Overall Power for Pressing Success
by Charles A. Smith
Al Murray, one of the greatest lifting coaches of modern times, has said that the single factors of technique, or style, and sheer power can take you just so far and no further . . . Yet combined they will jointly carry you to record lifts. Al is all for training first for style and then afterwards, for strength. And here, he and I disagree. All the style in the world won’t make you a champion. You will, with style alone, be just another “pretty” lifter. But given the quality of power FIRST . . . and power is the most important factor in lifting at any time . . . one can readily develop style, and develop it more easily and less painfully. However, let it be remembered that my difference of opinion with Al does not necessarily show that I am in the right. Each one of us forms his opinions in the light of personal experience and it may well be that Al Murray has satisfactorily proved that style should come first, and strength training should follow. As for myself, I am firmly convinced that the lifting enthusiast should first work for strength and THEN seek to perfect his style.
May I develop my theory a little further? I compare human physique to the structure of a crane or a derrick. A crane is first and last for lifting weight, and the amount it can lift depends on the power of its motor, cables, derrick arm and other factors. A man’s musculature is for the same purpose as a crane when the activity of lifting a barbell is concerned . . . TO LIFT WEIGHT. Now, the motor of the crane may well be capable of hoisting tons, but what if the cable is weak, the steel in the lever arm is faulty or a bolt is ready to snap? In short, it there is ONE weak point in a vital spot . . . FINISH!
Suppose you have a good style . . . know exactly what your potentials are . . . what width of grip and style of grip to use . . . how your legs should be spaced . . . how you must breath and control the bar or direct the movements of the trunk. Yet you may have a weak lower back . . . or thighs . . . or hips . . . or deltoids, supraspinatus or trapezius. Could you press any considerable poundage? NO! You couldn’t. As soon as you approached your limit, that weak link in the chain of strength would break. It might not happen today, but sooner or later it would give way. Result? A strained muscle or torn fascia or some such injury. A CHAIN IS ONLY AS STRONG AS ITS WEAKEST LINK. The motor of the crane may function mechanically to perfection, but that mechanical perfection isn’t worth a tinker’s curse if it is “betrayed” by a structural weakness in the crane itself.
I have in mind at this moment a young, West Coast lifter who has a great future before him. some time ago he was having trouble with his cleans and snatches. As a matter of fact, his press was weak too. He knew he was capable of a good press and he also knew that he had the potential for a much higher clean & jerk and snatch. Someone convinced him he should embark on a deep knee bend specialization program. He did. Inside of eight weeks his clean had jumped forty pounds, his snatch 25 pounds and his press 25 pounds. The astonishing part about it is that he did nothing but squat, using a cambered bar and striving with all he had to make regular increases in reps, sets and training poundage. He found that he had a firmer foundation in the thighs, hips and lower back from which his shoulder and arm strength could work. This may be an isolated example or a “Modern Weightlifting Miracle,” but the fact remains that with his increase in basic power came an overall increase in pressing strength.
Harold Ansorge has himself pointed out many examples of press increases without actual practice of the lift, merely by the lifter undertaking a course of side pressing, bent pressing, deadlifting, squatting, etc., etc. He instances two pupils, one of whom effected an increase of twenty pounds by using side and bent presses, and another also increasing his military press twenty pounds by undertaking a prolonged session of squats. In neither case did the lifter concerned practice the two hands press, as Ansorge plainly points out.
But if all that one needed to practice for powerful pressing were heavy squats, one might be forgiven for asking how it is that there are not more great pressers than there are, since the practice of deep knee bends is now so wide spread. Unfortunately, more power in the legs and back is not in itself sufficient to indicate a powerful press or to build one. There are other and more important muscle groups involved. The triceps, the deltoids, the trapezius, the serratus Magnus, the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade helping it to partially rotate.
It naturally follows that if one compiles a schedule that works these groups strenuously, an increase in pressing power should be expected. Now, in all these articles I have tried to make it plain that one of the biggest success factors is CHANGE. Of course, knowing when to make a change in workout program is important too, and the point when you have to drop the schedule you are using, for another, comes when you observe difficulty in making steady gains, or if the program you are on becomes distasteful to you and you seek any excuse in order to avoid working out.
In case you think I have contradicted myself by asserting that squats or deadlifts are not in themselves sufficient to build pressing power, I would like to point out that in the examples quoted, the men already had powerful pressing potentials, which were held back by lack of basic power in the thighs and back. Once this was built up, the press itself improved. So, here is your key to building up a powerful press with power exercises – First, determine the “weak link” in your strength chain, then work that muscle group first in the schedule that follows. Each exercise will be specifically for one area in the muscular makeup. Select the exercise you need to strengthen your weakest point, perform that first and let the others follow on.
Exercise One – For Lower Back, Anterior Deltoids, Trapezius.
The TWO HANDS SWING is one of the finest of all exercises in the book of weight training, and it is often a cause of wonder to me why it is not used more widely. Besides being what I term a “scientific” lift, it is also a movement that the lifter finds comes naturally to him. Load up a dumbell and place it before you, with one end towards you and the other away. Clasp both hands around the dumbell rod and grip it tightly. Straighten the legs and back and at the same time swing the dumbell up to arms length. DON’T BEND THE ARMS AT THE ELBOWS. Keep them straight throughout the movement. After the first repetition don’t allow the weight to touch the floor but continue swinging it up and down until the required number of reps are completed.
Exercise Two – For Upper Thighs and Lower Back
Parallel squats have gained in popularity in the last few years, because of the power and size that they produce when practiced diligently. It is possible to maintain a continuous tension on the thigh muscles during the actual performance. Take a barbell off the squat racks and stand with the feet about 16 inches apart . . . the maximum width permitted by pressing rules. Squat down until the upper thighs are parallel to the floor. Stop here and immediately recover to commencing position. DON’T LOCK THE THIGHS AT THE KNEES, BUT KEEP THEM SLIGHTLY BENT.
Exercise Three – For Lateral Deltoids and Trapezius Muscles
Bent Arm Standing Lateral Raises have gained considerable prominence since
Exercise Four – Lockout Power for the Triceps
Most power movements have been given considerable prominence in these publications, including the one to follow. It is an excellent movement and contains favorable mental factors. You can use big poundages and this accounts for that “light” feeling on return to your normal two hands press poundage. Power presses off the floor will build considerable triceps strength. Place the barbell bridging between two strong boxes. Lie under the bar so it is right above your shoulders. Hand spacing should not be more than shoulder width. The distance the bar has to travel to arms length above the shoulders should be from 4 to 6 inches. When you are set, simply press the weight out to arms length, lower slowly, and repeat the movement.
Exercise Five – Starting Power for the Deltoids
Wide grip bench presses are great for giving you the strength to start the weight away from the shoulders. The catch to this exercise is you don’t lower it from arms length over head but lie on an exercise bench. You start EACH press right OFF the chest. Recent rules for bench pressing, introduced in
It is not my intention to confuse you, although some of you might be wondering exactly where a power schedule comes in. Changes in a training program are determined by definite needs . . . the need for a change . . . the need for continued progression . . . the need to keep workouts interesting and free from boredom, and last and most important of all, the need to strengthen a weaker member of a group of muscles.