Problems of the Press Part 1
by Charles A. Smith
The two hands clean and press is the most exasperating lift in the entire field of strength athletics. You can see men, huge of deltoid and with triceps like great slabs of meat back of their arms, out-pressed by a slender guy with pipe stem appendages. You see men who, despite their development – good or bad – are superb pressers. “Naturals.” The lift to them is easy and their improvement rapid. And you see some in whom no amount of training can improve their poundages. There are strength athletes who can pile up the pressing poundage merely by taking a long layoff from the lift, and others who have to work three, four and even five times a day to effect a ten-pound increase in two or three months.
There are some men who start out as poor pressers and wind up holding records. And there are strength athletes who elevate amazing weights the first time they ever touch a barbell and – progress no further. There was Tony Terlazzo, who is said to have pressed 90 pounds the first occasion he made an attempt and eventually pressed over 250 pounds as a lightweight . . . and you have “yours truly,” who was accounted as a boy wonder because he pressed 120 pounds for his very first barbell lift . . . and who has yet to crack a best-ever press of 210.
In the two hands clean and press, everything counts, every factor is of utmost importance. What kind of grip do you use? That might very well determine the reason why you are not improving. How do you clean the weight? This factor might be holding you back. Is your leg spacing too wide . . . or too narrow? Do you use the old leg position of the Military version of the lift . . . or don’t you? The use of either of these might well be the cause of your poor pressing poundage. And what about the development of the shoulder girdle or the lower back . . . or to go a little deeper into the interior . . . the muscle attachments and bone structure . . . bone length. Maybe these factors are in themselves your cause for failure. Your mental attitude, your personal character may not have that proportion of determination and rugged courage to keep the bar on the move. The posture and even the breathing can be that very reason why you are not moving ahead on the two hands clean and press.
First let me tell you that no word I write here can be the slightest help to you unless you are able and determined that you are going to HELP YOURSELF. It takes more than a writer or weightlifting coach to improver your style and poundages. It takes a patient and enquiring mind to find out the causes of failure and build up on what little foundation of success you possess. It is senseless to try and batter yourself through a wall when you can easily walk around it. Just stepping up your pressing routine does not necessarily mean that your press will improve. You must first put your finger on the cause of your bad pressing and then seek the means of combating the cause.
What special physical and mental qualities are possessed by the natural presser? Just what is it that gets that weight away from the shoulders to arm’s length overhead . . . You have seen men like John Davis lift . . . a master of pressing science . . . the weight leaving the shoulders and looking as if it will never go beyond the forehead, and suddenly the referee has clapped his hands and lift is successfully completed . . . and you wonder how . . . and why.
A good presser usually has BAD POSTURE. His UPPER arm length of humerus is substantially longer than the forearm, and his shoulders, or length of clavicle, longer than average. But most of all a good presser has that long upper arm. The press is primarily a deltoid movement, from the sternum until the upper arms are LEVEL with the shoulders. From here, the triceps, parts of the trapezius and the muscles which partly rotate the shoulder blades, AND the serratus magnus muscles, take the weight to arm’s length overhead. As the deltoids contract and shorten, the upper arm is raised. Now it is easy to see why a man with a long upper arm has the advantage over a lifter who has an upper arm shorter than his forearm. Take a look at illustration 1. You will see that the man with the lengthy humerus, when the weight is held in at the shoulders (commencing press position) has a lesser distance to take the upper arm to level position than the man with the short upper arm (illustration 2). The angle formed by the upper arm to the body is GREATER with the long upper arm than it is in the man with the short upper arm. This means that greater power can be exerted because the muscle itself is in a stronger position and able to apply more power. You all know how much easier it is to perform a half squat with 300 pounds than it is to do a FULL deep knee bend with the same poundage. You will also notice that the “Long Upper Arm” has a wider grip, while the short upper arm has a narrow grip and lower chest position when the hand spacing is taken with the FOREARMS HELD UPRIGHT. It is harder to press the barbell away from the shoulders with a short upper arm, whereas the long humerus man finds it easier to start the weight moving and keep it moving. It is therefore obvious that a wide grip is the natural outcome when the man is endowed by Nature with ideal pressing structure. It is a necessity when a man has bad leverage, and it MUST be used in conjunction with a particular type of posture.
But how is it possible for a man to lift correctly, let alone break records, if he has a bad posture? You might well ask! Now I do not intend to enter into the pros and cons of modern press judging. Suffice for me to say that few officials keep to a strict interpretation of the rules. A man who has a good posture, an erect carriage, as well as structural skeletal disadvantages will never make a good presser. A glance at illustration 3 will show the reason why. With the press held in at the shoulders and upright stance maintained, the weight has to be pressed not only up but slightly forward and BACK to compensate for the tendency to raise the heels. As the weight travels back, the tendency is for the toes to raise and thus the head has to be pushed forward or “followed through” to bring the body back into balance. Now, all this movement according to the rules is not allowed. Yet with this upright position it is easy to see that the weight MUST be pressed forward to avoid hitting the jaw, and all the subsequent compensating motions are unavoidable. So now let us take a look at the posture of a “good” presser and we will see, as in illustration 3, that the rules are not kept to. The good presser has a distinct curve to the lower spine . . . a lordosis . . . and it is this very defect that enables the man to press the weight STRAIGHT UP without any compensating motion (illustration 4). An outstanding example of this type is Gregory Novak. It is this “hollow back” that enables the presser to “set back” the shoulders, thrust the hips forward and raise the chest . . . the stance which is permitted in the Two Hands Olympic Press by at least 90% of modern referees. In men who do not have this curve present as a defect, the position is assumed with ease because of flexibility of the lower spine, and the constant practice of the lift in this position increases still further the ability to assume the position. This position too, has to be used with a wide grip . . . for it is hard to use it when the shoulders are restricted in motion by a narrow hand spacing.
Let us go back to the subject of leverage and length of humerus. Here, insertion of muscle also plays an important part. Even the degree of influence the “long” humerus exerts is conditioned by the point of deltoid insertion. Let’s put this in terms of simple applied mechanics. Take a look at illustration 5(a). Here we see a rough pulley and lever arrangement. The closer the line of power is to the fulcrum, the more difficult it is to raise the lever. But, when the line of power is farther away form the fulcrum the easier it becomes to raise the lever, shown in 5(b).
A glance will show you how the mechanics illustration is applied to the human anatomy. In (c) the low deltoid insertion on the upper arm is shown, and in (d) an insertion closer to the shoulder is illustrated. And so we see that being a good presser is not merely a matter of a long upper arm, but also of broad shoulders, low deltoid insertion on the upper arm itself, and either a bad posture (lordosis) or else great flexibility of the lower back.
All of these factors dictate the style of press you will use.Part Two of this Article -