There’s really nothing that’s such a true test of upper body
strength for the normal man, except maybe some gymnastic
movements (but now we’re talking non-normal…).
The condition of the task is simple:
Keep your body perfectly still and press the heaviest
weight you can over your head.
You’re starting to approach “strong” when you can press
For ladies, we’re talking about half bodyweight as a good
start. (Not lowering the bar here, but it’s well known that
women genetically have less upper body muscle mass
than men and are limited in their strength levels.)
But there’s more to getting strong with the press – the double
KB press – then just pressing a pair of KBs.
One of the reasons the Soviets dominated the Olympic
Weightlifting scene is they used “specialty” exercises to
strengthen their main competition lifts.
These were variations of the main lifts – usually the
lifts broken apart into pieces.
Westside Barbell has popularized this method as the
“Conjugate Method” – where you train your weaknesses in
each of their lifts.
We call this “same but different” in StrongFirst training
methodology. It works like a charm too, especially when
you think you might have plateaued.
Try these press variations out for size (and of course, strength!):
1. The Pause Press
There are several different ways to implement this press.
The key is to pause during the movement to either
overload a weak point isometrically – which helps eliminate
sticking points – and strengthens the range of motion about
15 degrees either side of the pause.
You can also pause in the rack, which eliminates the
stretch reflex (rebound) and makes pressing off the rack
a lot tougher. This builds strength in your shoulders and
2. The Top Down Press
The purpose of the Top Down Press is to overload the
lockout and groove the eccentric action of the press.
Unlike a regular press, we are going to start each rep in
the overhead position and finish each rep in the rack.
You can push press the KBs up to the overhead position
to start your set.
Then pull them back down into the rack. Think of a chin
3. The Nose Press
I learned about this one from my first weightlifting coach,
Marc Cohen. The purpose here is to overload / strengthen
your triceps and your lockout.
So it’s only really “half” a press. You can either press or push
press the first rep, and then you’re going to bring the KBs
down to the same level as the bridge of your nose, then
press them back up.
4. The 1 and 1/2 Press (Drive)
The goal here is to increase the strength of your delta and
your lats, which are involved in driving the KBs off your chest
You simply start each rep with a half rep – press to nose
height or the point where your upper arm is parallel to the
floor and then return them to the rack and perform a full
5. The 1 and 1/2 Press (Lockout)
The goal of this press variation is to overload and strengthen
the triceps, which are responsible for top half of your press.
Simply perform a full press, lower the KBs down to the height
of your nose, and perform another press.
Implement one or more of these specialty presses to strengthen
the weak points of your press.
Of course, these are relatively advanced press variations and
working on them assumes you have the basics down in the
- How to wedge yourself between the floor and the KBs…
– How to turn your whole body into a pillar to prevent
“energy leaks” and press heavier KBs…
- The proper start position (the Rack)…
– The 6 fundamentals of the Rack position for a solid press…
- Proper head and eye position for maximum muscle
– How to lower the bells to “load” your next rep and a great
“mental cue” for how to do that…
- The position of your forearms (not what you may think)…
– The 3 common press mistakes that rob you of your strength
like a burglar in the middle of the night – you don’t even know
it until it’s too late…
Get the basics down pat and the advanced stuff becomes
not only that much easier – it becomes almost infinitely more
Failing to do so is like pimping out the body and putting
nitrous oxide in a 1986 Hyundai Excel without strengthening
the frame and beefing up the engine and brakes – waste of
time and energy and will only lead to accidents and humiliation.