore in performance, the pressing weights begin to approach or sometimes exceed the lifters body weight. This puts the center of mass of the barbell-lifter complex very high. The center of mass for most people is near the hips. A body weight press puts the center of mass near the shoulders or neck. In order to not fall over the trainee develops coordination and balance in addition to strength by regularly training the press. The video below is York Barbell's poster child of the 1960's Bill March training the Olympic press.

The press works the anterior deltoids and triceps while the bench press works the posterior deltoids, pectoralis, and the triceps. By training both the shoulder muscles are balanced and injuries to the shoulder like rotator cuff tears are not as likely to occur when you throw your 40-50 year old arm around like a 20 year old bush league pitcher. If you ignore the press and just bench press an imbalance in shoulder supporting musculature occurs and injuries are highly likely to follow.

Bill March Pressing 354 pounds

Outside of the obvious shoulder and elbow extensors the abdominal muscles receive a great deal of work. in the above photo Bill March is just about to pull his torso underneath the bar. In order to do that his abdominal muscles contract and make his torso vertical rather than laid back. Contracting the abs hard stiffens the entire trunk and stabilizes the spine (a pretty good structure to protect). So many people feel that abs need special attention in order to get them strong(sit-ups, crunches, etc). In reality the big lifts like the squat, the press, and the deadlift all work the abs really hard. If you aren't using the abs during these exercises you aren't doing them correctly. Stop worrying about doing 30 crunches and start worrying about doing a 300 pound press, your abs will thank you for strengthening them in a way they work best (not doing silly sit ups).

1 comment:

  1. I love someone advocating the press, but you have it a bit wrong here:

    "The press works the anterior deltoids and triceps while the bench press works the posterior deltoids, pectoralis, and the triceps."

    Both work the front delts and triceps, but the bench adds in the chest, and the press adds in the side delts.