Why you should be doing the Push Press

While the Bench Press is the king of upper body exercises, the Push Press is next in line for the crown. While less commonly performed by the average gym goer, the Push Press has value that carries over most, if not all fitness goals. Additionally, the Push Press is just plain useful. Hypothetically, if I had to prescribe just one upper body pushing exercise to my clients, it would be the Push Press. I love the Push Press. (**Note, the Push Press just like every other exercise, it can be misused and incorrectly performed. I am advocating for intelligent execution and programming.)

Why Push Press?

Carry Over to Real Life and Athletics- Consider the full range of upper body exercises you perform in the gym, not one carries over to an actual movement performed in everyday life. Picking things up and placing them overhead is a common movement and probably more common is the reverse picking things up from overhead and lowering them to our chest. The carryover to athletics is undeniable, building explosive power throughout the entire kinetic chain i.e. from your feet to your shoulders is essential for sports dependent on power think football, basketball, Olympic Lifting, jumping and catching as in baseball, and so much more.

Hypertrophy– The Push Press allows for more overload of musculature, more so than a traditional strict press. You can generally push press 10-20% more. Bigger weights =bigger muscles. Period. The Push Press is a great auxiliary lift for those looking for hypertrophy in the deltoids and pecs. Particularly if you perform the Push Press correctly touching the upper chest, the Push Press is a good exercise for building the fibers of the upper chest.

Full Body Strength – The Push Press starts from the floor. Force is generated from the floor and travels to the barbell in your hands. The hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes are all used during the Push Press to help initiate force. So unlike the strict press, the Push Press trains the body as a unit.

Overall Power (including lower body power) – The Push Press should not and cannot performed well slowly. The Push Press performed correctly is a true power exercise. While the benefits of the Push Press on upper body power are obvious (your pushing a bar explosively upwards with your chest shoulders and triceps), the Push Press has also been shown to produce greater lower extremity maximum mean power when compared to the jump squat, a commonly prescribed movement for improving lower body power (1). Again the Push Press’s benefit to work the body as a singular unit remains.

Practicing Full Body Tightness – One overlooked benefit of performing a proper Push press is the movement helps reinforce full body tightness. To properly perform the Push Press you need to squeeze your whole body, from your quads and glutes, to your hands holding the barbell.  If you are looking to build maximum strength, full body tightness is essential. Additionally, the Push Press helps practice full body tightness, while performing shoulder and elbow extension like in the Bench Press.

Rotator Cuff and Scapulohumeral Rhythm (aka protecting your shoulder joint and maintain a mobile scapula)- The rotator cuff is a serious of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. These muscles include the (Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Subscapularis, and Teres Minor muscles) which aid in shoulder flexion, extension, as well as internal/external rotation. The rotator cuff has been shown to be active during overhead pressing. (2) In particular the Supraspinatus shows the highest level of activation. (2) Interestingly enough the Supraspinatus is also the muscle most associated with rotator cuff tears. The shoulder is made up of primarily two structures: the humerus and the scapula. The movement that occurs between these two structures is what is known as Scapulohumeral rhythm. When you perform pressing exercises with your back pinned to a bench (aka in the bench press and all its variations), your scapula is pinned disrupting this natural movement and creating an immobile scapula. The movement that occurs during the Push-Press allows for natural Scapulohumeral rhythm.
 

klokov-push-press_hook_grip

Your Ego – If all those reasons aren’t enough to consider incorporating some sort of Push Pressing into your programing, maybe this is. You can use about 10-15% more weight doing a Push Press compared to a strict press. While I’m not recommending using loads you cant’ handle (be smart), if someone has stagnated with the strict press the Push Press is a good alternative to help build back their confidence with pressing, especially with feeling comfortable with heavier weights.

 

 

References:

1. Lake J et al, Power and Impulse Applied During Push Press Exercise, J Strength Cond Res, 28(9): 2552–2559, 2014

2.Townsend H et al, Electromyographic analysis of the glenohumeral muscles during a baseball rehabilitation program, Amer J Sports Med, 13(3): 264 – 272, 1991

3. Getz JD et al, “Acromial morphology: relation to sex, age, symmetry, and subacromial enthesophytes”, Radiology, June 199(3):737 – 742, 1996

 

 

 

The Definitive Guide on how to Bench Press

 

Bench Press. It’s probably the most popular exercise ever. And for good reason, the bench press is the definitive measure of upper body strength. No one asks “Hey what’s your best squat?” or “How much can you bent over row?” I’d be willing to bet the most popular phrase uttered in gyms across the world is “How much you bench?” People care about benching. Even if you’re not a powerlifter or trying to max out on reps in the NFL combine test everyone wants to bench big, myself included. So here is how to properly perform the most improperly performed lift in gyms around the world.

How to Bench:

The first step to hoisting massive weights on the bench press is technique. You can AUTOMATICALLY add close to 10% to your bench press simply by adjusting your technique. Even if you already have a respectable or even above average bench press i guarantee that improving technique will make you an even better presser. Here’s how to do that:

There are various set up techniques, by no means is this the only way however if you follow the general principles outlined below you are on your way to a better bench press!!

Scapula Retraction- The main purpose of scapular retraction is it reduces range of motion, and places the shoulder capsule in a more stable and safe position for pressing, creating a stable base to press off of. The degree to which you retract your scapula is up to your mobility and comfort level. I personally like to retract and depress my scapula, as I feel significantly more stable.

Finding your Arch-After scapular retraction the next crucial step to setting up on the Bench Press is developing an arch. Similar to scapular retraction, developing an arch helps reduce range of motion and keep your shoulders safe. You can develop an arch in one of two ways. The fist way of achieving an arch is by setting the shoulders and then using your legs and hips to push the shoulders into the bench. To do this set your shoulders into the man-81725_960_720bench by holding each side of the bench rack. Raise your hips off the bench and push your shoulders into the bench, actively pushing the chest up. The second way of finding your arch is by setting your hips hard on the bench and slowly inching your shoulders down towards your hips, also actively pushing the chest up. To achieve this drive your feet into the floor and using the bench rack to brace yourself, push your hips down. Continue pull your shoulder blades down towards your hips. Imagine “putting your shoulders blades in your back pocket.”

Foot Position- Foot position is easily the most overlooked aspect of bench pressing. While most would assume the bench press is simply an upper body lift, the truth is that to achieve your full bench potential you will need to use leg drive. Foot position is key to achieving optimal tightness on the Bench Press. There are two ways to plant your feet during the Bench: heels on the ground or heels up. Both have benefits and drawbacks. Having your heels off the ground allows for a greater arch and in my opinion more overall full body tightness. However, you loose leg drive with your heels off the floor  as you have to press through the toes to drive through the floor. Heels on the ground allows for more surface area to press through, but does not allow for such a dramatic arch, which actually is generally a good thing as having an absurd arch is not necessary for most people and can put stress on the lowerback. Choose whichever is most comfortable for you, I personally like having heels off the floor but as I want to compete in either the USAPL or IPF one day  (which require you to have your heels on the ground) heels on the floor is how I bench.

Grip- Your grip width is up to you. For most a grip just outside shoulder width will be where the majority of individual will be strongest. However, for those who are more limb dominant like myself a slightly narrower grip will be more appropriate for maximal strength. Once you find your preferred grip, squeeze the shit out of the bar. This is crucial, the harder you squeeze the more you can lift. Why? Because of something called muscle irradiation. Muscle irradiation is the concept that when a certain group of muscles is contracted maximally it is easier for nearby muscles to contract similarly. You can try this technique with any exercise and will find you gain immediate strength. Once you have gripped the bar as hard as you possible can it is time to unrack the bar.

Unracking– While in an ideal world you can use a spotter to help you unrack the bar, there will come a time where you will need to unrack the bar by yourself. Simply press the bar off the pins and bring it roughly over your clavicle. Make sure your wrists are not excessively flexed or extended. The wrists should be in line with the elbows at all times.

Descent-Before you begin the descent make sure you haven’t lost your positioning outlined in the last four steps. A mental checklist I like to go over before I begin any set of bench pressing is as follows: scapula retracted, feet pressed hard into the ground, grip level on 10000, bend bar in half/rip bar apart. Bending the bar in half or ripping it apart is a useful que because force during the concentric phase (ascent) of the bench press is not only vertical but also lateral. By imagining you are bending the bar in half you can better recruit the pecs before the lift has even started. Lastly, take a deep breath and force as much air as you can into your diaphragm. This is key to increasing intraabdominal and thoracic pressure needed to stabilize your torso during the Bench Press. Finally after all these things are in place begin descending the barbell. Slowly lower the barbell to your chest. The bar should be lowered somewhere between the nipple line and the bottom of your sternum. While the bottom position of the barbell will vary from person to person lowering the bar above the nipple line can be hard on the shoulders and a one-way ticket to snap city.

Ascent-Initiate the ascent by pushing your feet into the ground as hard as possible, pressing the bar up and back as forcefully as possible. This should be aggressive and intentional; if you simply go through the motion of pushing up I guarantee you are not achieving your maximal potential. You can also flare your elbows to initiate the drive off your chest this is a useful technique that I have found to be very effective in my own training.

To Summarize:

1.Retract Scapula

2. Find Arch

3. Find Foot Placement

4. Grip/ Bend Bar in Half

5. Big Breath in/ Brace

6. Pull Bar Into you

7. Press that shit like your life depends on it.

And there you have it an in depth look at how to Bench Pres. if you follow these steps I guarantee you will find immediate improvements in your bench press. Happy Benching!!

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Beginner Strength Training: It doesn’t need to be that complicated

Of the myriad of people who approach me in the gym by and large beginner lifters mainly approach me. These are generally doe eyed beginners who meander around the gym typically with a gym buddy, who’s slightly bigger , from one isolation exercise to the next, doing an exhaustive amount of sets and pounding protein shakes and pre-workouts. Indeed, most of us were this exact person at some point at the beginning of our lifting/fitness careers. Whether it meant following the advice of the biggest gym bro we could muster up the courage to talk to (because being big means you must know what you’re talking about right…?), or religiously following the advice of fitness magazines and gurus, we have all made some mistakes in terms of our training particularly as we start out. With all the information available, it can truly be confusing and intimidating for a new lifter to figure out a program to hop on or a style of training to engage with.

Figuring out how to train, as a beginner lifter can be overwhelming

Well I’m here to tell you that for the majority of healthy injury free beginners, training does not need to be that complicated. First, let us first define what a beginner is. While there are many opinions about what constitutes a beginner, I personally use strength standards as a metric for defining a beginner. While strength standards are a murky generally overly simplified topic, for the sake of brevity I will use the following numbers to describe a beginner trainee:

 

Bench Press: Less than 1/2 of bodyweight

Squat: Less than 1x their bodyweight

Deadlift: Less than 1.25x their bodyweight

For example, a trainee who is 150lb is 5″10 benches less than 75lb, squats less than 150lb, and Deadlifts less than 185lb would most definitely be a beginner.

Beginner Training:

There are a multitude of training programs for beginners.  Most in my opinion are far to complex. On one end of the spectrum there is the adored beginner program Stronglifts 5×5 from Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength . Starting strength incorporates an unnecessary amount of volume, as well an intensity level that can be physically and psychologically crippling to new lifters. *Disclaimer I adore starting strength, in fact I think it is one of the best programs available to build raw strength and size. Additionally, Mark Rippetoe is a brilliant coach and thinker regarding strength training, however, for beginners I believe it is possible to make as much progress using stronglifts 5×5 in a fraction of the time in the gym, and ALOT less stress. On the other end of the spectrum, many beginners jump into a “bodybuilding body-part split” type routine, which is simply sub optimal for a variety of reasons. These programs typically have no progression patterns and are also unnecessarily high in volume and exercise variety. Ultimately, any good beginner program should be maximizing the following principle: PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD. Simply put progressive overload is adding more weight to the bar in a linear fashion. While there are various ways to progress (load, volume, density, tempo) moving more weight should always be your main goal as a beginner lifter. Why? Because the beginner stage is where you will make the fastest progress with the smallest amount of effort and organization. Additionally, your main goal as a beginner lifter should be to build a solid foundation of strength. Whether, you are looking to get really big, really strong (obviously), really fast, or just improve athletic performance, a foundation of strength is something you must build.

There are many ways to organize your training as a beginner. One simple way to organize your training as a beginner looking to gain muscle and strength would be the following:

M- Squat, Work up to Max Set of 8-12 reps @60% of 1rm

W- Deadlift, Work up to Max Set of 5-8 reps @60% of 1rm

F- Bench Press/Military Press, Work up to a Max Set of 8-12 reps @60% of 1rm

Each week add 10lb to your squat and deadlift, and 5lbs to your pushing exercise of choice. Add in some vertical and horizontal pulling, hamstring work, and some direct arm work and your solid.

There are several benefits of using this max effort single set style of training as a beginner. One, you can realistically continue with this progression scheme for several months without any difficulty meaning you could add literally 100 of lbs in total to all your lifts. Two, you’ll be in and out the gym in less than 25 minutes. Three, due to the low volume and frequency, you can use this style of training while in a caloric deficit yet continuously getting stronger. (*Side Note– Using this max effort 1 set approach is an EXCELLENT way to maintain general strength while in a caloric deficit at any level.)

Once you begin to stall using this method you can simply add additional sets AND STILL use progressive overload adding weight each week and trying to maintain a similar amount of reps in each set. However, at this point it would also be ideal to start looking into basic forms of periodization, which I’ll cover in my next post!!