Sunday, February 2, 2020

Views on Training for the Olympic Press - Edited by Bill Starr (1966)

Article Courtesy of Liam Tweed

Prior to the North American Championships, some of the top pressers in the country were contacted and asked to give their views on training for the Olympic Press. 

The lifters were asked the following questions: 

1) What is your favorite auxiliary exercise that you use to increase your pressing power? 

2) Briefly outline your present training program for the press.

3) What is the most important point to remember when you are pressing in a contest/ 

4) What suggestions would you have for the beginning lifter on training for the press? 

We feel that the readers of S&H will greatly benefit from their experiences and advice.

Note: We have been given each lifter's best press numbers, making it easy to determine what percent of max they work with in training. We also have the opportunity here to see how each lifter tailors his training to his own particular temperament.

Russell Knipp
Best Press, 336-1/4 (a world record).

My favorite auxiliary exercise is the military press. It works all of your pressing muscles in the correct position. One should maintain a slight layback while doing the exercise. In regards to training, I do anywhere from 8 to 10 sets of 5 reps with a given weight. Periodically, I change my workout and do 6-8 sets of 10 reps. I usually work the press two or three times each week (Tues/Thurs/Sun). About a month before a big meet I'll train on the Olympic press. I try to concentrate on thrust and speed. The tightening of the whole body gives you a faster start. In a contest, I think of three things in preparation for the lift:

1) a tremendous pull for the clean, 
2) flexing very tightly, and
3) driving the weight with an explosive heave.

I would suggest that the beginner develop pressing strength through working on the strict movements such as strict military presses. I have found in teaching the press that the Olympic style can be picked up very easily. 


Bill March 
Best Official Press, 355 (a world record at that time)
Best Unofficial Press, 381

I find the three pressing movements off the power rack to be the best auxiliary exercises. These movements strengthen the three main parts of the pressing muscles. My program consists of doing the three presses (positions) on the rack with a 12-second hold on Mon/Wed/Thurs. Then on Saturday I do the full press movement. The most important point to remember when you are pressing in a contest is to make an easy, snappy, fast clean. The better the clean, the better the press. I would recommend to the beginner that he learn to press strict and also learn a good, loose style. Then, depending on who the officials are, you will be able to press as the judges dictate. You will have to beast both your competition and the officials (most of them). Keep your leg strength high. Your press depends a great deal on your leg strength.  

Walter Imahara
Best Official Press, 245
Best Unofficial Press, 253

I use the bench press as an auxiliary exercise, but not more than the incline press. Both the bench and incline are used much more than the press of the rack and dumbbells. I use these two because I can handle heavier weights and the other two are too much like the standing press. My present program is as follows: 

Monday: Bench Press - 
135 x 2 x 3 reps
155 x 3
185 x 3
205, 225, 255, 275, 290, 305, 315, 325, all for 2.

Wednesday: Incline Press - 
135 x 2 x 3 reps
155 x 3
175x 3
185, 200, 210, 220, all for 3 reps. 
1 x 2 reps with 230, 240. 

Every two weeks, dumbbells and press off rack are alternated. 

Friday: Olympic Press - 
135 x 2 x 3 reps
155 x 3
175 x 3
185 x 3
200 x 3
1 x 2 reps with 210, 220, 230, 240, 245. 

In a contest, concentrate on the points that will make the press perfect. Points such as: stance, hand spacing, head position, pull, second pull, finishing pull, etc. Secondly, have a complete confidence in your choice of attempts. The hardest lift is the first press; start with an easy lift. 

The beginning lifter has the problem of working on form and power while the experienced lifter does not. I would suggest that the beginner work on the press off the rack and dumbbell presses as they are similar to the Olympic press. As these two are used, concentrate on form using the same technique as the Olympic press. 

Use the bench press as a secondary exercise to the press off the rack and dumbbell presses.   

Norbert Schemansky
Best Official Press, 402
Best Unofficial Press, 415

Teaching somebody to press is like teaching boxing. You have him learn a jab, hook, uppercut, and all the other fundamentals of boxing and when the kid gets in the ring, he finds that he can do better by butting, backhanding, elbowing, clinching, etc. So it is the same with the press today. [Mr. Weightlifting never fails to be straightforward!] 

If you have the kid military pressing, strict bench pressing, etc., all you will do is hold the kid back. You might as well show him how to: bend, kick, bend, cheat right away and give him a good start. 

There is no use kidding ourselves, the press just isn't a press anymore. 

Bob Bednarski
Best Official Press, 415
Best Unofficial Press, 407-3/4

The only exercise that I use to boost my press is the press itself. I try to set one day each week aside to work on my press, but I am concentrating more on form and technique than I am on power training. Occasionally, I will do some bench presses or military presses, but generally I work the press as I do in competition so as to keep the muscles familiar to the pattern which I desire. On Monday or Tuesday I will do the following for my press:

135 x 5
205 x 3
255 x 3
285 x 3
305 x 2
325 x 2 
345 x 2
365 x 2

Then on Saturday I will work up to a limit for that day. 

The most important thing to remember in a contest is to get set, wait for the clap, and drive hard. If the initial thrust is not good, then the chances of making the lift are very slim.   

I would suggest to the beginner that he select a lighter weight to train with, rather than going heavy. I would say that he should work with a weight that he can handle for at least 5 reps. 

Barry Whitcomb
Best Official Press, 300
Best Unofficial Press, 314

The best auxiliary training is power rack training. I believe in one maximum training stimulus per day. I work in three positions: start, middle, lockout. This "isometric" training decreases the time needed for recuperation which enables more work to be done in a small amount of time; i.e., pressing 5 times per week. My current program is outlined below: 

Monday: Rack
Chin (start) level press, 315 and hold for 12 seconds.
Eyebrow (middle) level, 250 for 3 sets of 5 reps. 
Lockout (bent knees) - 
270 x 5, 300 x 5, 360 x 3, 1 x 380 and hold for 12 seconds.  

Tuesday: Presses Off Rack
135 x 5
195 x 5
230 x 5
Rack work the same as Monday, except that I do 250 for 3 rather than 5.
Dips, 110 for 3 sets of 5.

Rack work the same as Monday except the middle press is performed for 1 set of 3 with 250. 

Middle press for 1 set of 3 with 255. 

Note: Increase all positions 5 pounds per week. On all pressing positions, including off the rack on Tuesday and dips on Tuesday, work up over an 8-10 week period to peak. 

On the middle press, press as if it were a normal Olympic press. Lay back to develop the abdominals and to strengthen the same position used in contest pressing. 

Saturday: Olympic Press
132 x 2 x 3 reps
220 x 2
Singles with 231, 242, 253, 264, 275, and
286 for six singles. 

I believe that an overall routine of squats, power cleans, and pulls will aid in increasing the press. Strong legs are the foundation along with a well developed back (lower and upper). Speed is essential as well as a strong mental attitude. 

When in a contest think of "ramming" the weight overhead! Points to remember are: 

1) A good, fast, strong clean - the easier the better.
2) Think speed and keep the legs tight and squeeze the glutes together.
3) All mental preparation should have been made 4-6 weekis prior to the contest! 

For the beginner, I would suggest an overall conditioning routine beginning very, very light, i.e., 60% of limit for 5-8 sets of 5 reps. Work up gradually over a long period of time to condition the body to accept a heavier and more enduring workout. 

Talk to and seek advice from advanced men. 

Develop a routine and stick to it. 

Don't overwork, but work up to maximum.

Come to know your body's fatigue level! 

Joe Puleo
Best Official Press, 332-1/2 
Best Unofficial Press, 335

Regarding my training on the press, I follow a very simple pattern. On Monday, I do about six singles with as much weight as I can handle without working on nerve. Usually anywhere between 270 and 290. On Saturday, I go for a limit lift and may do two singles with as much as I can work to, using some nerve, but without killing myself. When I am in good shape I do about 320-325-330. 

The only auxiliary exercise I ever do is the push press and I only do it occasionally. These are good for getting the muscles used to handling heavy weights. 

I do not believe in doing bench presses, inclines or dumbbell presses. I believe in working the muscle in the way you want it to work, in this case, straight up! When I do push presses, I go as high as I can go for two reps.

Being that I have used essentially this routine for as long as I have been lifting, I would recommend it for beginning lifters. 

I wouldn't attempt to dictate how the press should be done. If we watch movies and photos of the world champions we see that there are many variations of the Olympic press. Each individual must adapt his own variation. 

It's too bad that there aren't enough coaches to go around and help lifters with their press. I know that it is very difficult to learn to press. All it is possible to do in an article like this one is to describe methods of training for the lift after you already know how to do it. 

The most important thing to remember in a contest is to make sure that you have experimented enough to know the best way for you to warm up. Also know how to select your best starting poundage. Some lifters like to start low and take big jumps. This allows them to "get one in." Other lifters like to start high because they feel that starting low is like wasting an attempt. When you get on the platform, press as you have trained to press and press like it counts, because it does! 

Homer Brannum
Best Official Press, 280
Best Unofficial Press, 291

I find the middle press position (above the eyes) on the power rack to be the best assistant exercise for my press. I warm up with about 250 and then work up to 335-385, pressing the weight out for one rep. I like this movement because this range is my weak point in the press and I have found that this exercise has helped my press more than anything I have ever done. 

Tuesday and Thursday are my pressing days in the gym. I work off the platform first, concentrating on form. I do up to 5 sets of singles with a moderately heavy weight, anywhere from 236-258. Then I go to the power rack and work the middle press position. I work up to one limit single. 

The one most important factor to remember when pressing in a contest is speed. Speed on the clean, SPEED on the initial start, and SPEED on the follow through.  

For the beginner I would suggest working on form. Strength will be developed as you go along, but it is very important to have the form so as to put the strength to best use. 

Philip Grippaldi
Best Official Press, 355 (Junior World Record) 

I find that bench press to be the best auxiliary exercise for my press. I am a rather strict presser, so the bench press seems to put me into the proper position for the overhead movement. The bench press also makes the shoulders and triceps stronger and both are essential for a big press. 

I do the following workout on Tuesday and Thursday: 

Overhead Press: 
All for 3 reps - 
135, 205, 235, 255, 275, 290, 305, 315.

Bench Press; 
300 x 8
325 x 7
355 x 6
375 x 5
400 x 2

There are four points that I try to remember when I am pressing in a contest. First, get a good, strong clean. Second, get a good initial drive. Third, don't relax as the weight is going up or bend your knees. Fourth, try not to look at the bar. 

A lifter needs speed and strength, but most of all he needs form. Light weights should be used for form. Once the form has been mastered the lifter then should work for strength. Strength is obtained by doing lots of reps with various weights. 

The triceps and shoulders should be worked.

Speed comes after many reps. The lifter should always keep in his mind to move the weight as fast as possible and to keep the bar close to the face. 

Some exercises that I would recommend for the beginner to increase his press are: bench press, triceps curl, dips with weight. dumbbell presses, repetition presses with the barbell. Many people feel that some of the exercises I have mentioned above will make the lifter tight for snatches. I feel that if you loosen up properly with light weights or just a stick, then you can overcome this problem. After bench presses I always get a bar and do snatches so that I will loosen my shoulders. 

Bob Bartholomew 
Best Official Press, 345
Best Unofficial Press, 355

I believe that pressing off the rack is the best auxiliary exercise for the press. You can work your style and also your power at the same time. The pressing routine that I am following at the present time is: 

Tuesday and Thursday: 
Press Off Rack for 5 sets of 2 reps. 
Middle Position On Power Rack for 5 sets of 2.
Lockout Press Position On Power Rack for 5 sets of 2. 

Work up to heavy single or double in the Olympic press.

I try to think of two things when I am pressing in a contest. I go over the lift completely in my mind before I start the lift and I try not to hurry the lift. When I hurry the lift too fast it throws my groove off. 

I would suggest that the beginner work his press form on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Then on Tuesday and Thursday he should do his auxiliary exercises such as: bench press, incline press, and dumbbell press. I would do these for 5 sets of 5 reps. 

Tony Garcy 
Best Official Press, 310

I do not favor any particular auxiliary exercise because of the diversity that can be obtained from using a group of exercises. I do use auxiliary exercises for my press, however. I do: dips, inclines, dumbbell presses, presses off the rack, and any other exercise that may come into mind. 

I train Monday through Saturday and include any exercise for the press that conforms to the mental and physical mood I am in at the time. I generally do my exercises in 5 sets of 3-5 repetitions. 

The most important thing to remember when pressing in a contest is to get the weight up as fast, coordinated, and strong as possible to move the weight. 

I would suggest that the beginning lifter train on the press as if it is one of the three lifts, i.e., if pressing becomes relatively easy, spend more time on the weaker lifts. This can be applied to the other lifts as well. A good total usually implies three good lifts. 

Harmony, I believe, is the key to training the press as well as the other lifts.


It is interesting to note that while most of the top American lifters train in their own individual way and have their "pet" exercises, there is a definite similarity of methods in training for the press. 

As a general rule, they spend more time concentrating on power than they do on form - mainly because they are advanced lifters and have developed the form in the early days of their training.  

It is nearly a consensus of opinion that the beginner should be more concerned with form and technique in his early training than with strength. Most of them feel that the lift will come easier if the form is perfected first and the strength added later, rather than vice versa. 

On pressing in a contest, the champions stress "speed." 

A point that most of them brought out is that one should concentrate on the clean as well as the press in a contest. 

Needless to say, this brief inquiry merely taps the surface of knowledge possessed by these men. Nevertheless, we feel that each reader who is interested in increasing his Olympic press will be able to add to his philosophy of training by this short visit with the "greats" in our sport.





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