We’ve been talking about press a lot lately. Today’s technical tip is going to specifically apply to the barbell press. This lifting strategy is something I’d characterize as a more advanced approach to pressing the barbell. A number of years ago, I had the pleasure to learn from a master coach Mark Rippetoe. He is the source from which I am now sharing this training tip with you. What follows is how he clearly presented it and why it’s such a powerful tool.
The Eventual Problem With All Heavy Presses
If we think about pressing, especially heavy pressing, I think we have all experienced this uniform scenario at least once. On a final heavy set, when the bar starts to break the shoulders (i.e. the initial press), our body loses the ability to resist extension and our shoulders go backwards, accompanied by a flaring of the rib cage. This happens for either two reasons.
A: We are not set. Whether it’s a lower body lack of awareness or failure to get braced and tight, inability to solidify your start position will lead to this issue.
B: The weight got heavy. Not so heavy that your arms can’t press it, but heavy enough that you now have to press it WELL.
As we survey the path the bar takes while pressing, we are expecting to see a straight line. That becomes truer and truer as the load increases; however, we have an issue. The dome that encapsulates our brain is directly in our way! The face, teeth, nose, and chin are there no matter how much you attempt to pull them back in your set up (a cue everyone should be implementing already). So the problem is, at that initial pressing point, the body will run away from the bar, creating a straight path at the cost of the spine or shoulder position. This puts the lifter in a bind as they now have to scramble back towards the lift, pulling themselves back through the lift in order to finish, flaring ribs and back arch unfortunately included.
So what do we do? – The LAY BACK Technique
We’d like you to entertain the idea of using a laid back position in the start of your press. As we do just that, we want you to be diligent and very specific with body positions.
From your normal press start position (stacked wrists, feet underneath you, body solid), imagine your hips, low back, shoulders, and head are attached to a straight board or plank. Pivoting at the hip, lay back from the start position a few inches. Notice how I said from the hip, not the lumbar spine, not the upper back, from the HIP. If you’re doing this right, you should have a relatively straight line from head to hip, through the shoulder and torso. While maintaining lower body engagement (think hips, glutes, thighs), begin pressing, but immediately focus on driving the body forward, reclaiming that few inches of laid back position. Imagine that there is a rope pulling you through the press as the bar is driven off the body. So again get braced, sit back into that newfound position, and as the pressed bar passes the eyes, drive the body through and forward into a nice overhead position. It’s as simple as that!
As you entertain multiple reps, you’ll want to recapture that same laid back position. To do this, I imagine the torso, shoulders, and head are all part of a windshield wiper fixed at the hip. As you descend from the top of the press, breaking at the elbows, the body lays back once again, receiving that barbell in your newfound start position.
Who is this for?
This is for anyone who has had some training history with press. We mentioned at the front end of the blog that this is a more advanced topic which could prove tricky to implement if you are just starting out. Find a coach, get the fundamentals of the lift down, and then add this lay back technique to your repertoire. We filmed a video for this blog post, you can find it here or simply scroll to the top of the page where it is embedded.
-Written by Michael S. Pilhofer
If you are in the Minneapolis / St. Paul area and are looking for somewhere to learn more technique tips like this and take care of your body for the long haul, look no further than MSP Fitness. Check out some of our program offerings or CONTACT US today!