Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Overhead Pressing Power/Strength Movements - Mike Waller

The purpose of this article is to discuss the execution of overhead pressing movements, from the shoulder press to the split jerk. There are numerous exercises and their variations that have been used by individuals in their strength and conditioning programs for increasing upper extremity pressing strength. Although the bench press tends to be a staple, standing overhead pressing exercises can be an alternative in strength and conditioning programs. Additionally, standing overhead pressing requires the upper extremity to generate the pressing force while using the lower extremity to generate a stabilizing force. The action of raising a load over a person's head will change the center of gravity, increasing the distance from the base, thus decreasing stability.

It is not within the proper scope of this article to discuss every selectorized machine, plate-loading machine, strongman-style press (log, stone, etc.), benches, or the other assorted applications on the commercial market. Therefore, this article approaches the subject and the necessity of a closed kinetic chain (CKC), with feet in contact with the ground, when performing overhead pressing while standing.

The importance of overhead pressing in a standing position is its applicability to a majority of sports because most sports tend to be played from a standing position and require some upper extremity strength. Movement of the feet will influence the lower extremity CKC if the athlete is performing a push jerk that has some minimal lateral foot movement versus the greater forward and backward movement of a split jerk. Instructions of the split jerk will be discussed later, which will allow for clarity of its motion. It should also be noted that as the load (intensity) or complexities of the presses are increased through training, the lower extremity CKC will require an increased utilization of the lower extremity musculature to accelerate and stabilize the body.

The law of action-reaction (Newton's third law) states that the effects that one body exert on another are counteracted by the effects that the second body exert on the first. Applying this law to overhead presses, a person's lower extremities are pushing against the ground with equal force. As the load increases in a standing press, the isometric action of the legs will have to increase. If the press is a power movement such as a push jerk, then the lower extremities will have to exert greater concentric forces to generate the upward vertical power necessary. The preceding descriptions are to lay the foundation of some of the variables that should be considered when coaching these lifts. This study is set in an order of progression with each overhead pressing exercise building upon the other.

Barbell Overhead Press

Starting Position
The shoulder press, which requires a person to learn how to move their head around the bar, should be taught first to develop a movement pattern that will be needed to finish a push press. The most effective method to set up the shoulder press is to start with the bar resting on squat stands or power rack cradles at a height around the upper chest level. If a person is capable of obtaining a Clean rack position, then use this to remove the bar from the stands. The bar should ideally rest across the upper pectorals, clavicles, and deltoids while being balanced by the hands. However, if a person cannot hold the bar across their anterior deltoids, they will need to hold the bar as close as possible to their chest while supporting the bar with flexed elbows and wrists or as much as flexibility will allow. Knees should be extended and torso straight.

There should be an inhalation to elevate the shoulders and chest prior to pressing the bar upward while extending the elbows and flexing the shoulders. Press the bar until the elbows are fully extended and the bar is directly over the shoulders. As soon as the bar is being pressed, the lifter moves his head back around the bar. After the bar is above the head, the head should be pushed forward. The legs remain straight throughout the ascension of the bar until the elbows are at full extension.

Recovery from the fully-pressed position is a controlled lowering of the bar with the arms until it reaches the anterior deltoids. Once the bar touches the shoulders, the legs may be used to further decelerate the weight of the bar but should not bend beyond a 1/4-squat position. The bar should be returned to the starting position using an explosive front squat action.

Behind the Neck Press (using Clean, Snatch, or Midpoint Grips)

The next exercise that should be taught is the Behind-Neck-Press, which allows a lifter to keep his back neutral while the bar rests on the upper trapezius.

Starting Position
A lifter may choose from three grip styles: the clean grip, the snatch grip, or a grip somewhere in the middle of these two. The most efficient method to set up the behind the neck press is to start with the bar resting on squat stands or or power rack cradles at a height that puts the bar close to the upper trapezius while holding the bar with the hands similar to a bar position used when squatting. The bar is removed from the rack as if a squat was going to be performed except the lifter's knees and torso remain straight. If a person has tight internal rotators or pectoral musculature from excessive bench pressing, then obtaining this starting position may be difficult. The addition of stretching and mobility exercises to improve elasticity and function of these muscles will need to be implemented.

To establish a solid base for the press, contract the lower extremity musculature hard, including the gluteals, in conjunction with tightening the abdominal musculature to establish a solid base for support. Push the feet into the floor and then press the bar upward. Focus on controlled elbow extension and shoulder abduction, with maximal force/effort through the arms and hands.

Recovery from the full-pressed position is a controlled lowering of the bar with the arms until it reaches the trapezius. If necessary, use the legs to decelerate the bar with the previously described squatting action. One repetition maximums should be avoided with this exercise as lowering the weight in an uncontrolled manner could place undue stress on the glenohumeral joint capsule. A dropping of the bar could also pose risk to the vertebra should the lifter fail and drip the bar on the cervical neck area opposed to the upper trapezius, which can add in cushioning the bar impact. The behind neck press is most appropriately used for establishing range of motion of the shoulder joint capsule and strength in that range, which can add to overhead stability when performing snatch lifts. The additional benefit of the behind neck press is that it allows an athlete to perform a pressing motion without having to worry about hitting their chin or head with the bar. These two basic pressing movements, the barbell overhead press and the behind the neck press, are important for developing upper extremity strength production.

Push Press

The next lift in overhead pushing progression is the push press. It is similar to the shoulder press with the exception that the legs are used to help initiate upward movement of the bar.

Starting Position
The most efficient setup method is exactly the same as the shoulder press, where the lifter removes the bar from its resting location on squat stands or power rack cradles. It will be necessary for the lifter to use a Clean grip and rack the bar across the anterior deltoids with the knees and torso straight.

Ascent (Dip & Drive)
The lifter will contract his abdominal musculature prior to a forceful inhalation to elevate the shoulders and chest. Immediately after this raise of the shoulders, there should be a quick 1/4 to 1/5 squat, also called the "dip," with a very rapid change in direction upward, generating vertical power "drive." The bar will continue its upward motion from the continued application of force through the flexion of the elbow and shoulder. The push press is finished when the bar is pressed out with full elbow extension. The bar should be directly over the shoulders, with no re-bending of the knees. During the upward movement of the bar, the lifter pushes his head through the arm-space until slightly forward of the arms. This forward motion of the head is achieved by thrusting the chin anteriorly as the bar clears the head while at the same time continuing shoulder flexion and moving the arms slightly posteriorly to place the bar directly over the shoulders. This is not a jerk. There is a press-out after the initial drive.

Recovery from the fully pressed position is a controlled lowering of the bar with the arms until it reaches the upper chest and anterior deltoids. The knees bend to assist the decelerating of the bar as it is received. Once the movement is learned, the load on the bar will typically be greater than the weight used for a shoulder press because of the use of the legs to initiate the action. This exercise is an explosive strength exercise as there is a component of speed associated with the generation of upward vertical displacement of the bar.

Push Jerk/Power Jerk

The push jerk or power jerk are names that have been used to describe the same exercise that is executed in the same manner as the push press with the exception during the pressing phase of the lift.

Ascent (Dip & Drive)
As a lifter explosively presses the barbell upward, he will simultaneously push himself under the bar in a "jump down" motion. When his arms are straight (elbows at full extension and shoulders at full flexion) to catch the bar overhead, the knees will be slightly flexed in a 1/4 squat position.

After the lifter catches the bar, he will stand up and demonstrate approximately two seconds of control with the bar in the overhead position, the the bar is lowered back to the rack position across the anterior deltoids. It should be noted that with maximal attempts bumper plates should be used so the lifter can use a control drop of the bar to the platform. Spotters on either side of the lifter can assist by grabbing the end of the bar when lowering it from the overhead position back to the rack position. If jerk boxes (stands) are used, then the bar is lowered to the boxes at the completion of the jerk in a controlled fall. Jerk boxes can be a 3-foot long, 2-foot wide wooden box or metal stand whose height can be adjusted according to the lifter.

Split Jerk

Starting Position
The split jerk is a progression from the push jerk with the difference being that instead of pushing the body under the bar into the squat position, a split foot stance position will be used. Primarily, the split jerk is used for weightlifting, although the use of moving the feet in a cyclic split jump pattern may prove beneficial to athletes in other sports requiring a similar lower extremity motion. A cyclic split jump is the motion of one leg forward while the opposing leg is moving backward. A continual execution of these leg movements would result in the action of bounding. Therefore, inclusion of the split jerk may enhance the muscular stiffness of the legs, improving bounding efficiency.

At this point in the pressing progression, the lifter should have the pressing phase well established. The next part in learning the split jerk is determining which foot will go forward and and which will go backward. The easiest way to determine the proper lead foot is to ask the lifter to walk toward you. Typically, he will step first with the dominant leg, which would be the natural choice of lead leg in the split.

Ascent (Dip & Drive with Split Variation)
The split motion is performed by a quick hip flexion of the lead leg and quick hip extension of the rear leg. The impact of both feet should occur at the same time with the front foot landing flat and the rear foot landing on the ball of the foot. Both knees should be slightly flexed and approximately hip width for maximal lateral stability. As in the jerk press, the legs will not only act as decelerators but will also have to be able to move quickly out of the way if a press is missed. The barbell should not move forward or backward but rather follow a strict vertical path.

Recovery from the split foot position is done by extending the front knee with a small step back followed by a step forward by the rear leg. If the steps by the feet are consistent, the lifter's feet should be close to parallel with each other when standing vertical. If the feet are not close to parallel, the lifter should then take some time to correct this error. The coach or lifter may choose to alternate the lead leg with repeated repetitions of the split jerk. This should be based on the overall goal of the athlete.

Snatch Grip Presses

Snatch grip style presses are beneficial for improving overall shoulder girdle strength and can aid in improving the ability to catch the Snatch lift. Snatch grip presses are performed in the same functionary manner as the traditional Clean grip press motions with the exception of the bar's starting/resting position.

Starting Position
The snatch grip press has the bar resting on the upper trapezius of the lifter, BEHIND THE HEAD AND NECK. A large difference between this lift and the clean grip press is that the lifter will not need to move the head as much, as the bar placement will allow vertical motion to be largely unimpeded. Regardless of the specific lift, the bar is held overhead with the muscles (middle trapezius, rhomboids, and teres major) around the shoulder blades isometrically contracted, elbows locked, and the bar's line of force directly over the shoulder. The contraction of the muscles around the shoulder blade will provide stability to the posterior side of the upper body to hold the barbell in place.

During the recovery of the snatch grip press, it is advisable to have spotters on either side of the bar if possible, to assist lowering the weight back to the lifter's start position, especially when using near-maximal loads. This assistance will decrease the chance of a shoulder injury during the eccentric phase of the lift as the bar returns behind the neck. However, as mentioned, when lowering the bar the lifter should use the legs to absorb the weight and not rely entirely on the shoulder musculature.

Each of the presses has specific errors that can take place but there are some that may occur more commonly and may be seen in any of the presses. Table 2 lists some of the common errors that can occur in any of the respective pressing motions along with possible corrective actions that can be used by the coach and/or lifter to assist in development.

Dumbbells and Kettlebells

All the previously mentioned overhead movements can be done with dumbbells (DB) or kettlebells (KB) with relatively the same technique. The differences arise from the motions being unilateral instead of bilateral, with unilateral overhead exercises requiring an increase in shoulder and arm stabilization. Load application using the DB or KB will be less than that used during barbell overhead work because of the individual distribution of the implements. The position of the implements while being held will vary, but the general adaptation will be the same. Using DB and KB variations is an alternative, as well, if adequate space is not available. As the lifter becomes more proficient with the exercises, it may be prudent to progress to a barbell because heavier loads can be used and the addition of a rack saves the lifter's energy for more complex and intense exercises, eliminating the need to lift a training implement from the floor. Ideally, bilateral as well as unilateral exercises should be performed at various times in training.

Table 1 -
Potential Limiting Factors in Flexibility, with Recommended Corrective Stretches:
The tight musculature with limited active range of motion is listed first, followed by the corrective stretches.

Calves, Ankles - ankle rolls, wall static dorsiflexion.

Hamstrings/Knee Extension and Hip Flexion - seated double leg raise, supine single leg raise with rope or band.

Quadriceps/Knee Flexion and Extension - prone knee flexion with rope, standing quadriceps knee flexion.

Glutes/Hip Flexion and Extension - 1/2 kneeling hip flexor stretch, supine figure 4 piriformis.

Low Back/Spinal Flexion and Extension - supine double knees to chest, prone push-ups.

Thoracic Muscles/Trunk Flexion, Extension, and Rotation - seated torso rotation, cat-cows.

Pectoralis/Horizontal Shoulder Abduction and Shoulder Flexion - single arm wall chest stretch, stick dislocates.

Biceps/Elbow Extension - stick over shoulder extension, partner assisted static elbow extension.

Forearm Muscles/Wrist Flexion and Extension - static wall wrist extension, static wall wrist flexion.


Table 2 -
Pressing Errors and Corrective Actions:
the technique error is listed first, followed by the potential corrective actions.

Not Locking the Elbows - partial press-outs from power rack.

Catching the Bar with Bent Elbows - push-press/jerks with lighter load.

Hyperextension of the Back During the Press - strengthen the trunk musculature and improve hip/low back musculature.

Pressing the Bar Forward of the Shoulders - improve pectoral flexibility, strengthen scapular stabilizers, train with behind the neck pressing.

Prolonged Time (>1 second ) to change direction during a push press/jerk - practice the change of direction during the push movement with lighter load.

Moving the Bar Around the Head - perform shoulder press emphasizing moving the bar around the head.

Not Pausing and Holding the Bar Overhead for a Full Second - perform pressing motions with a timed hold.

Taking an Unnecessary Step Forward or Backward - focus on the path of the bar with a lighter load.

Dropping the Elbows During the Dip of the Push Press - front squats, strengthen scapular stabilizers, improve anterior shoulder flexibility.

Legs and Feet Planting Prior to the Arms Catching the Bar During a Split - perform behind the neck split jerks, practice split jerk with bar.


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