Friday, February 20, 2015

Performance and Posture in the Press - W. A. Pullum (1949)

Alexander Zass; W. A. Pullum

Key work on physical culture by Alexander Zass, the famous strong man born in Vilna, Poland in 1888, but living most of his early years in Russia and after 1924 in Britain. 
With a substantial essay 'Strong Men over the Years' by W. A. Pullum (pp. 9-79). 


W. A. Pullum Index, by David Gentle

Pullum Sports:

Two Training Manuals by W. A. Pullum at Superstrength Books:

Click Pics to ENLARGE

W. A. Pullum
Olympic Games Coach, British Weightlifting Team 1948

For some years now, from all the various forms in which it can be presented, weight-lifting has internationally resolved itself into a trial of "set" competitive performances known as "the Olympic three." They are very simple, actually, these three lifts (Press, Snatch, Clean and Jerk), and it was for this fact as much as anything else that they were originally chosen, it being argued that the less devious and complicated the feat the greater its public appeal was likely to be, owing to the ease of understanding. There was both a logical and psychological appreciation of requirements in this reckoning; how accurate and to what extent being shown by the universal popularity which has invested the choice in question!

Simple as are these lifts, however, their performance still, in many cases, leaves much to be desired, not only from the viewpoint of palpable infringement of the published definitions, but also from the aspect of attitudes and actions which are physically unsound. The first is bad because if official performance rules are not studiously observed and strictly enforced, any achievement under such conditions is obviously one of false values. The second is bad because not only do unsound physical positions limit a man's progress at weight-lifting. They can be dangerous!

The Press

From the technical standpoint, simplest of all three lifts is the Press. Put briefly, official requirements are that the bell shall be brought from the ground to shoulders in one "clean" movement, then -- after a pause of two seconds has elapsed -- pressed slowly overhead to full stretch of arms with the bar remaining level and head and trunk upright throughout the movement. So far as bodily position below the waist is concerned while the press is taking place, the legs must remain firmly braced, and feet -- both in level line -- flat on the ground. All very clear and -- one would think -- easy to carry out according to individual capacity.

Some lifters, however -- champions at that, and internationally famous -- no more press as the rules dictate than if they never existed. They get off to a fast start, and if the assistance obtained by this maneuver is not sufficient to enable the bell to be taken overhead with the head and trunk kept vertical, they incline both backward to a considerable degree. So much so, in some cases, that a plumb-line dropped from the shoulders would contact the ground a foot behind their heels.

National Coach's Success

When champions do these things and "get away with them," it is not to be wondered at that so many lesser lights model their own performances on similar lines. That is why I personally am pleased that we now have a man going all over the country not only showing people HOW lifting should be properly performed, but telling them WHY certain things should be done in the manner he instructs. I am referring here, of course, to Al Murray, the National Coach, who in the relatively short time he has been on the job, has already achieved a high measure of success in his appointed task.

"It would be hard for any individual to match the achievements of Al Murray in the field of physical fitness, to which he devoted his life. The health clubs and gymnasiums which have become so much a part of urban living in the Nineties owe much to the creation of the first Murray Gym in the City of London in the late 1950s; and his later work in pioneering exercise rehabilitation programs for heart attack victims never received the recognition his legion of friends, admirers and disciples felt he deserved."  
 - from the obituary linked above, September 27, 1998.

Where circumstances may require it, Murray can be expected to discourse very educationally on unsound physical actions and positions, owing first to his Service background (he had a distinguished Royal Army Physical Training Corps career during the war), and secondly, to his very thorough hospital training. For example, concerning the Press, some of the things he would probably tell a class are those which I am going to remark on now.

The Press - whatever poundage a man can raise in this lift -- doesn't come anywhere near what he can "pull in clean." There is, therefore, no point in taking practically all night to think about getting it to the shoulders. Such protracted delay is, in fact, the wrong psychological approach, for it persuades the subconscious mind to "accept" or regard the weight as heavier than it really is. A weight, to a lifter, is what if feels -- not necessarily what it actually weighs! Obviously, anything "light" which is essayed in "heavy" fashion is not very good psychology! Not in the circumstances being discussed, anyway.

'Get Set' Recommended

From the point of view of most easily ensuring a good postural start, the "get set" attitude is recommended (see Figure 3 from last month's article, if any reader needs instruction on this.)  

[The article mentioned is in one of these issues-]

Usually, the best position to place the hands for pressing is where they automatically come to the bar (arms hanging free) as the legs are bent in the first instance. The bar can be grasped ordinarily or by "overgrip" (thumbs in line with the fingers). "Mechanically," the latter is actually the more effective of the two, as it ensures the weight being held at the shoulders (when taken in) over the "heel" of each hand -- not just in the fingers (a weak position). Figure 1 shows this weak holding position -- hands at right angles to wrists instead of in line -- elbows consequently higher than they should be. [If this is your normal pressing position, try straightening the wrists while holding the bar and see how your elbow position changes. Also note the more advantageous leverage angles throughout when the wrists are straightened.] 

Click Pics to ENLARGE  

Figure 1: How NOT to hold the bar at the chest for the Press. Bar should be directly over the wrists, NOT at the ends of fingers.

Figure 2: How NOT to try to get past the sticking point. Forward inclination of the head and depression of the chin only tends to increase the difficulty.

Figure 3: How NOT to finish a Press -- or any overhead lift, for that matter. Forcing the bar too far back has inclined the trunk forward correspondingly -- not only a weak position, but a dangerous one.

If posture is to be considered important in bringing a weight to the shoulders which can be taken there with relative ease, it becomes doubly important to ensure that this is correct in connection with the Press itself. It will be this if the chest is held "high" and also "advanced" -- not, however, with the trunk set in a perfectly upright line, but inclined ever so slightly back from that line so that the Press itself proceeds straight upward, this being the proper direction path of effort. As the chest and trunk are set as instructed, the head should be carried in conformity with the attitude; in other words, if the trunk were brought from the position instructed into a perfectly erect line, the head, without any independent movement, would find itself erect also.

The slight backward inclination of the body from the waist, correctly arching the spine in the lumbar region -- if sufficient flexibility there exists -- will automatically dispose most weight over the heels. This is correct -- and required. It should therefore be cultivated to the fullest practicable extent. Which means that this disposition of weight should operate not only at the start of the lift, but remain so all the way through. 

Once bodily "line-up" has been effected as instructed, the lifter should make up his mind not to depart from it at any time during performance. Resist the inclination to bend back a little further in order to help when the "sticking point" is reached; resist the prompt to bring the head forward and force the chin down at the same point (see Figure 2) in the mistaken belief that this is a way over the difficulty; resist the equally common prompt of influencing the weight so far backward as it is going to arms' length that it will compel that "counter balance" distortion of proper posture shown in Figure 3. 

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