by Jim Murray (1963)
Although we in weightlifting have been interested in strength and power-building for many years, only recently have we been joined by general athletic coaches, physical educators, and even the medical profession. Now, controlled studies are underway that will ultimately tell us scientifically what we already know from experience: that working against heavy resistance will produce great strength.
But even in weight lifting we are learning more and more about refinements of training techniques, refinements that I suppose nonathletic scientists will begin to study later. The schedule that Bill Miller (who is Louis Martin’s club coach) and I worked out for Louis to follow, and which has played a great part in his record-breaking success, would horrify pre-war and many present-day lifters and coaches who are living in the past.
Although a great lifter must be quick and well-coordinated, and must have a great desire to succeed, the essential element that he must have – and without which he cannot succeed – is strength. A champion, moreover, must have total strength that can be applied through the full range of a weight lifting movement. In previous articles I have explained the mechanics involved that make the middle range of any lift or exercise the most difficult . . . and therefore the part that most needs strength work. The two-hand curl exercise proves a clear and simple illustration. When the weight is level with the elbows, the leverage is most unfavorable and great strength is needed to keep the weight moving. There is a very similar mechanical difficulty in keeping a heavy press moving upward at the point where the elbows are at shoulder height and the upper arms are horizontal. Similar unfavorable leverage points occur in all lifts and exercises. You are limited to what you can raise in any lift or exercise by the amount you can keep moving through the range of the movement where the leverage is least favorable.
So, what to do about it? Special exercises must be employed to exercise in short-range, limited movements through the area of least favorable leverage. If there is any advantage in isometric training it is that of working the muscles against an immovable object at these points. There is no reason why the exercise should be isometric (non-moving), however, for you will have a much better idea of your progress if you employ graded resistance and force it to move a short distance. Only in this way can you see if you really are increasing your strength, for if you depend on isometric tension only, you may be “kidding yourself” that you are really training hard.
Improve Pressing Power
Let’s consider how short range power pressing can be applied to training for the press. In the full range, the barbell travels about 20 inches or more in a press from the shoulders to locked arms. The initial drive usually carries it some five to seven inches and once the bar passes the top of the head, it usually is not difficult to keep it going to lock-out. But the greatest concentration of muscular effort takes place in the middle range of the lift as the barbell moves from the bottom of the nose to the top of the head.
These parts of the press can be strengthened individually, and special attention can be given to the part or parts that are found to be weakest. To strengthen the first stage, take a weight that is just about your limit for a regular press, or a weight that is slightly heavier than you can press. Hold it across your chest in your regular starting position and then give it a hard, fast drive, as high as possible. The weight will probably go up in front of your nose and stop. Try to hold it at the sticking point for a moment without leaning back, then let it down and flex your legs slightly to catch the bar back at your chest. Straighten your legs and repeat the starting drive. Do the exercise two or three sets of two press-starts.
Start Imparts Momentum
By training regularly on press-starts, with weights heavier than you can actually press, you develop a powerful drive that will give the barbell added momentum when you actually drive a full press into the sticking point at the middle range. If the momentum is great enough, it may be enough to carry the barbell through to the lock-out stage.
To work the middle and final ranges, you need to use a rack. To work in the middle range, set the catchers at nose height and place the barbell across them. Press the barbell up to just a bit higher than the top of your head for two sets of two reps. It is very unlikely that you will be able to use as much weight in this exercise as you can lift in a full press, but it is a good idea to try to work as near to this amount as you can.
To work in the final, lock-out range, you set the bar at head-height and press to straight arms from there. The shorter the lock-out movement (that is, the higher you set the bar to start), the heavier the weights you will be able to use. You can also strengthen your ability to lock-out heavy jerks by doing very short range movements of an inch or two, and for this distance you should work with weights that are about as heavy as you can jerk, or heavier.
You may wonder why it is necessary to work in the easier lock-out range. Many lifters, after having struggled to keep the bar moving through the difficult middle range, find that they haven’t enough strength left to lock out even though the mechanics are more favorable in the final range. If they accustom themselves to locking out with heavier weights, they are less likely to have this difficulty.