I love the press. Let me rephrase: I. LOVE. THE. PRESS! For me the press (aka shoulder press or military press) is a true test of upper body strength with a barbell or kettlebell. Sure, you have the bench press but in the realm of overall body strength it hardly compares to the press. Why? For starters the press requires INCREDIBLE core strength.
Weak core equals weak press. While this is true for most movements you are in serious danger if you don’t know how to brace and strengthen your core as you press heavy weight overhead. Second, the press forces you to engage your glutes and leg muscles. If you squeeze your butt cheeks together while simultaneously flexing your quads the press will instantly be stronger because your foundation is strong. “You can’t build a strong house on sand.” Strong legs = strong body. Strong body = strong press. Finally, the press is a combo test of strength and shoulder/t-spine mobility. If your shoulders and t-spine are not restricted in your pressing pattern then your press will become stronger. Most individual’s plateau in the press, not because they can’t become stronger, because their own muscles are fighting against them on the press. Remove the restrictions and the press will go up.
Let’s start with a few KEY mobility drills you NEED to do if you wish to increase your pressing strength.
First, foam rolling your latissimiss dorsi (lats) and thoracic spine (upper back). This will break up any fascia that could be restricting your overhead movement pattern. Move onto using a ‘peanut’ (two lacrosse balls taped together) once the foam rolling has served its purpose. You’ll know because the tightness/knots in your lats and t-spine will be less painful as you foam roll.
Second, you’ll perform quadruped t-spine rotation and Turkish getup armbar. These are mobility/stability drills that help your brain connect with the muscles performing the press. Sometimes it’s not your muscles but your brain that’s the problem. Both drills will help with this problem.
Third, you’ll execute wall sit w/ reach and kettlebell pullover exercises. Similar to the previous drills these two will improve the connection of your brain to your muscles. Both drills use bilateral movement patterns (similar to the barbell press) to ensure proportionate shoulder and t-spine mobility.
Now, it’s time for what you’ve been waiting for! The exercises to make you STRONGER!
- Static Headstand Press IS (Isometic Squeeze):
Description: Place a folded towel next to a wall. Facing the wall place both hands on the ground and the top of your head on the towel. Your head and hands should form a triangle. Kick your feet up so you’re upside down against the wall. Squeeze your glutes and legs together. Begin pushing your hands into the ground as hard as your can for 5 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Press for 4 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Continue counting down until you’ve reached 1 second. Come off the wall and rest for 2-3 minutes. Repeat for 2-3 sets.
- 1 ½ Press 5-1 ISC (Isometric Squeeze Countdown):
Description: This can be used with 2 kettlebells or 1 barbell. GO LIGHT! Standing tall, squeeze your glutes and quads (feet shoulder width apart). Press the weight half way up. Hold for 5 seconds. Bring back down to shoulders and perform 5 full ROM reps (Range of Motion). Rest 10 seconds. Press half way and hold for 4 seconds. Perform 4 full ROM reps. Continue until you’ve reach 1 rep. Rest for 2-3 minutes. Repeat for 2-3 sets.
- Barbell Negative Press w/ Push Press:
Description: Use a moderate-heavy weight for this one. Perform a push press to get the weight overhead. Once at full lockout begin lowering the weight to shoulder height by a 5 second negative. Once at the bottom perform a push press and repeat for 5 reps.
WARNING! These exercises are extremely taxing on your CNS (central nervous system). Perform only ONE of these exercises on a ‘push’ day at the beginning of your workout. Save the other 2 for later in the week (i.e. Monday ‘static headstand’, Wednesday ‘1 ½ press’, and Friday ‘barbell negative’).
Perform these drills for 2-3 sets for the next 4-6 weeks. DO NOT perform traditional kettlebell or barbell military press. At the end of 4-6 weeks test out on your 1RM press and see if there’s been improvement. If you don’t have one, then I strongly suggest you find it before performing this program. If you’d rather not perform a 1RM for fear of injury then take a weight you can perform for only 5 reps and retest with the same weight at the end of the program. You should notice an increase in 1-2 reps which is HUGE for pressing strength.
– Joshua Jarmin – Blueprint Fitness – Owner and Director of Fitness (a.k.a. The Mad Scientist)