I hate ESPN for all of the blasphemous reporting they’ve done on the Patriots over the years, but one thing they do that nobody else does is air World’s Strongest Man reruns. From the old days of Bill Kazmaier to Magnus Magnusson in the 90’s to Eddie Hall winning in 2017, I’ve always loved watching these monsters snort smelling salts and proceed to pull trucks and squat tractor tires.
The events I’m always fired up to watch the most are the log press and the giant dumbbell press. Seeing these guys take a circus dumbbell that weighs twice as much as my best squat and press it over their heads never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many horse steroids they’re on.
I’m not sure if other people have been watching these reruns as much as I have, or whether it’s the rise in popularity of Rippetoe’s Starting Strength or Wendler’s 5/3/1 programs, or more people are listening to Dan John talk about the importance of lifting heavy things over their heads or what, but I see a lot more people pressing bars over their heads now than ever, which is a great thing.
Pressing big weights overhead requires a ton of pillar strength and involves every single muscle in the body. Improving your ability to do so is a really good idea if being a brick shit house that can perform in and out of the gym is your goal.
The downside to this is when Jerry from accounting, who hasn’t done any type of weight training since high school PE in ’92, decides to undertake one of these barbell based programs and tweaks a wing right out of the shoot.
The reality is that most people don’t have the requisite mobility to press overhead with a barbell. Years of sitting at a computer
playing Snood building careers and raising families is admirable, but doesn’t necessarily equate to having the healthiest shoulder girdle.
You have to earn the right to press the barbell, kind of like you have to pass Algebra 1 before going on to Algebra 2. There are certain prerequisites that you must have before passing Go and collecting your $200, but that’s for another post on another day.
If someone does have the ability to press overhead without pain, the first way I like to see people do it is with a half kneeling bottoms up kettlebell press.
What It Works: Shoulders, Triceps, Forearms, Trunk
Why It’s Great: The half kneeling position keeps the lower back from excessively arching, and by going bottoms up with the kettlebell you have to squeeze the holy hell out of the handle to keep it from flopping down and smashing you in the forearm. This makes the rotator cuff work extra hard, which in turn keeps the head of the humerus more centrally positioned in the joint throughout the movement.
Things to Keep in Mind:
- Make sure that your bicep is in line with your ear when the bell is totally overhead.
- Lower the bell on each rep under control, and make sure that your fist sinks down below your chin at the bottom.
- Keep the reps in the low range here and bang out a bunch of sets to ensure perfect technique. I like 3-5 sets of 5-8 reps a side.
- Start light! These are quite humbling, and it’s always easier to build up than to concuss yourself on the second rep before realizing that you overshot the runway with your choice of bell.
While this is a great entry level movement, it is by no means limited to rookies. Seasoned lifters would be smart to include these as well to keep bringing up their weak links and to ensure optimal shoulder health and development.
Remember, the wider the base of your pyramid, the higher the peak. For more advanced lifters, I might program like this:
Month 1: Half Kneeling Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press
Month 2: Standing Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press
Month 3: Standing Barbell Press
Month 4: rinse and repeat
Whether you’re new to strength training or a seasoned veteran, there is certainly value to pressing heavy stuff over your head. The key is to figuring out which exercises to use for your situation so you can make real progress. Try these out and let me know what you think!
P.S. If you haven’t subscribed to my monthly newsletter, where I link all of my posts from the week as well as the top 3 articles from around the internet, you can do so here.