Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Press, Part Two - Al Murray (1954)

Thanks to Liam Tweed!

Part One is Here:

Doug Hepburn

Ronald Walker

by Al Murray

Now let us go back and observe the important points of the correct starting position at the shoulders. The bar should be supported as much as possible by a high chest, it should be in such a position that when the chin is held in the bar may be pressed vertically.

The hip joints should not be vertically over the ankle joints but instead they should be eased slightly forward so that that the bar, hip joints, and insteps are in line

The chest should be held high so that the dorsal spine is in extension, this is also favorable to the pressing muscles, for any anatomist will explain that a muscle works more efficiently when it is working from a static and fixed origin.

Another point, when the bar passes the top of the head, commonly known as the sticking position, the lifter normally gives way at his weakest point and this is nearly always the dorsal spine. If you do not assume the correct technical position in pressing and believe in the old-fashioned idea of getting heavy weights up anyhow in training, you are robbing yourself of the chance to develop power in the dorsal region by failing to make use of the strong dorsal muscles. [generally, any muscle contained within the region posterior to the spine and ribs, and no more lateral than the lateral-most edges of the erector spinae muscles.]

You are also neglecting a very important quality necessary in the pressing of heavy poundages, that is Will Power or Discipline. The discipline I refer to is the determination to hold the correct position at all times. It is easy to note a lifter who does not possess this quality. He will often finish his top press with his shoulders practically resting on his buttocks.

The opposite was obvious in Vorobyev's case at the last World champs in Sweden. As he pressed his heavier weights he was fighting not only to get the bar to arms length but to maintain his chest in a high position.  
 - Note: You may be interested in this book:

When a lifter is fully aware of the aforementioned advantages and disadvantages he is then conscious that as his bar approaches the sticking point just above the head he will tend to bend at the dorsal spine. To combat this he should forcibly raise the chest and extend the dorsal spine, fighting the bar vertically overhead, at the same time striving with all his power to keep his chest in this high position (see Figure B). 
Click to ENLARGE 
and read illustration notes

If you are not sure whether you are pressing in a good or bad form, you can test yourself in the same manner as I tested Jan Smeekins of Holland, a wonderful lifter on the snatch and clean and jerk but comparatively weak on the press. With poundages over 209 his position is very dodgy. My own press, as far as poundages are concerned, leaves much to be desired, yet I feel sure if I adopted the folding up procedure of many of our lifters I could do some 20 lbs more than 205. But I should not have the hard neck to discredit the referee's intelligence with such tactics. 

I asked Jan (in order to prove my point that his position was bad) to follow me through this exercise. I took 176 lbs. and brought it to my chest, pressed it to my chin, stopped the bar, then to the nose, pause, up to the eyes, pause, back to the chin, pause, press to the forehead, pause, then completed the press without losing my position. I asked Jan to try this with 170 and he failed hopelessly. 

Les Willoughby has done this exercise with 209 lbs. Ken MacDonald, the Australian middleweight now in the country, greatly improved his pressing position by working hard on this exercise. We have seen Ken do 241 lbs on several occasions, and he is doubtlessly capable of more. 

The purpose of this exercise is threefold: 

1) To teach the lifter to press in the correct position and along the line of least resistance. 

2) This exercise also teaches you to balance the center of your bar, and center of your bodyweight vertically over the center of your base, i.e., the insteps.

3) It also forces the lifter to use the pressing muscles. Instead of bending back into a position where other muscle fibers are used, which are not normally involved in correct pressing. 

Diligent training for technique on the press will reward you with an increased top (max) press, and I may add, you will be surprised at the increase in muscular development and shoulder posture. One of the latest lifters to be rewarded for his efforts is Alan Conway, famous as a Junior Mr. Britain, now an Olympic lifter and winner of the bantamweight class at the recent Maccabian games. [Note: The Maccabiah games are an international Jewish and Israeli multi-sport event].

Alan's press was stuck around 155 lbs. He joined my gym to train for the above games, he proved himself to be an excellent student as he readily assimilated the instructions given to correct his pressing. He was also taught to press as fast as possible whilst maintaining the correct pressing position. This develops the essential quality of speed of muscular contraction. To cut a long story short Alan, in the short space of three months increased his press to press to 181 lbs - an increase of 26 lbs. For a small man this is more than a fair reward for his efforts.

Set out to adopt the correct pressing position, keep good positions throughout the press itself.

From time to time include dumbbell pressing in your training schedule, providing you press the dumbbells in the same position as you would assume whilst pressing a barbell.

Some advocate the bench press as an assistance exercise, but many are sadly disappointed as I was, after specializing on the bench press and press on back, until I broke the British record several times without a single pound of reward in the standing press. However, I do believe there are some who do respond. Then there are dozens of top line bench pressers who find themselves extremely weak by comparison when in the upright position. Still, there is little doubt that it is of great assistance to the beginner and the intermediate Olympic lifter as a fundamental power builder.

"Overall Power for Pressing Success" by Charles Smith:

"The Press and Basic Body Power" by Doug Hepburn and Charles Smith:

"Power for the Snatch and Clean" by Charles Smith:

Note - Search this blog (and elsewhere) for more on building basic body power for lifting. This article is mainly aimed at improving form and body position to improve your press, but don't neglect basic power either. By the way, have you tried using modern Westside methods for training your Press? There's so much out there on benching schedules and routines, and a lot of it can be adapted to Press training by anyone with a desire to do so.

Seated pressing with dumbbells and barbell, also the press from behind neck, are very valuable contributions to powerful pressing. Naturally no article on the press would be complete without some information of training schedules, so here goes:

I would like to say a few words of advice to the beginner, so that he will have a fair chance to improve his technique, he is advised to keep his poundages low enough to allow a fair number of sets of five, four, and three, as follows . . .

Let us assume your top press is around 140 lbs.
Start pressing with 90 for 5 or 6 reps
100 x 4
110 x 4
120 x 3
125 x 1 or 2
Drop back to 105 for 4.

For the more experienced lifter the reps must be kept lower to allow him to handle heavier poundages. Example . . .
Top press around 195
Warm up with some light pressing.
145 x 4
155 x 3
165 x 3
175 x 2
185 x 1
Drop back to 160 for 4 sets of triples,treys, threes, dreis, त्रीणि, tats, (দুই).

As a change from dropping back to 160 lbs and doing sets of 3, attempt to press 185 for 3-5 singles. However, it is not wise to keep this up for longer than three or four weeks, as limit and near-limit poundages in training are a great drain on nervous energy.   

There are many, many schedules and variations, but the aforementioned schedules are a good sound base from which to work. Give this technique and training a fair chance and I'm sure you will be rewarded.  


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