Pressing A Dead Horse

People scour the internet searching for the majestic Press Booster that miraculously improves pressing ability. Unfortunately the Press Booster is merely a tall tale created by real life creatures known as “fuckers” in order to buffalo you. What fuckers don’t realize is that first comes mechanics, then comes consistency, and then comes belligerency in a baby carriage.

Too often I see pressing grips that are very wide — the forearms should be vertical in the starting or rack position, and they should also be vertical from the front and side view. The wrist should be in a close-compacted position that puts the bar in the heel of the palm. The bar should remain close to the face during the ascent and descent while the lifter gets their torso under the bar. Speaking of the torso, it shouldn’t bend much and the thoracic/lumbar junction should never be in hyper extension. The hips should also not be in anterior rotation at lockout. Lastly, assuming all of this other stuff is occurring correctly, the shoulders shouldn’t be internally rotating. Pretty simple, huh?

I’ll be very clear in admitting that this post cannot address the questions that the last paragraph presents because I could write a long post on each item. The point is that there is a lot going on and until the mechanics are addressed, the program itself is not to blame.

Pressing will increase with diligency (not a word). Constantly chipping away at it over time will develop a good press. I have been pressing for at least once a week since July of 2010 and have averaged at least once a week since January of 2009 (the only reason I didn’t initially use Jan of 2009 is because when I was on the Texas Method I alternated bench/press weeks). The press benefits from an accumulated work load. Most linear progressions nowadays utilize a good amount of pressing, yet eventually there is a limit on how far three sets of five (3×5) can be progressed. There’s no point in beating a dead horse, so using some different rep ranges will help increase pressing strength. The first thing to play around with in programming is to use some heavier weight, but not to abandon old rep schemes. One example is that I have developed an ascending 3×3 and 3×5 rep scheme that alternates every week on the press and bench with great success. The key is not to use anything fancy but to keep utilizing the press.

Once some basic programmatic variables have been played with, you’ll have to take chances on your pressing days. You’ll have to try and push your last triple, last set of five, or your 3×5 sets across. You’ll have to learn how to grind through tough presses, and you do this by getting experience with hard reps. You will not press heavy weights if you push the bar forward so learn how to keep it close and get under it. Once you can grind though a ten second press, you will know how to fight through the hard reps.

Using other exercises to build the press isn’t necessary until mechanics, consistency, and belligerency are addressed. Then there are a few options for the seasoned presser. But whatever, this was all just an excuse to post my recent PR (this one is not in a speedo like last time).

You can see that I have a bit of stretch reflex to aid the start of the rep. In training, I don’t mind this assuming the fundamental mechanics are in place (referenced above). You’ll see that my torso, hips, and knees maintain rigidity, which are my requirements for a proper press. However, I would not allow this stretch reflex in competition as it is difficult to quantify and subsequently difficult to judge. I don’t have a problem in doing it, and I prefer to do it for the sake of handling more weight and reps (as long as it’s not excessive, and it’s not in either video).

39 thoughts on “Pressing A Dead Horse

  1. Impressive.
    Justin, from the side, shouldn’t the elbows be slightly forward? And where exactly do you position the bar in the starting position of the press?

    The elbows will appear slightly forward with vertical fore arms in the press since the radius will be vertical and the ulna and forearm mass will appear to be in front of the bar slightly. Pause any of my videos at the start for a picture if you’re interested.

    The start of my, or anyone’s press, will be the position they are in with the elbows in proper position with the wrists straight (close-compacted position). Depending on humerus and forearm dimensions, this could mean the bar is one to three inches above the clavicle, or touching the clavicle. It just depends on the person.


  2. With the ascending 3×3 and 3×5 set/rep scheme, do you use ascending sets for each (ie, working up to a top set of 3 or 5 each workout)? Or is the 3×5 for sets across?

    I only ask because my press has been stalling, and although my mechanics are probably somewhat to blame I do sort of feel that I’m stubbornly beating my dick into the ground just sticking with straight sets of 3×5.

    They are ascending, yet never more than 15 pounds and can either ascend with 5 or 10 pounds.


  3. Damn that was fast as hell. Question- I have been having the problem of catching my snatches with soft shoulders and have lost a number of reps this way. Some days it comes and sometimes it doesnt. Any experience with this or suggestions on how to improve it. I was thinking about focusing on catching it with the interior of my elbow pointing upwards but other than that I am open to suggestions.

    I have recently used that cue with some success. I am not fantastic at racking the snatch — I could probably have pulled 140 overhead when I was only hitting 130 in training when I was competing, and this video shows that the pull was pretty easy at 130 this past July (when I hadn’t snatched in a while).

    Of course this is dependent on the mechanics that you use to get the bar there. I’ll ask some Oly coaches and put this in Friday’s Q&A for ya.


  4. Justin there are no competitions for the strict clean and press that any rational human would give a fuck about.

    Haha, I would agree given current competition availability. Had my stretch reflex been excessive, I would point that out as well. Doing it my way means more strength and muscularity — much like doing “touch and go” bench pressing. If I needed to train for a competition/meet, then I would work on pausing it much like a new powerlifter would.


  5. Justin, you may have addressed this before, but I am borderline retarded so please forgive me. What causes shoulders to internally rotate with heavy pressing and benching? It seems to be a natural response when going for max effort reps, but other than hammering technique is there some weakness that can be addressed to prevent it?

    Ha, fixed the question for you.

    Do you mean when you do it, or in my video?


  6. I currently have an injury to my left tricep. I can only press and bench about 2/3’s of what I used to at this time. It’s a nagging injury that leaves my arm feeling unstable and obviously weaker. I’m resting it until the new year. I really miss pressing, killing self if not healed by 2012(too bad we’re gonna die shortly after, FUCK)

    If it’s an older injury and doesn’t warrant surgery, you should be able to break up scar tissue, use it through a full ROM, and ice it.


  7. Justin, do you know how much extra weight you are able to handle with the stretch reflex start, compared to a static start? And would you recommend novices to use the stretch reflex for the first rep of a work set?

    Great lift by the way!

    I don’t think it’s all that much. I think I could definitely press 225 with a pause and probably 230.

    I’ll also point out that the upward bar movement is a byproduct of the clean and not a purposeful thing I do to get the a stretch reflex. It happened when I aimed to get the reps done very quickly (a necessity with heavy sets).

    Chris, AC, and I (some of the best pressers in the “online strength training community”) all have always done a slight stretch reflex even when taking it out of the rack.


  8. Cool bounce, homosaurus rex.

    Question: what is the mechanism that allows one to press more weight if you clean the bar from the floor first, as opposed to taking it out of a rack? And I know it’s not stretch reflex, because I paused the bar for at least a full second on my shoulders after I muscle cleaned it.

  9. Justin,

    A friend of mine hosted a 13 hour long interview with a pretty well-known strength coach last week pretty much exclusively about the push press and how awesome it is. I’m not saying nobody cares about your sorta-strict standing press, cuz it’s real decent, but you should probably start push pressing, because that’s what men do, and I know that’s where you’re trying to get to. Also, the vid’s great, and I appreciate it and all, but without a close-up of the handlebar, I’m just not probably gonna favorite it or anything.



  10. I know I do it, and I see a lot of people do it as well. Either on a max effort rep or max rep set at the end it seems the body naturally wants to flare the elbows out. Is that something fixed through constantly hammering better technique, or is there some kind of weakness that can be addressed to help keep things tight?

    I think if you see it occur towards the end of the press that it’s a function of getting under the weight. As the shoulder joint moves under the bar, it’s natural for the elbows to change position to keep the bar in a vertical relationship. It’s important to note in proper presses that the shoulders don’t fully internally rotate in the beginning of the rep. It happening towards lockout is a function of moving the torso — and subsequently the shoulder joint — forward.

    For simplicity, break the press into the first half of ROM and second half of ROM. The first half must stay in proper position (as explained vaguely in this post, but this includes a good externally rotated position like we’re talking about). The second half still has an emphasis on not flaring the elbows, but the primary goal is to get under the weight to make the lockout more efficient (it’s more efficient when the bar is directly over the shoulder joint instead of the shoulder joint being behind the bar). You’ll also notice that my elbows are not completely internally rotate and still have resemble a forward elbow position, though they do move back during lockout. In other words, they aren’t completely internally rotated like a standard DB press or behind the neck press would look (emulate this with your own hands to feel the difference).

    I would call my press technically sound, especially if you’re in agreement that the subtle stretch reflex is okay. Even if it wasn’t, or if there was room for improvement at lockout, it’s still a near limit rep and form will not be maintained at lockout.

    For discussion/comparison, I’ll film some sub-maximal sets to observe if there are differences in my elbow positioning with lighter weight. I assume that I look the same.

    The take away: External rotation is the keystone of good pressing and it will change as the shoulder joint moves under the weight in the second half of pressing ROM.

    Edit, and more importantly: After looking at my 230 and 240 videos again, I would argue that there isn’t really a whole lot of internal rotation anyway. There is some, but don’t confuse my elbow moving back as it extends as “internal rotation”. If I truly internally rotated, I wouldn’t have locked it out due to reducing the medial triceps.


  11. Hey Justin,

    It looks like around the middle third of the lift, your elbows move out to the sides. I thought we’re not supposed to do that? Or does that just happen as a result of heavy poundage?

    That happens to me on my heavy sets and I was going to reset to try to keep them in throughout. Maybe I shouldn’t?


    See the above comment for the response.


  12. Justin, what is your opinion on using a false grip for the press. I switched to it recently and it has felt great.

    I think the false grip is a stupid way to fix wrist positioning. People who prefer it always have a shitty wrist positioning when they wrap their thumb. It’s a good way to at some point in life drop the bar.

    People who are stronger than me can do it however they want (e.g. Greg Henderson (who you all do not know) and Jim Wendler)


  13. Justin,

    Your explanation makes sense. I’d be curious to see a multi-rep set because I think for me the problem is actually keeping the elbows in when starting the next rep as fast as possible (since I’m consciously doing it during my meticulous setup of the initial rep, but turn off my brain for the following reps).

  14. Thanks Justin! And I definitely didn’t mean your press, your elbows look solid throughout, especially considering it’s a max effort. For me it happens when I hit my sticking point, probably about forehead height for the press or about 6 inches off the chest on the bench. At that point my elbows get all squirrely and I’m not sure why since I would think it makes me less mechanically efficient and therefore weaker.

    If you have a video of this, it would be instructive. If you don’t, then does it happen in your overhead stuff from the strongman comp?


  15. Justin-

    I grip my strict press in similar fashion to you. When it comes to push pressing, do you grip and rack the bar exact same as a jerk? Delts out for a shelf, etc? With the strict press, shoulders should be tight along with the upper back, similar to benching.

    I always get in a rut when I try and push press, because I want to rack the bar like a strict press, and it’s unstable on the upper pecs/sternum without the delts for a shelf.

    Will use this for Friday Q&A. Good question and good to make this distinction. If you’re push-pressing before Friday, then comment and I’ll give you a quick answer.


  16. I don’t see it in the strongman stuff I have, but not sure if that’s due to the neutral hand positioning with a log press. I’ll ask my training partner to watch for it, and if he sees it I’ll try and get it on video.

  17. I’m strict pressing today, and I usually do push presses after my working sets of strict. I will hold out and wait for a post. I think it will be good for everybody.

  18. Justin, unrelated sort of, but is your deadlift setup very similar to your power clean setup like in this video? I’ve always struggled big time with my deadlifts but I’m starting to think I haven’t been sitting down far enough. I’ve always dropped my hips only as much as necessary to allow me to maintain a neutral spine, but because I have pretty flexible hamstrings that puts my back angle at nearly parallel to the ground. I can deadlift WAY more weight when I drop my hips down and try to “squat” it up a bit more with my quads. Wrong?

  19. Also someone recommend me some fucking lifting shoes I can get in Canada. I ordered the Rogues, tried them for a session but they were too small and uncomfortable as hell. Lifting in them felt great aside from the size though. They don’t have the actual size I need in stock though so I’m screwed on that front. Might get the Adidas Powerlift shoes but I’ve heard mixed reviews…

  20. @strongerthanyesterday

    regarding receiving the snatch, I’ve found that “punching out” the receiving position is a helpful cue for myself and others. (similar to if you were doing a snatch grip push press from btn)

    Perhaps actually doing some snatch grip push presses will help to ingrain this feeling?

    Also, from various video watching, it seems that those who suffer from a “soft catch” in the snatch generally need to work on getting under the bar faster (which the “punch out” cue can help with to an extent also). I’d review some video of yourself and make sure that you aren’t wasting time trying to pull the bar higher at the top of the pull, and instead getting under the weight faster.

  21. Adam wathan google kanama weightlifting and try their shoes – I have the blue one, at work and forget the model but they’re aren’t too many options anyways. The real deal, call em up and you’ll talk to the owner on the phone, I had mine delivered to the states from his shop in canada no problem, so in your case he can probably just send a carrier moose.

  22. I just failed on my press yesterday (rep 5 of 3rd set)…I think my biggest problem is breathing but still hitting the stretch reflex, when you’re doing multiple rep sets, do you hold your breath for the whole time or group the reps…i.e. breath for 1 and 2, new breath for 3, 4, 5, or a new breath for each rep?

    also, just as a side note on programming. The last time I stalled, I switched to a 10-rep (3 sets) scheme for a few weeks, then back to 5×3, and my weight shot up almost as fast as the very beginning of my novice period…so i might try that again.

    great post. press is definitely my favorite of the lifts yet also my most frustrating.

  23. @Justin and Smithb- thanks for the input. I really need to get to videotaping myself for self analysis but I have yet to buy a camera for it. Anyone have a suggestion for a good weightroom video camera that is good enough to take a decent picture, but not too fancy or expensive that it will break because of chalk or sweaty hands? Or conversely breaking because of lube or blood?..too far?

  24. Hi Justin, quick TM question, do you have experience with someone doing back to back press weeks (i.e. not alternating with bench) for a few weeks while chasing a milestone PR? Is this alright, or not advisable due to recovery concerns? Thanks

    (Sorry for the cross-post, I posted this in the last one about female lifters but is much more appropriate here)

  25. Justin, I have a problem with excessive unintentional layback. It seems like I do accidental olympic presses and lean back really far when pressing and get my head through very late. The bar path is still pretty much vertical, and it’s usually only really severe on the last 2 reps of any given set. I’ve never been injured or felt any pain doing it this way, but it seems like it shifts a lot of the focus away from the delts and on to my pecs and I literally can’t do any meaningful weight without leaning back.

    Is there any particularly common reason for this or a way to fix it? Is there some lumbar hyper-mobility or a weak core? Perhaps both?


  26. Off topic, but Im having sore elbows after squats. Is this usually a setup issue, a mobility issue, a too much sand in my vagina issue, or some combo of the above.

  27. Thanks for the reply, Justin; one other Q I thought of, would you use this rep/set scheme just every time you pressed, or would you reserve it for weeks where you were pressing twice a week?

    For example, if one week you’re benching 2x a week, and pressing 1 session, you’d do 3×5 ascending, and then next monday 3×3, then friday 3×5…or is this more of a TM setup.

  28. Yeah I had a 230 off the rack standing press a month ago but work has really been ruining my groove. Definitely agree about the narrower grip thing. Never liked cleaning, but I’ve been told I could press more if I did it.

  29. Justin,

    So your picture examples in FIT go against the elbow position you talk about in this post (ie they are flared out in the book, not
    “tucked” into the chest).

    What’s the dealio?

  30. Hi Justin,
    I’m new to the site, been lifting about a year and a half. Started out on SS then GSLP. I’ve been beating the dead horse on both press and bench for many months and want to give 3×3 & 3×5 a try to get unstuck. I second the question about weeks where you are pressing twice – do you just keep rotating the rep scheme when you press twice in the same week? Does this 3×3, 3×5 rotating rep scheme help a stuck bench? Also, I have been learning to power clean and have thought that clean and press might be a good change. How often do you recommend clean and pressing? Should every rep start from the floor or just the first rep? Thanks and I really like your site. There is a lot of great info here.

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