My Training for the Press
by John Davis and Johnny Terpak (1952)
On June 27 and 28 of this year final tryouts for the Olympic Games will be held in conjunction with the Senior National Weightlifting championships. It is the ambition and dream of most athletes to qualify and represent their country in their chosen sport. It is necessary for these athletes to be in the best possible physical condition to qualify, for if the athlete in question makes the team he must spend another six to eight weeks training to be in even better condition to compete in the actual games themselves.
When the various members of the American weightlifting teams arrive on European soil they are usually in excellent condition. Final training preparations are done under the watchful eyes of Bob Hoffman, coach, and Dietrich Wortmann, manager. Prior to this meeting, members of the team train alone or with members of their respective clubs. How can an athlete get into good condition to qualify as a team member? I receive dozens of letters and speak to as many lifters asking, “How do you train?” My reply is usually the same and, except for an occasional change in the number of repetitions employed, my program is basically the same.
If a lifter is not physically adapted to the two arm press it is a rather difficult problem to overcome. However, it has been proven time and again that hard work can overcome what once seemed an impossible situation. Pete George, middleweight champion of the world, and Dave Sheppard were both notoriously low pressers. Their ability to press was not due 100% to lack of work gut I shall endeavor here to prove that at least 90% of it was. As can be seen by a quick glance at reports of contests in Strength & Health, Pete and Dave seldom registered more than 220-230 in the press. Both of these fine lifters are exceptional, to say the least, on the quick lifts. Like any other human beings, they undoubtedly were inclined to train on those lifts they were exceptional at rather than try to improve the lift that was more troublesome. Pete was twice beaten by Touni because of what he lacked on the press and three times missed international titles because of his inability to make up the tremendous difference of his opponent’s press with his quick lifts.
In 1049, Pete improved somewhat on the press and surprised everyone by making 242. This was at Den Haque, Nederlands, and even Touni was shocked, for no one had expected Pete to get more than a 231 press. Unfortunately, Pete fell short of the mark by only a few pounds and could not make up the difference with his quick lifts. In 1951 he took the bull by the horns and on several occasions prior to the championships pressed 255 and on one occasion made 260. I asked him how he managed to get his press so high and the reply was simply, “I pressed and pressed, and pressed some more.” Pete George does not have the temperament of a presser, nor is he built like a presser. If hard work on the press could improve his press by 20 pounds, then hard work must be the answer.
I perform a minimum of 64 presses during a four-day training period. I perform these presses via 8 sets of presses done in series of 2. Some nights I do 10 sets, making a total of 80 presses for the four-day training period. I never reduce my training poundage how tired I feel, but rather I try to advance the training poundage whenever my strength will permit. The 5,4,3,2,1 system used by many lifters today, as well as the 1,2,3,4,5 system do not and will not build sustaining power in the pressing muscles. Bob Hoffman has often remarked that the principle idea of lifting is to build bigger and stronger men. Lifters would do well to bear this in mind when planning their training programs. The aforementioned training methods are contrary to basic training methods and should not, in my opinion, be used.
In conversation I have been quoted as saying I will not use less than a certain number of repetitions or poundages no matter how sloppy my form becomes. Certain people, in an effort to advance their own theories regarding lifting and exercise misconstrued, misinterpreted and deliberately clouded the issue in confusion and double talk. As a direct result of this alleged quote of mine, many lifters were led to believe (and I have been questioned by several athletes on the subject) that I actually advocated, as well as practiced, lifting contrary to the rules set up by governing bodies. What I DID try to say was this – there are times when a lifter does not feel up to par. Consequently, some adjustment must be made. In my opinion, reducing the training poundage is not the answer to the problem. If a lifter presses a heavy weight in training that may, in some quarters, be considered a good lift and not good somewhere else, can it be said that the lifter “cheated” or performed the lift “incorrectly”? It was this kind of lift that I tried to point out as being acceptable in training sessions. I certainly do not believe that every lifter performs what might be classified as a perfect press at all times during training. I do not advise bad pressing form in training – for obvious reasons.
All lifters cannot have Bob Hoffman at hand to give them his personal attention when preparing for important competition They must take the next best step and plan a good all-around training program. I mentioned briefly my procedure on the press but I do not depend entirely on presses alone to build sustaining power. It has been my experience that additional work with the supine press on bench is an excellent power builder. The fact that one can handle heavier weights with the arms alone in this position develops tremendous power to drive and fight heavy poundages through the sticking point. Another power builder, as well as helping to improve form, is the press while seated. It is almost impossible to cheat, bend back or heave the barbell when seated.
An exact training schedule for pressing, followed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday is as follows:
Warmup – Press 135 for six reps, two sets.
Press 185 for three reps.
Press 205 for three reps.
Press 255 for three reps, two sets.
Press 280 once.
Then 8 sets of 2 presses with 300 pounds, a total of 16.
In addition, I supine press 330 for 5 sets of 3 reps, and squat with 450 for 5 sets of 5 reps.