Friday, April 11, 2008

The One Hand Military Press - Charles Smith

Joe Weider
performing a 95-lb one hand military press

The One Hand Military Press
by Charles A. Smith (1950)
In the New York City Civil Service tests, the physical examination for the Police Department includes the feat of pressing an 80 pound dumbell with the right and left hands. This is the poundage required to pass 100%. At the YMCA where I previously trained myself and others, I knew heaps of guys who thought nothing of making a press with the top weight. With a strong push from he shoulders and bend to the side, the weight was sent aloft with comparative ease. I used to get quite a kick our of watching the Civil Service trainees who could make a one hand push-press with the 80 pound bell, fail dismally to make a one hand military with 35 lbs., after I had explained the difference between a STRICT one hand military press, and the lift which they fondly imagined was identical. Of all those who were able to make a “press” with 80 lbs., not one could make HALF that weight when required to keep to the Military rules. What the Civil Service Commission and instructors labeled a press, was as far away from that description as peace is from this trouble torn world.

The right, or left hand military press is the ONE lift which requires more than just strength of triceps and deltoids. It is a sheer and utter impossibility for you to become a good single hand presser unless you possess the basic bodily power through the practice of the exercises which I outlined in my recent series of articles. The outstanding characteristic of all the record holders and feature performers is their all round muscle force and titanic development. There isn’t a single weak link in the chain of their physical make up. And not only are their bodies firm and strong, but they seem to be men of a determined single-mindedness of purpose and dogged tenacity. The very act of keeping the body strictly erect requires not only power extraordinary in the external obliques, erector spinae, thighs and gluteus maximus, but will power and the desire to succeed well above that of ordinary mortals.

Every strength athlete noted for his power in the single hand press is among the foremost noted for his musculature. Think of them – Bert Assirati, my foster brother, with a strict right hand military of 160 and a left hand military of 145. Sensational superman Marvin Wells with a right hand military of 150. The old timer, Michael Maier, circus strong man who made things difficult when he had himself lashed to a tent pole, and then right hand pressed 150. Stanley Stanczyk, who made reps with 110 and a perfect one hand military press with 130 as a middleweight. World’s heavyweight champion John Davis who makes REPS with 135 lbs. Steve Gob who has, as a light heavy, performed several reps with 100 lbs. – all these men are noted for their outstanding and all round basic bodily power.

The man with the world’s most muscular arms, Melvin Wells, uses this lift, as an exercise, more extensively than any other bodybuilder. It is my HONEST opinion – and I use the word “HONEST” for certain reasons, and my SINCERE opinion, that Wells has the most muscular arms of all time, and I have seen most of them. Just a single, swift glance at the triceps and deltoids of Wells is sufficient to indicate that here is an athlete of outstanding ability and terrible power.

Bert Assirati, perhaps among the world’s three most powerful men, and in Europe regarded as the world wrestling champion is another strength athlete noted for power of arm and speed of reflex. Melvin Wells, tall and muscular, and Bert Assirati, stocky, thick and heavy – two widely divergent types yet both have that lithe cat-like quality about them which men of super power possess in unlimited quantity.

I first saw Melvin Wells in 1948. Looking at him, I felt like the little boy who laid eyes on a giraffe for his first time. Gazing up at the long legs and longer neck the kid exclaimed “There ain’t no such animal.” I took one look at Melvin and said “IMPOSSIBLE.” I just couldn’t imagine how Mel had managed to pack so much muscle on his arms shoulders. Talking to him backstage, he told me had used the One Hand Military press and the press behind neck while seated as the main exercises in his workouts and he believed that that these two exercises were responsible for his arm and shoulder development.

The second occasion I met Melvin I happened to be in the dressing room of St. Nick’s arena in New York City. Davis and Wells were shooting the bull about weight training and Wells asked Davis what he thought was a good exercise for the triceps and deltoids. Johnny asked him, “ain’t you been doing some one hand militaries?” “Yes,” replied Melvin, “but they don’t seem to be doing anything for me.” Johnny and I looked at one another and laughed for we found such modesty refreshing after some of the other Muscle Strutters shenanigans. “What have you been using,” asked Davis, and Wells replied, “Well, I’ve been making nine or ten reps with 120 pounds three of four sets but they don’t seem to produce anymore.” Both Davis and I, as we both stood gazing at the masses of muscle and the ropelike structure of the deltoids, couldn’t help thinking how was it possible that this man could try and improve when he already looked out of this world. Titanic as his musculature was, yet Melvin wasn’t satisfied . . . humbly and modestly, he didn’t think of himself as being in any way outstanding.

Another story which I heard about Wells and which I am sure you would like to hear, concerns a time when he and Val Pasqua, Kimon Voyages and their buddies were going to some show. The talk naturally got around to war experiences and the pleasurable (?) moments undergone in basic training. Wells remarked that out of 3,000 men he was the only one who could press 100 pounds. Kim and Val glanced at one another, silently asking if Melvin had been hitting the weed.
“Do you mean to tell me,” said Val, “that out of the 3,000 G.I.’s you were the only one who could press 100 pounds with two hands?” “On no,” said Mel, apologetically, “I mean with one hand.” In the roars of laughter which ensued, several bar flies bought their own beer.
Let’s get onto the serious side of this article. I’ve told you the above yarns just to let you see what degrees of strength and muscle you can develop with a single exercise. Now, this series of articles is not only for the bodybuilder, it’s for the lifter too. Every lift of exercises which I will write about, I shall also quote the rules. Too many men are going around these days claiming lifts to which they are not entitled. We hear of 200 pound curls – one guy, slightly stronger than Davis, claims a 220 pound curl and 8 REPS WITH THREE HUNDRED POUNDS in the Continental press at a bodyweight of 170 or so. Some of these athletes genuinely believe that they have performed this or that lift because they are ignorant of the actual rules. One man claims a terrific one hand deadlift because he lifted the weight about 2 inches off the floor. Others have fantastic bench presses bolstering their shaky prestige, bench presses in which anything went, short of using a derrick. Now to my way of thinking, this is all wrong. Granted that a loose style or cheating methods have a tremendous value in accustoming the body to use heavier weights, and building up power and thickness of physique, but the practice of these methods does not entitle the bodybuilder or lifter to claim he has made a genuine lift in the style which he practices in training. There is only one way to lift in competition and record attempts, and that is in according to the rules, and until those rules are altered to conform to a looser style then we should dismiss as illegal all lifts made outside the framework of those rules. Just as in our relations with others who dwell on this earth, we are governed by certain rules of conduct, so are we governed in our athletic conduct.

The AAU weightlifting committee recognizes only the 7 International lifts – the two hands press, snatch, clean and jerk, and the one hand snatch and clean and jerk with right and left hands. This is of course the sensible thing to do for unless our athletes who compete specialize in these lifts, we will rapidly lose our position as leader in the world of weights. So I must turn to England and the British Amateur Weightlifters Association in order to provide you with rules governing the right and left hand Military press. I will now quote them:

The dumbell, the only appliance permitted, shall be taken to the shoulder with either one or two hands, and, after a pause of two seconds, the expiration of which shall be indicated by a referee be a sharp clap with both hands, pressed to arm’s length overhead. At the commencement of the press, the bar shall not be held higher than the top of the sternum where the collar bones meet, and the feet, if separated, must be placed not wider than 15 ¾ inches, on a plane parallel with the lifters front with the knees firmly braced, and the body and head held in an upright position (the eyes looking directly to the front). During the press from the shoulder, no sagging or turning of the trunk, movement of the feet or bending of the legs shall be permitted and the movement must be a steady press to arm’s length with the shoulders kept level throughout.
You will note that the lifter is allowed to make the clean to the shoulder with two hands. When it comes to making a choice between cleaning with one or two hands, then I will plump for a two handed clean because the lifter will save energy for the press proper. The above rules are so clear as to what one ma or may not do that it would be impossible to improve on them.

In Bill Pullum’s comprehensive book, “Weight Lifting Made Easy And Interesting,” the lifter is advised to swing the dumbell to arm’s length, the reason given is that when the weight is lowered to the shoulder it is received better. This is pretty sound reasoning as anyone who practices the bench press will recognize. The favorite method in bench pressing is holding the weight at arm’s length above the chest, then lowering the weight and immediately pressing it as soon as it touches the chest. Try pressing weight off the chest, and then in the manner described above and you will see what I mean. One is able to keep a “contraction” on the deltoids and triceps in preparation for the press proper.
As soon as the dumbell is at the shoulder the referee will give you the signal with a hand clap and your press starts then. Resist any tendency to lean over to the side, or backwards, and concentrate on ramming the weight overhead. It would be wise if you determined the range of your sticking point, the exact or near-exact point where the weight might start to slow up. When you have determined this position, then the practice of tilting the bell backwards slightly will help you to keep the momentum steady and constant. Note – don’t tilt the weight back from the beginning of the press. The bell should have no backhang until you feel it is slowing up. Then, slightly canting it back will help you lock the arms without risking disqualification by back bending or side bending. When the weight is at arm’s length the referee will clap his hands, and the bell can then be lowered. 

Training For And With The One Hand Military Press

Exercise 1
So much for the actual lift. Now we have arrived at a more general use of the right or left hand military press. As an exercise in the bodybuilder’s schedule, it is one of the finest for inducing more size, shape and strength. AND don’t separate these qualities. It is not necessary to keep to the loft itself in our training. There are many versions of the right or left hand military which can be used to gain the sweep of deltoid and triceps. First let me tell you of a little known exercise, the brain-child of Joe Hise. Joe claims that his version of the one hand military will build you up deltoids as big as watermelons and triceps like footballs. He might be exaggerating a bit but give it a try and you will find the results are most gratifying. Grab hold of a pipe support, or the edge of a door casing. Keep the arm fully extended and LOCKED. With the weight held in at the shoulder, drop slightly over to one side and, returning to upright position at the same time as you press the weight and bend over A LITTLE to the “extended arm side.” When the weight arrives at arm’s length, drop it down to the shoulder again bending over slightly to that side, and , getting a rebound, press it overhead again IMMEDIATELY. Putting all the above detail in as few words as possible, you use a REBOUNDING press with a slight hip rocking. Start off with a weight which you can easily handle five reps and make four sets of the exercise. Add a single rep to each set every week until you have reached TEN REPS, four sets. Then increase the weight by ten pounds and recommence at five reps, four sets again.

Exercise 2
The method of holding onto a support or door casing, or even placing the hand against a wall, can also be employed in using the actual version of the one hand military, as a firm brace for the body while pressing. I you so desire, you need not place the extended hand against the wall or grasp a support. You can lean the NON pressing shoulder against a wall and obtain the necessary support in this manner. In using the actual press, I have found results more productive when a high number of reps and a relatively light weight are used. Start off with a weight you can make ten reps with, and work up to 15 to 20 reps each arm, 3 sets. Concentrate on STRICT FORM when using this version.

Exercise 3
It is not essential that you confine yourself to single hand pressing. Using both arms and a PAIR of dumbells will help you build up the shoulders and your single arm military. The best exercise is the two dumbells press whole seated. Again it is essential that you keep as strict a position as possible. Use a padded bench, placing it against a pole or girder so that you can lean or press the entire back against it for support. If such a post or girder isn’t handy, then get your training partner to place his foot on the bench, and rest your back against his lower leg. Press the dumbells together using the rebound method of pressing. Start off with a weight you can easily handle for 8 reps and work up to 12 reps. Use four sets with this exercise.

Exercise 4
A very valuable muscle movement, and one which will build up tremendous sustaining power in the entire shoulder girdle is the following: Test yourself and see what is the best poundage you can make in pressing two dumbells from the shoulders. Take this weight and jerk it overhead, and then lower the dumbells as slowly as you can resisting the bells every inch of the way. DON’T let them gain control. YOU must control the speed or pace of lowering. As soon as the dumbells arrive at the shoulder again, jerk them overhead at once and repeat the slow, CONTROLLED lowering. As you lower the weight, allow the elbows to travel OUT, and when the UPPER arms are LEVEL with the shoulders, TRY and hold them there before the dumbells reach jerking position. Concentrate as much as you can on lowering the weight, so that every inch of the way you have it under control and are able to STOP at any point on the way down. Start off with 5 reps, four sets, and work up to four sets of 10 reps before ten pounds to each bell.

Once a month, try yourself out and see if you limit has improved, If at any time you reach an actual sticking point, take a week or two’s lay off. 

Next month, right and left handed deadlift and developing exercises.

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