Friday, December 9, 2016

From "The Alpha Body" by Alexander Leonidas (2015)

More info here, including some great interviews:

Good Book!

It covers a lot of territory and presents some fresh ideas from a lifter who's obviously passionate about his craft.

Here's a shortened version of the Table of Contents: 

Program Setup
Split Routines
Linear vs. Concurrent Periodization
The PR Table
Weekly Program Setup
Exercise Order
Accessory Work
Specialty Bars
Power/Speed Training
Leg Maximizer vs. Leg Minimizer
Managing Recovery
Bench Press Specialist:
Weak Bottom
Weak Top
Overhead Press Specialist: 
Weak Bottom
Weak Top
Leg Cultures: 
Strength Standards . . . 
and a lot more, including bodypart sections, 12-week specialization programs for Weak Bench Bottom, Weak Bench Top, Weak Overhead Top. General Leg Specialist, Powerlifting Leg Specialist, Addressing Weaknesses etc. etc. etc. 

I found the Overhead Press Specialist section to be especially interesting to me. Don't get the wrong impression, though. Mr. Leonidas spends ample time on the bench press and other lifts as well. So, here's that overhead Press chapter to give you an idea of what to expect from this book and its contents.

I don't want to go through the whole history of the Press, but will give you a brief summary. Before the time the bench press was invented and widely popularized, people used to ask, "How much do you Press?" and by Press they meant overhead. The overhead Press was considered to be the number one test of upper body strength, and was featured in all the circus strongman acts and competitions including Olympic weightlifting. Even old school bodybuilders were fans of the overhead Press and boulder shoulders. In fact, they too often competed in the overhead Press. 

However, as powerlifting began to grow and the overhead Press got dropped from the Olympics, the lift's usage slowly began to decline. It didn't help that different overhead machines were coming out, which gave people an excuse to shy away from the free weight version.

Soon, the bench press became the norm, and the new standard of upper body strength. Now we have a bunch of guys asking, "How much do you bench?" Additionally, since the bench press became so popular, pec and shoulder injuries soon started to appear. When the overhead Press was the norm, lifters seldom possessed rotator cuff injuries or pec tears. Actually, it was quite unknown at the time because so few people ever got injured in those precise locations from lifting. We can argue that there are a multitude of reasons for the appearance of new injuries, but that's not the point. The fact of the matter is that overhead pressing has become something of a lost art because of the bench press, and as a result so many problems have occurred. Therefore, the fact that you are interested in increasing overhead strength is definitely something to be commended for, as so many people seem to have lost their connection to the lift. 

Please believe, however, that achieving a higher overhead Press won't just make you strong at vertical pressing. In fact, most people who have a strong overhead Press almost always have strong horizontal presses. Some overhead Press specialists ever out-bench pretty strong benchers, when they don't even train the damn lift! What does this tell us about overhead pressing strength? That's right, it's the fact that it has great carryover to other presses. That's why strongmen who focus primarily on vertical pressing strength are some of the strongest benchers of all time. With this in mind, choosing the overhead specialty route can be a great investment for the development of general strength.

Without further ado, let's talk about the overhead specialist's expectations. This is the guy who will focus primarily on vertical pulls and presses. His goal is to get really strong on all the main overhead pressing variations, in addition to the supplemental movements that accompany them. Physique-wise, he will require boulder shoulders, thick upper pecs, and steel triceps specifically in the long and medial head.

Since this program is all about obliterating weaknesses, we need to understand what weaknesses are present for the overhead Press specialist and how to attack them. Just like the bench press specialist dealt with in the previous chapter, the weaknesses are quite similar, but a lot less complicated. These are about being weak at the bottom, or being weak at the top. Let's discuss them both.

Weak at the Bottom

Usually if you're weak at the bottom of an overhead Press, you just need to get stronger. However, it can sometimes go beyond that. Let's explain why that might be the case.

1) You have weak shoulders.
2) Your bar path is wrong.
3) You are slow. 
4) Not tight enough.
5) Weight is too heavy.

Although the overhead Press presents many possibilities, the solutions to those problems are far less complex than those of the bench press specialist. In fact, this section will probably be short, relative to some of the other sections.

1) Weak Shoulders

For reason #1, you must increase the strength of your shoulders. Since the shoulders are heavily worked at the bottom of the press, you must find movements that train bottom position strength.

The first and most obvious method is to simply modify your grip. If you fully extend you arms forward at shoulder width, THAT is where you should be gripping the bar. If you grip any closer, the press will focus on the triceps far too much, which will detract from the goal of developing the shoulders. Go too wide on the grip, and you may start to feel shoulder discomfort, in addition to not maximizing your vertical pressing leverages. Remember, THE OVERHEAD PRESS IS NOT A BENCH PRESS, which means that there's less leeway for grip opportunities.

The second method to develop that bottom shoulder strength is to start utilizing PAUSE REPS. If you do not pause your overhead presses, you will place far too much stress on the triceps, because the initial bounce should almost always be enough to get you to the midpoint. What happens with touch-and-go reps is your triceps become the limiting factor every time, which creates an entirely new weak point that you don't need. If you pause on all your overhead presses, you will learn how to EXPLODE off that initial concentric (upward) push with the shoulders, causing you to develop real overhead pressing strength, rather than the 'strength' developed by using touch-and-go reps. Please be aware that this concept only applies to overhead pressing and not the bench press. This is because the bench press begins with an eccentric (lowering), and ends with the concentric (raising). So in the case of the bench press, touch-and-go reps are fine when appropriate because energy is stored at the bottom whether you are pausing or not. You also have the stretch reflex on the bench press. In the overhead press, however, you don't have this luxury because you start from a dead stop every single time. In many ways the bench press can be considered the upper body equivalent of a squat, while the overhead press is the upper body equivalent of a deadlift. So make sure you pause your overhead presses.

The third step is to begin using special exercises that build bottom strength automatically. Most of these movements are supplemental, although some can be main movements as well. They must also be hard, harder than the conventional overhead press. Examples would include the log press, press behind neck, dumbbell shoulder pressing variations, Z press, viking press, landmine press, Bradford press, incline pressing variations and handstand pushups. You can also do awkward exercises such as sandbag presses, keg presses and block and stone presses. Just for your information, those weird lifts were not included in the supplemental table because they can be very dangerous and impractical for a lot of guys. Use them at your own risk. Moreover, you can also do bottom partials on the standing press with heavier weights, which would act as a nice overloading tool for the shoulders.

Finally, be sure to utilize the repetition method as much as you possibly can, because gaining bigger shoulders will make stronger shoulders. The repetition method will also stimulate that Strongman effect, as competition strongmen are often required to perform max reps of overhead exercises. Since the shou8lders also have you using less weight, increasing volume through additional reps will be a great way to even out your total vertical pressing workload compared to your benching workload. Using isolation exercises for high reps usually works best. I've also found that shoulder press variations for higher reps are also very good.   

The point is, you MUST acquire bigger and stronger shoulders if you wish to get increased bottom overhead pressing strength. As mentioned before, you literally have no choice, because you begin the movement at a dead stop, thus making strong shoulders extremely necessary.

2) Incorrect Bar Path

For reason #2, you simply need to learn proper form. If all you do is Press in the front of the body, the front delts will have to do most of the work which prevents you from maximizing total shoulder power. Instead, you need to press in such a way that the bar is almost gliding up against your nose. Doing so will mimic a perfectly vertical bar path, which is the shortest distance between two points. Once the weight reaches the forehead, you simply push your head through which will cause the weight to be aligned with your spine rather than in front of your head. Biomechanically, this is the best way to overhead press as it not only decreases range of motion (which obviously makes the bottom easier), but it also allows you to use your delts in a more complete way, which will prevent injuries and cause your shoulders to grow as they should be growing.

Additionally, if your elbows are too far forward in front of the bar, the overhead press becomes an awkward overhead JM press movement, which is never going to work with big poundages. It's like trying to do a low rack press with the barbell set on your balls. It's just a shitty way of pressing, period. For these reasons, you must ensure that the wrists, elbows, and shoulders are always perfectly aligned. Not doing so completely destroys the bar path, which will kill the numbers that you can put up.

3) You're Too Slow

How dare you be slow at overhead pressing! Luckily, there are some solutions for you.

The first solution, just as it was in the bench press section, is to utilize some form of DEAD STOP TRAINING. Pausing your overhead Press would be a good start, but it can go a step further. You can always implement collision training, such as the rack pins at neck level (basically, the Z press), or by using boxes by your sides so you can replicate a floor press but in a vertical fashion. Anything that can force an explosive element of training from the bottom of the Press is what you're looking for here.

The second solution is to utilize accommodating resistance. Now, using accommodating resistance might be a bit trickier on the overhead press, but it's certainly possible. For instance, if you wish to use chains you have two options. You can either perform your overhead presses seated on a bench or the floor, which would leave the chains unloaded at the bottom and heavy at the top. Or, you can perform regular standing presses, but utilize the longer chains. In these ways you can still acquire the benefits that chains have to offer.

You can also use bands (mixing with kettlebells is really good, and teaches tightness too) from the bottom to the top, which will act in similar ways to chains. The difference between bands and chains is the setup, because bands can be a real bitch to set up on an overhead press. Bands might also change the bar path because of the 'smith machine effect', which can theoretically add less carryover than the chains. However, they still work perfectly fine for hypertrophy gains.

The third solution is to use dynamic effort training. Dynamic overhead pressing is highly underrated, and seldom performed. You'll hear a lot about dynamic bench pressing, but rarely dynamic overhead pressing. I find this strange because it can be quite effective when done right. What I would recommend is that you perform behind the neck push presses at 65-75%, using the typical 8 sets of 3 reps setup with 30-60 second rest intervals. This will give you the best explosive power you can ever hope to achieve for vertical pressing. Standard front and behind the neck presses, with regular push presses can work too, but I would definitely advise that you give dynamic behind the neck push presses a try.

4) Not Tight Enough

The problem of not being tight usually stems from incorrect rack setup. If the weight is too high in the rack, you'll most likely have to muscle the bar out, which will lead to form breakdown from the get-go because tightness must be achieved before you unrack the bar. If the bar rack is st too low, getting the right position might feel awkward because of the initial dip, which can ruin elbow placement, back tightness, and the bar's pressing path.

For these reasons you need to set the rack at precisely the point at which you press, which is either going to be the upper pec region, or directly under the chin. This will allow you to squeeze your back as hard  as you can before the weight is even picked out of the power rack. This technique will also cushion your biceps hard against your forearms, and your elbows against your lats. You will have essentially created an environment where maximum pressing stability can be achieved, which ALWAYS leads to a stronger press off the chest. The back should feel as tight as when you are doing a front squat, with thoracic extension being 100% maxed out.

If you have trouble achieving this type of tightness, the best way to learn is by utilizing many vertical pulling exercises. Remember how I said that you need to always train the opposite of whatever movement pattern you currently perform? [earlier in the book]. Well, if you always do vertical presses, then you need to counteract that with vertical pulls. You can  see all the vertical pull exercises in the accessory upper table [elsewhere in the book]. For example, if you look at a weighted pullup, it's essentially an overhead press in reverse. It's literally the exact same thing, which is perfect to developing that overhead pressing tightness. Get mad strong on all your vertical pulls (using dead-stops and full ROM) and tightness will no longer be an issue.

5) Weight Is Too Heavy

Guys, again I'm going to talk about this, because I feel that this is such an under-looked aspect of strength training. If you can't even move the barbell an inch off the initial concentric, then you're lifting too damn heavy! Stop trying to find that magic secret to your so-called weakness and just get fucking stronger. Is that so hard to understand? For instance, if you can't even break a deadlift off the floor, it doesn't mean that you need to do deficit deadlifts or whatever special exercise may exist, but rather that you need to lighten the weight and lift weights that you are actually capable of lifting. Ego lifting is never the answer, and will ALWAYS FAIL. Backtrack a little bit, and do the shit right. Use lighter percentages if you have to. Now that my rant is out of the way, let's move on to the second weakness of the overhead press, which is being weak at the top.

Weak At The Top

Remember in the bench press specialist section, how I said that 95% of lifters simply needed more bottom strength? Well, with the overhead press it's actually quite common to have a weak lockout. Why is this more frequent than the bench press? It's because we now have a third element of pressing, which is shoulder flexion. This places a large amount of stress on the long head of the triceps, which requires an extra need for triceps strength. Since most people have lagging long heads, it's no wonder why the top of an overhead press is so much harder than the top of a bench press.

Also, in the bench press the range of motion can decrease substantially depending on how much you arch and depending on the bar path. With the overhead press there is no arch, causing a much deeper range of motion to occur, and the bar path can't be manipulated that much because doing so will affect leverages in a negative manner. In these ways, it's not uncommon to see people failing an overhead press once it has passed the top of their skull. I've seen this happen countless times, and have also failed at this precise location. Besides the previously addressed acceleration and technique problems, let's now look at weak triceps and how to improve them.

1) Weak Triceps

As briefly stated before, the triceps are stretched in an overhead position, which creates an added need for long head work. Since the medial head of the triceps must also be thoroughly developed, there needs to be attention devoted to both areas. By the way, if you're into bodybuilding this section is going to be very useful to you, much like the bench press specialist who requires more triceps strength.

The first and most obvious way to train the triceps is by using overloading principles for the top of the overhead press. This means heavy push pressing variations, overhead pin presses, partials, Dick's presses, and accommodating resistance. This will really force you to push through that sticking point at the tip so that when you go back to regular pressing you'll fly right through it.

The second method is to train the triceps by using heavy overhead extensions. If you do horizontal extensions to improve your bench press, then it definitely makes sense to use vertical extensions for your overhead press. Plus, the extra stretch on the long head of the triceps will be very important if we wish to maximize overhead triceps strength. For this reason, any extension where you bring the bar behind the head is going to work. This can include all overhead extension variations whether done with barbells or dumbbells, in addition to doing flat extensions behind the head done on a bench or the floor. The point here is that if you can really build triceps isolation strength from the back of the head, I promise you that your lockouts will be substantially easier. 

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