Pressing Issues

A couple weeks ago Chris and I were talking business during down time at the gym. We were talking about the press camp coming up in March when Chris said to me something along the lines of, “If we went to the mall and set up a rack to see who could do a bodyweight overhead (knees locked) press, how many people do you think could do it?” I thought about what he was saying for a second and then realized that unless some very strong individual was walking around the mall, I doubt anyone could do it. After talking a little more we came to the conclusion that a bodyweight overhead press is a good indication of a strong person. If this is the case then why don’t more people press?

Whenever I talk to someone about pressing they always seem to have one of two comments; either “I have bad shoulders” or “my doctor/physical therapist told me not to lift anything heavy over my head”. Obviously they listen to these people because the letters after their name indicate their credentials. I’m not taking anything away from the accomplishments of healthcare providers, but they don’t have experience training individuals like we do at Black Iron. We train people to get them stronger, and we wouldn’t have them do something that is detrimental to their body. We have been trained in anatomy and biomechanics in order to teach all the lifts in a safe and effective manner.

A common misconception of the press is that there is an impingement (trapping of soft tissue between two bones) in the shoulder joint. This impingement I’m referring to is between the proximal end of the humerus and the coracoid and acromion process (AC joint) which is the bony process on the top of your shoulder. It would be intuitive that if you tried to press something overhead that the AC joint would interfere with the humerus, but this is why we shrug at the top of the press. Our trapezius muscles attach on the spine of our scapula and on the spinous processes of our vertebral segments. Because our scapula is basically a free floating bone we can move the muscles attached to it in such a way that allows us to press safely. The press is finished by shrugging up which contracts our traps up, causing our scapulae to rotate medially. When all of this occurs, the glenoid cavity is pulled upward to support the humerus, and the AC joint is pulled away from the humerus. When the AC joint and humerus are distanced from each other we no longer see an impingement. The absence of impingement is important because it not only makes the press safe, but it lets us perform the lift through a more effective range of motion.

When the press is done correctly it involves a hip movement instead of bending at the knees. When the knees bend it is considered a push press which is a completely different lift. This hip movement allows us to use a horizontal stretch reflex in order to generate extra force production at the bottom of the press. When we use our hips we also limit the horizontal distance between where the bar is in reference to our mid-foot. The shorter the distance between the bar and mid-foot the less stress there is on the shoulder. The extra force production at the bottom allows us to lift more weight, and when we shrug at the top we move the weight through a greater effective range of motion. This movement allows us to not only increase strength, but increase the stability of our shoulder joint which decreases the risk of future injury.

The press is the best exercise to increase shoulder strength and should be performed by everyone. Getting stronger not only helps people feel better, but also makes the stresses of our daily lives easier. If you want to learn how to build serious upper body strength you should come to our upcoming Starting Strength Training Camp on the Press and the Bench Press. Sign up here.

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