Getting The Weight Smoothly Through The Sticking Point
by Charles A. Smith (1952)
A couple of years ago I attended a New York Physique display which is held annually. It is usually a gathering of the best lifters and the top physique men in the country, and in it almost always a world’s record happens to be broken. On the particular occasion, Johnny Davis made a record press mark, and the audience took some time to get over the effects of seeing 332 pounds rammed aloft with speed, skill and a smoothness that was a pleasure to watch. As is our custom after this particular meet is ended, we gathered together in a local hostelry to eat and drink and enjoy ourselves in a friendly, harmless way. And, as is also the custom, we talked over the evening’s entertainment. There had been some top names in the bodybuilding world attending the event, but they were forgotten and all we could speak about was that press by
“You know,” said Walter Ressler, “I’ve noticed one thing about Johnny’s presses . . . just as they reach around the crown of his head, the sticking point you might say, his shoulders appear to drop down and the arms, instead of slowing up, carry right on to the finish smoothly.”
Several had noticed the same thing and to us, it was evidence that the press itself is not entirely brute power but also technique. Doing the best you can with the equipment you have and doing it efficiently and scientifically. The talk went on and gradually other topics entered into the conversation, but I know that back of every man’s mind at that table was the picture of the world’s greatest strong man, pressing a giant weight with as much ease seemingly as his commencing poundages.
Behind both of these beginning paragraphs is the idea I have been constantly striving to put over in each article of this series – ATTENTION TO DETAIL – You simply cannot hope to improve unless you take into consideration every factor that goes to make up the lift known as the two hands clean and press. Brute power isn’t sufficient! But the use of common sense AND strength can improve your press. Now you are at a point where you must learn something about the muscle work during the press overhead. You have a good idea of the style of pressing you must adopt and there remains little outside of the anatomy of the press and the styles and schedules of the record holders in various nations.
It has been my good fortune to have traveled over the major portion of the earth. I have seen the lifting champions of most countries as well as some of the old timers. I have been fortunate because I have had the chance to make observations. One learns more from what one sees and experiences than from any courses. Words, drawings and diagrams can go only so far. Success comes from an application of what you learn. Experiment; apply the lessons; train intelligently; keep an open mind; refuse to go overboard for extremism; pursue the path of moderation and even tho’ you never become a champion, you will at least have had the satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and have done it well.
In the work of raising the arm from the side to the vertical position the following muscles are involved: The movement takes place principally at the shoulder joint with a slight movement of the shoulder blades. The arm is raised by the concentric contraction of the deltoids and supraspinatus (abductors) . . . remember this is until the upper arms are level with the shoulders. From this point on, they work statically . . . the only muscle contraction from there on is the supraspinatus as the head of the upper arm bone sinks lower in the cup formed by the glenoid . . . the junction of the humerus and the shoulder joint . . . and it only contracts slightly further. From here the movement is transferred to the triceps, the serratus and the muscles of the shoulder girdle . . . the trapezius. There is a sort of gliding in the joint by the collar bone and the shoulder blade, which is caused by the action of the serratus muscles and a section of the trapezius. The triceps combine and get the barbell to arm’s length, just as the weight is passing the ear, or what you commonly call the area of the sticking point.
One can use this knowledge to help get the weight past the sticking point easily and in doing so . . . if you prefer your style . . . you’ll get a similar motion in the press to
When they bend down to clean the weight, they press down on the bar and contract the trapezius. When the weight is cleaned into the shoulders, they retain contraction of the trapezius and point the elbows forward. Then they commence to press with a hard, swift start and at the same time relax the traps. At this point the bar is usually in the region of the sticking point and traveling quick through it.
Now here is the reason why they use this method. As you have read, the deltoids and the supraspinatus muscles bring the upper arm up and closer to the ear, while the serratus actually rotates the shoulder blades. At this point the trapezius drops its contraction and the lifter at the same time straightens the elbows (triceps) as the bar moves up past the crown of the head. This enabled them to stand more erect as the rules demand and prevented any noticeable back bend.
To repeat the above briefly and a little more clearly . . . If a lifter slightly contracts his trapezius on completion of the clean and then relaxes the muscles as he commences to use the power of the triceps with the serratus muscle – one of the most important muscles in overhead lifting – he gets the weight overhead by ensuring that one set of muscles takes over as the preceding group completes its function.
I have mentioned certain types of muscle work in preceding paragraphs . . . CONCENTRIC and STATIC. Concentric muscle action takes place when origin approaches insertion. Under certain circumstances the position can be reversed; for instance, the latissimus dorsi adducts the shoulder joint by drawing the arm towards the body, but if the arms are fixes, as they are when hanging from a chinning bar, the lats draw the trunk upwards. During concentric work, the muscle becomes thicker and feels harder.
Static contraction occurs when a muscle or group of muscles works to hold a given position. No actual work takes place although the muscle is definitely acting. A traffic cop who holds his arm to direct traffic, for example, has the abductors in a state of “static contraction” – the deltoids and the supra and infraspinatus. Static work, as mentioned in the chapter prior to this one, dealing with breathing during the clean for the press, is the most tiring of all forms of muscle work because fatigue products gather more rapidly on account of the slower rate of circulation which is not nearly so rapid as in an active muscle.
The two different periods in the press are at the start and at the sticking point, when it is hard to keep it going. Some lifters try to use a heave to obtain a fast start to carry them through the sticking point whole others use a “curve back.” Some have no trouble taking the weight off the clavicles but just cannot go any further . . . Commencing poundages present no trouble, but as soon as an increase is made, the lift gives trouble and the lifter struggles to maintain motion on the bar. The solution to the trouble lies in a study of the anatomy of the press and adjusting your style constantly until one is developed that gives you smoothness and power.
Try out the following methods and make the adjustments necessary to your press. As you take hold of the bar in preparation to clean, press down on it before pulling it in to the shoulders. You will find that this tends to contract the trapezius muscles. When the bar arrives into the pressing position, keep the traps contracted and point the elbows forward a little. You will have a humped back appearance. Start your press upward and slightly back . . . Do not press in a backward direction until you are well clear of the crown, and at the same time relax the trapezius muscles. You will find that the bar carries on smoothly to the finish position and you should be able to start the weight away from the shoulders without a jerky commencement and with a much smoother and more powerful finish.