#166 – Cues for Building a BIG Press
The Press might just be the coolest lift, but it’s also probably the most frustrating. Pressing is surprisingly technical, and requires the most adherence to technique at heavy loads; there’s no “muscling up” a press that has gotten forward on you. The press is also one of the most difficult lifts to coach, particularly for more advanced lifters experimenting with technique variations. Matt and Scott have developed a deep library of cues for every level of training advancement, which they share today.
The first thing Matt tells people when he’s teaching the press is 1.) close grip, 2.) elbows forward, and 3.) wrists straight. These cues apply to everyone, and the setup has to be right for the movement to be right. Close grip means index finger on the beginning of the knurl (where the smooth center section meets the knurl) for most people, but smaller women and kids may need an even narrower grip. Elbows must be in front of the bar so that the bar is stacked on top of the radius, and the forearm is pointed vertically. Elbows below the bar, or worse behind the bar, will produce a forearm that is actually pointed away from the body, and therefore will cause the bar to move away from the body when the lifter starts the press.
When it’s time to unrack, Matt tells his lifters to take the bar out with authority, keeping everything tight. Scott reminds his novice lifters at this point to make “tight knees” or “tight quads” to keep them from push-pressing the weight. Lifters often need to be told to “stay tight” after rep 1, so that the eccentric portion of the lift doesn’t cause them to lose the tight, powerful bottom position they worked hard to establish for the first rep.
Lifters having trouble locking out the press — often people with limited shoulder mobility — may need to be told “push your shoulders forward” or “get your butt back” at the top of the movement, to help them fully flex the shoulders and create as close to a 180 degree lockout position as possible. Scott recommends hanging from a pull up bar before pressing to stretch out. Chin ups and/or supinated lat pull-downs also help. The goal here is to stretch the lats, which insert at the humerus near the proximal head. Tight lats can inhibit the humerus from reaching a full overhead position.
For lifters who perform the Press 2.0 but struggle with maintaining bar position during the rebound, Matt prefers a slow push of the hips rather than an explosive throw of the hips. He finds that lifters often lose their elbows-forward posiiton, or allow the bar to move backwards behind the mid foot line. Both he and Scott will cue “pull the bar down” as the lifter pushes his hips forward, to compress the triceps, lats, and anterior deltoids prior to the actual press. Matt likens this motion to compressing a spring; the initiation of the press then becomes a release of the compressed spring, with a shrug to lockout the movement.
To maintain a vertical bar path, Scott reminds lifters to “keep it close” to their face on both the concentric and eccentric portion of the lift. He will often cue “brush your eyebrows” or “hit your nose” on the concentric portion to keep the bar close to the face, and remind them to keep it close on the way down as well, so that subsequent reps aren’t affected by an out-of-balance starting position.
If you’re struggling with your press, try implementing some of these cues next time you train. It may also be time to change programming — the press just doesn’t respond to 3×5 programming for long, and benefits from more volume. Check out episode #93 – Build Your Press with Better Programming for programming ideas.