To Press or not to Press?

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Ever since the Press was taken out of competition in 1972, the Press usefulness for the weightlifter has been a matter of debate. Pre 1972, the Press’ tonnage was pretty high for any weightlifter – it arguably was responsible for 1/3 of any training session.  According to Laputin (1982), the press spent 40% of their training time trying to improve their Press. Indeed, I know weightlifters of that time also did single arm presses, bench press, behind the neck presses, seated presses and other presses variations.

Post 1972, it has been discovered through scientific inquiries (Mostly Russian) that a reduction of Press tonnage was optimal – Less presses would allow the weightlifter to train more for the two remaining competitive lifts : The snatch and clean and jerk. Laputin (1982), quoting Roman (1974) writes that in the modern era of weightlifting, 10% (instead of 30 to 40%) of total volume of training should be dedicated to the Press to improve the jerk and build the shoulder griddle and arms.

Credit Wonderlifter
Credit Wonderlifter

 

I believe that the barbell Standing Press is an overlooked exercise at the moment. I really believe you have to Press – Not necessarily because it will make you move more weight in the snatch or clean and jerk, but because it will prevent injuries, enhance stability and develops muscle mass adequately for weightlifting performance.

The Press has a lot to offer to any weightlifter. By training the press, you are training the shoulder muscles and arms muscles. Stronger shoulder and arm muscles can help prevent shoulder and elbow injuries. Stronger muscles help with resisting forces applied on joints. This is very important to consider, especially if you are already at risk of elbow or shoulder injuries (either because of anatomy or prior injuries).

Moreover, many athletes have lock out problems in the Jerk. The anatomy of their elbows prevents them from fully extending their elbows or their elbows are ”soft” – The press is a fantastic tool to develop positional (overhead) strength to help with elbow re-bending and holding the bar overhead.

credit Bruce Klemens
credit Bruce Klemens

Finally, many athletes have overhead stability issues. Overhead stability issues usually arise from unstable shoulders : either they are imbalanced or they are weak and can’t resist forces much. The press is a relatively slow movement, meaning they can stress the shoulder griddle muscles and arms muscles for a longer time. Unlike the jerk, they require muscles to be worked eccentrically as well. The time under tension is longer which allows the athlete to develop positional stability if trained properly.

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General Guidelines for training the Press in the modern era of Weightlifting :

  1. Generally speaking, presses (excluding Push presses) can be trained 1 to 3 times a week – with various intensities and volumes. Two times seems to be optimal in my experience as it does not interfere much with other exercises. If trained more frequently, volume should be kept lower. Due to the demand of modern weightlifting, 2x a week seems optimal.
  2. Training is a matter of priorities. Snatch, clean and jerk, squats and pulls  exercises are the priority. Presses and other assistance exercise (e.g good mornings) are used to ”supplement” your training. For this reason, presses should be trained after snatch and clean and jerks. The exception is sotts press – these can be trained lightly prior to snatching if it is of any help (injuries, stability issues, or other special considerations.)
  3. I believe 3 to 6 reps is optimal. It is enough to get the shoulder stronger without tiring the shoulder griddle too much. Once in a while, when far from competition, it can be worth it to add more reps if you are looking to move up a weight class. However, understand it is a double edged sword. It can fatigue your shoulders quite a bit.
  4. 4 to 5 work sets is enough. Take a few warm up sets as well. Here is an example of a press training : 20×4 40×4 50×4 60×4 65×3 for 2 sets 70×3 for 3 sets.
  5. I usually don’t write out loads for pressing exercises in my programs. Loads should be difficult, but you should not grind the bar overhead or get stuck. Find a weight that is challenging but safe. The bar should move up fast.
  6. The eccentric portion of the lift (lowering it down) should be controlled and the trajectory of the bar should be a concern for both the concentric and eccentric portion of the lift.
  7. Unlike the competitive press where you lean away from the bar and get under it, the ”modern” Presser should put emphasis on keeping the bar very close to his face as he presses and lowers it down. The goal is to mimic the bar trajectory of the jerk.
  8. It is a good idea to hold the bar overhead for a few seconds on every rep. This will help improve overhead stability.
  9. If sick, tired, injured, unmotivated, etc. : Press away.
  10. Playing around with grip width is a good idea. It develops muscles differently, challenge stability differently and can help with mobility issues.
  11. The press is quite important for women lifters.

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Jean-Patrick Millette

Jean-Patrick Millette is a full time weightlifting coach located in Montreal, Canada. He has a bachelor in kinesiology. He coaches dedicated weightlifters of all ages (Youth to senior) as well as running the well respected First Pull website. He has been very active at promoting the sport of weightlifting.

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