Wednesday, July 7, 2021

That Pressing Problem - Harvey Hill (1940)

Here's a rare treat from Your Physique magazine, Issue Number Two, COURTESY OF MICHAEL MURPHY. Thank You, Sir! 
If you see this, my good Brother L.T., all the best sent to you! 
Let's Live, while we're still Alive!

From This Issue.
Photo Courtesy of

John Stuart of Verdun, P.Q. breaking the Canadian Lightweight press record. This was when Joe and Ben Weider were creating and selling their magazine in Canada. The formative years, when they were both still very young. Joe would have been 21 at the most, and Ben 17. 


 Anthony Terlazzo


For several years, the three Olympic lifts have been the basis for weightlifting competition the world over, and while for the life of me I cannot see that this helps to popularize the sport, those wishing to take part in contests are forced to specialize on the Press, Snatch, and Jerk if they want to make any kind of decent showing. So many of our lifters understand this and spend countless hours practicing these lifts but for most people progress seems to be slow. Suppose we analyze these lifts and in this issue spend most of our time on the Press.  

Some people have always claimed that the main factor in a person's pressing ability was the question of leverage. As a matter of fact they almost imply that if you do not possess good leverages you had better forget the idea of ever becoming a good presser. Personally, I do not agree at all on this matter. I look upon it as an excuse and a very poor excuse at that, because they themselves were never able to make a fair showing in the lift.

Understand, I am not trying to criticize any person in particular, for I believe that almost any lightweight can become capable of making a 200 lb. press. To be sure, leverage does play a part in all lifts, but why lay too much stress on the press? Instead of throwing in the towel completely, I believe a little more emphasis should be laid on the effort necessary for the different types of build to succeed. Naturally some lifters find the going much harder, but the same thing applies to the other lifts as well. 
The first thing we should remember is that specialization on the press requires a different application from that employed in the quick lifts. We all know that a good press is essential; in fact, we can almost say that the press decides the issue in our present day weightlifting contests. This is not quite true, but it certainly plays a big part. 
How should we specialize in order to improve our pressing ability to the point where we are able to clean and press heavier weights? ? 
I think that we are all aware that the back should be kept flat when lifting a weight from the floor and that the arms should be straight and not bent when we make the initial pull on the bar. The width of the grip is a matter for the lifter to decide but there is no doubt on my part that the grip known as shoulder width is too narrow. Something a little wider than shoulder width seems best for most lifters. 
But you say, "A wide grip doesn't suit me" and I could say perhaps with some justification, "It will, before you're a good presser." There is no need to outdo yourself on this so long as the grip is a little wider than the shoulders. One thing is certain when using a little wider grip -- that "sticking point" which is so noticeable in the narrow grip is avoided and the overhead movement is more easily accomplished even though the position at the chest is a little less comfortable. 
We find that lifters use different kinds of grips for the press: the ordinary grip (with thumbs around the bar), and the thumb free grip (fingers and thumbs on the same side of the bar) being the ones most generally favored. The idea behind the thumbs free grip is that it stops the lifter from gripping the bar too tight and therefore makes it easier to straighten the arms. I believe the ordinary grip is good enough for the above grip-width, but no harm can result from trying both grips. 
See photos above for lifters using the two grips. 
Anthony Terlazzo, for instance, one of the best pressers, uses the ordinary grip in the clean for the press but as the bar reaches the shoulder he changes to the thumbs free grip. It is quite easy to get used to moving the thumb in this manner while the bar is being turned in at the shoulders. 
Try it. 
When cleaning the weight for the press, avoid moving the feet if possible, as you cannot afford to play around getting the correct stand at this time. Should you be handling a fairly heavy poundage where you cannot avoid some kind of a foot movement in the clean it would be best to start with the feet fairly close together and split sideways a little assuming the pressing position this way. 
While pressing look straight ahead and do not lean back. Perhaps I should mention here that most of the best lifters, while not being accused of leaning back hold themselves in such a position that they have the same advantage as a lean back would give them. This is one of the main reasons why the feet are apart. Only experience will teach you the correct stance, but it is essential that you take the same liberties as the best pressers do. After the bar is at arm's length, do not bring the body forward and expect the judges to believe you were not leaning back. After all, you are not supposed to bend either backward or forward.
We have often been told that the secret of the press it to press and press, then press some more. This is quite true, but I have known lifters who have done just that and never progressed so that this explanation is not enough. What our lifters require for improvement in this list is something more specific. Perhaps it will help somewhat if I explain how the present holder of the Canadian record in the lightweight class trained for this lift. 
As the person in question is quite young, 21 years of age to be exact, he probably has more time than most lifters have, but, like anything else, time can generally be found, if the subject is important enough.  
He has understood for some time that in order to improve he has to practice the pressing movements every day, and even that is not enough. This is the way he improved his press record: 
When specializing he pressed at least three times every day and made roughly fifty presses a day with near limit poundages. These were performed in series (sets) of threes as near as possible and a little wider than ordinary grip was used. He has often pressed more that three times daily, making it a practice to do so every chance he got. Of course plenty of determination is necessary in order to "stick out" such a program, but improvement will certainly be forthcoming if enough effort is applied. I have known this same lightweight to make fifty presses a day with 190 pounds in series of threes. No wonder he can press well over 200 pounds and so can you, using the same principle. The reason I mention this is to give yu an idea how much effort this lifter had to apply in order to succeed at this particular lift. He was stuck at 170 for quite a while and he could easily have claimed poor leverage at that time, but he is still far from satisfied with what he is pressing now.
The above is one way to improve your press record, but I wouldn't say it is the only way, as most of our best pressers do several other exercises to help increase that lift. 
Did you ever notice the triceps of a fellow that has practiced press-ups for some time?  The idea is to hand stand on two boxes about a couple of feet apart. If unable to do a hand stand unassisted, put your boxes about a foot away from a wall so that the feet can be rested against the boxes and press up again. This is a very good exercise to improve the triceps and therefore the press but be sure to go down as far as possible between the boxes each time. 
Most of our leading lifters also do various presses with dumbbells. The two dumbbell press is again something different. Press them together until fairly tired, then finish the exercise by pressing them alternately, one at the shoulder while the other is pressing, and then the reverse, changing from arm to arm, pressing one bell while the other is at the shoulder each repetition. Don't be afraid to use plenty of weight. Small dumbbells are useless for this exercise. 
Don't forget, to be a good presser you have to have what it takes. There are of course many other exercises that will also help to improve your pressing ability, for instance, the press behind  neck, and the lateral raise (while bending forward. Both these exercises benefit the trapezius muscles to some extent and these muscles are brought into play whenever we do overhead lifting. 

Do plenty of pressing, but don't expect to be able to do this indefinitely. Whenever your press has improved to an appreciable degree and you appear to be getting stale or the going seems harder than usual, reduce the poundage a little. Even a rest now and again for a couple of weeks won't do any harm, but be sure you have earned that rest before you take it. 

Lifters, I believe, would do well to consider the part played by the press in today's contests. Yes, even to the extent of forgetting everything else, for without a good press, you are sunk as a weight lifter at the present time. 

"The press has me licked." Often I have read this in letters I have received. This is altogether the wrong attitude to take, for there never was any philosophy whereby a person could succeed in his endeavors when he believed in his heart that it was hopeless. In order to attain anything worthwhile, we have to have absolute faith in ourselves and this applies to the press just as much as anything else. 
I would like to hear from lifters that have been fairly successful in their efforts on the press, and I would also like to hear from those that don't seem to make any headway. Perhaps we can get together on this. 
Enjoy Your Lifting! 



















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