Monday, July 17, 2017

Russian Methods of Training the Press - Charles A. Smith (1952)

Gregory Novak

This next article is once again courtesy of Liam Tweed.

Russian Methods of Training the Press
by Charles A. Smith (1952)

Perhaps the most important section of this "Press" series comes with the present chapter. The author has done all he could, within his limited knowledge, to give you an overall picture of the qualities that determine whether a man is a "natural" presser of just another lifter. By careful study of the preceding chapters*, you should have a good idea of the style you must use . . . the hand spacing, foot spacing, breathing, and all the other many factors that will help you get the most out of your physical equipment when you have to press a heavy barbell to arms length.

*Other Articles by Charles Smith in This Series on the Press: 

Now comes the job of comparing the styles of the various lifting nations, and the training methods by which you can help bring your Press up to compare favorably with the Snatch, and the Clean and Jerk. In the previous chapter, I touched briefly on the method of pressing used by some Egyptian lifters and now, in this chapter I will deal with the style and training programs of one of the greatest lifters the world has seen . . . the Russian, Gregory Novak.

It is customary in bodybuilding articles to repeat a certain slogan . . . "Schedules will not work unless you do," and the same applies to Olympic lifting. Unless you are prepared to work HARD and OFTEN, then forget about any sensational or even satisfactory pressing gains. I am aware that a lot of words have been spoken and written about certain weight training methods. These methods may or may not have all the qualities claimed for them. But the fact remains that once your coach has smoothed out the rough edges of your technique, he can do nothing more for you . . . given of course the fact that you are a normally healthy and intelligent individual. What you become thereafter depends entirely on . . . YOU, and the extent to which you are prepared to work. Once you have acquired a lifting technique, then you are more or less on your own. You have to to think for yourself.

There is no other lift that responds to hard work like the Press. Most lifters train three times a week and press each time they train, but you need have no fear of going stale if you press every day, two and three times a day. THE SECRET OF PRESSING SUCCESS IS TO PRESS.

Ronald Walker of England, who held onto the Two Hands Snatch record for so many years, used this pressing method . . . he rammed a barbell every time he passed by one. At the beginning of his career, Walker expressed satisfaction in being able to press a weight of 175 pounds and said his ambition was to eventually make 200. Ron has the British Press record still, with a poundage of 282.5 and I do not doubt that if he were alive, the record would stand at well over 300. Only his persistent training and conscientious methods brought his Press up.

In these days of advanced methods and plentiful equipment, there is no reason why 99% of lifters should not be able to press their bodyweight. The increasing popularity of the bench and incline bench exercises and the universal practice of the bench press has in my opinion increased the standard of physical development and lifting. Records are soaring almost every day. Each time an International contest or National championship takes place, you have a new spate of pressing records. The reason is because of the intensified Press specialization that every champion lifter indulges in. Modern lifters are not merely content with the orthodox style. They also use bench and incline presses extensively. They are not content to maintain the "old time" three-a-week workout routine. They press whenever opportunity presents itself. They use not only the Olympic Press, but also dumbbell work and the aforementioned bodybuilders' presses.

Every prominent champion trains along these lines . . . Davis . . . DiPietro . . . Su Il Nam . . . Touni . . . Fayad . . . Namdjou and  . . . NOVAK. The Russian is another lifter who presses daily, and the efficiency of his methods and the style of pressing . . . incidentally, universal throughout the Russian lifting world, is responsible for his steady progress, halted only during the past 18 months by injuries.

Let us trace the early pressing career of the Mighty Novak. On April 15th, 1940, Novak, lifting as a middleweight, pressed 268.75 pounds. From that time to the present, he has brought his Press up to an unofficial lift of 320.25. Naturally, his weight has also increased at the same time, but the point I am trying to make is that there has been a STEADY and PROLONGED rise in pressing ability. When Novak commenced competition lifting 1938, he was pressing 237.75 pounds. In two years he jumped his record to 268.75 via poundages of 240 . . . 243 . . . 253.75 . . . 259.25 . . . 260.25 . . . 265.75.

Novak presses every day. On his regular training nights he works out for two to three hours performing innumerable repetitions on the Two Hands Snatch, the Jerk, and the Press. On these "three a week" training days he keeps to the three lifts. On the days outside of his regular practice, he presses, working up from low poundage to something approaching his limit. The first lift in his training schedule is the Two Hands Press and in this he follows a similar system to the Egyptians. He starts fairly low and presses three repetitions with each weight, jumping 10 pounds at a time until he is no longer able to squeeze out three reps. Then he goes to two reps and then single reps, stopping 10 pounds short of his best performance. Once a month he tries out his limit and sees what he can do. I am given to understand that Novak also keeps a diary of his workouts and closely evaluates any advances made, or any easing off of progress that occurs.

Now Novak is what I would call a "natural" presser. He has all the advantages that go with superlative pressing performances. He is short . . . (trunk is thick and powerful at the small of the back. He has fairly long upper arms and shorter forearms (in relation to the upper arms). His whole appearance gives you the impression of POWER. There is a thickness to the shoulders and deltoids and the thighs too are rugged and bulging. His clavicles are long for a man of his height and the leverage factors extremely favorable for outstanding pressing. But what makes his a great presser is the fact that he has developed a style that is eminently suited to his particular type of physique. All the Russian lifters use a similar style with moderations according to the lifter's structure.

It is not my intention to deal with the rights and wrongs of his technique. I am forced to admit that if those who judged his presses decided to keep to a strict interpretation of the International rules, they would be bound by those rules to disqualify him. But the same applies to practically EVERY PRESS IN MODERN COMPETITION. Show me the man who presses according to the rules, and I'll show you a SUPERMAN. The plain fact is that it is almost impossible to maintain a "military" or dead upright stance. Every lifter bends his back to some extent and hardy any press "STEADILY." Those officials who do keep to the rules fairly and impartially are distinctly unpopular! There is of course a remedy . . . MODIFY THE PRESENT PRESSING RULES OR ELSE KEEP STRICTLY TO THEM. 

The Russian pressing method is realistic. They acknowledge as an open fact what every other author knows but closes his eyes to . . . that is is utterly impossible to press according to the International rules. There are some fortunate individuals who can . . . they are the exceptions. The Russian trainers realize that it is essential to have a set back to the shoulders. They are not keeping to the rules it is true, but name me ONE official who JUDGES according to the present pressing rules and then you can condemn the Russian style. As much as we may hate the political machinations of the Russians, we as lifters must admit that they are strictly on the ball where our sport is concerned.

The accompanying illustrations (to follow) show, much better than I can tell you, the pressing stance of the foremost Russian lifters. You will note that the hand spacing is wider than the average lifter uses. Thus the deltoids receive a lot more work than they would with a narrower grip . . . that is harder work at the START of the lift. The large majority of Russians use a thumbs around the bar grip with a liberal sprinkling of chalk. The thumbs and forefingers are sometimes taped if the hand happens to be a little on the small side. You will notice that the elbows of Novak slope DOWN and IN, that the latissimus are contracted to provide a firm pressing base. The shoulders are set back and the chest is thrust forward.

When the referee claps for the signal to commence pressing, a deep breath is taken and held throughout the lift. The bar is rammed vertically upward and follows along one line. It does not curve forward or back. It is not "moved" by the lifter in ANY DIRECTION OTHER THAN UP. The entire body is laid along a gentle curve from the shoulders down to the ankles, the greatest portions of the curve being at the hips and chest. The hips and chest are thrust forward. The most important thing to remember about Russian pressing is that the bar moves along ONE vertical line and does not cause a loss of balance by being thrust forward and then back. The only thing wrong with the Russian Press technique is the method of breathing. I DO NOT recommend holding the breath throughout the lift for reasons which I made clear in my chapter on "Breathing During the Press." [see link above]

I would advise you to take as many magazines as possible and study the photos of the lifters appearing in them. Just stick to the pressing photos. See how many lifters, prominent or otherwise, maintain a military position when pressing, and then determine for yourself the presses that were passed without question by the judges. Take a rule book and then pick these presses to pieces. Few of the lifts depicted will merit a "pass" if the rules are obeyed to the letter in judging.

However, it is not my sole intent in this chapter to flay the present rules. Judges give their rulings honestly and in 99.99% of cases with complete fairness. I am merely trying to give you the benefits of the Russian pressing style and their training methods. This style can put pounds on your Press legitimately. You can use that style without fear of being disqualified, safe in the knowledge that it is passed by officials in strict International competition.

Once you get the weight moving, concentrate on keeping it traveling directly UP in the same plane throughout its "time of flight." Don't try and shift it forward or back, for if you use the correct style, you will find this unnecessary. You Press with be strong and sure and your balance steady. Just stand right there and smack that weight to arms length.


Figure 1 - not shown:
The typical Russian stance for the Press. Wider than average grip, the slope down and in of the elbows, and the "set" of the upper arms against the contracted lats. The body is in a gentle curve from heels to head with foremost thrust of the hips.

Figure 2:
The start of the Russian style Press. As the referee claps his hands, the lifter takes a  breath and commences the lift. Note the distinct set back of the shoulders and thrust forward of the elbows.

Figure 3:
Approaching the sticking point the points of the elbows start to turn out allowing the full play of the triceps as the deltoids have just fully contracted. The lifter's breath is held throughout the lift.

Figure 4:
Full power of the triceps now comes into the lift as the barbell is taken to arms length. Note from the first illustration to this, the bar has not moved from the "line of flight." It has been pressed straight up and has not moved either forward or back.

Figure 5:
At the end of the Press, the lifter has followed through with his head. He has also expelled his breath. Russian technique is designed to eliminate all lift losses through faulty balance. 

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