Clean the bell to your shoulder to start with. Maximally tighten your body on impact. It is not just about shock absorption; bracing for the weight will make the kettlebell feel like a toy in your hand and your muscles will be powerfully loaded for action.
One of the top reasons comrades get injured in the gym is the idiotic notion of 'isolation'.
Put it to rest, isolation is neither possible nor desirable. Make a fist. A white-knuckle fist! Observe how tension involuntarily overflows from your forearm into your biceps, shoulder, even the pec. This is the neat 'muscle software', called irradiation, at work (see Power to the People!: Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American book for a detailed explanation). Counterintuitively, contracting muscles other than the ones directly responsible for the task at hand—the deltoids and triceps in the case of the military press—does not take away from the prime movers' power, but amplifies it! Especially if it is the abs and glutes that you are flexing.
In case you think that getting more juice into your arms by clenching your cheeks is preposterous, try this party trick. Give your friend the hardest handshake you can muster (for obvious reasons the guinea pig had better have a sturdy hand that can take it). Shake off the tension, rest for a minute, then repeat the test. This time, in addition to trying to demolish your comrade's paw, flex your glutes as if you are trying to pinch a coin, 'tuck your tail under', and brace your abs for an imaginary punch. Expect a mighty 'Ouch!'
Having learned that extra tension adds power now find a way of maximizing that tension. One technique is bracing, or tightening up your muscles before the load is upon them.
A good arm-wrestler loads all his muscles with high-strung tension before the ref yells 'Go!' A great arm-wrestler will load even before he grips up with his opponent. And an amateur who waits for the referee's command to pull before turning on his biceps finds himself pinned without knowing what has hit him.
Conduct another experiment. Get down in a pushup position, elbows locked. Have a comrade push down on your shoulders a few times. Note how heavy the pressure felt. Now brace yourself, flex your whole body, and have your buddy push again with the same amount of force. You will not even notice the pressure!
The lesson to learn is to brace yourself while the bell us still in the air, not when it hits you. Houdini could take anyone's punch if he was prepared for it. He died when he got struck without warning.
To get the most out of your press, while putting the least amount of distress on your shoulder, you must start the press with your working shoulder maximally pressed down—the opposite of a shrug—and your elbow pushed down as low as it can go. At the same time, pull the elbow slightly inward toward your belly button. This maneuver from the arsenal of Russian weightlifters—a so-called obtyazhka—pre-stretches the delts. As a result you will be stronger; Starling's Law states that a pre-stretched muscle has more ummph. You will also evenly work all the three heads of the deltoid rather than just the overworked front one, and will do it through a maximal range of motion. It sure has worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger. He presses his dumbbells from the curl position and twists his palms forward as the bells go up. This style became known in the West as 'the Arnold Press'.
Look at the photos and observe that the hip is slightly kicked over to the side to get positioned straight under the bell. It is time you understood that pressing a heavy weight overhead while standing at attention is a fantasy. Even a 'certified' personal trainer cannot repeal Newtonian physics. The downward pressure of the weight must be projected over your feet, at least if you do not feel like toppling over.
Maybe you can keep your waist relaxed and upright and still make it—if you are pressing a Malibu Ken & Barbie color-coded dumbbell with your little finger sticking out. But when the iron adds up the scenario changes.
In the photo I am pressing 72 pounds. Had I weighted 350 pounds myself I probably could have played the Ken and Barbie isolation game, anchored by the sheer mass. But I weigh only 180. Had I not pushed my hip under the bell and flexed my midsection, I would have been down on my butt in a jiffy.
Realize that displacing the hips sideways does not give you an excuse to lean back; the latter is plain bad news for your back. An intense ab and glute contraction will help you to avoid leaning back, no matter how heavy is the weight.
Do not press the bell straight up; your delts will have no leverage. Visualize pushing outward with your elbow— sort of a lateral raise—while keeping your forearm vertical, rather than angled toward your head. It is elementary mechanics, Watson; you will never press a heavy weight overhead unless you keep the forearm vertical. Consider almost overdoing it the other way: push the weight away from your body almost to the point where it falls sideways. You will recruit more muscles in the effort, even your biceps.
Squeeze the girya as you press it and remember to keep your wrist tight. Make sure that the bell's handle rests on the meaty spot at the very base of your palm on the little finger side. When pressure stimulates the mechanoreceptors at that site they send a command to the triceps to contract more intensely, a so-called extensor reflex.
Keep your shoulder pressed down as much as possible throughout the press. It may help to visualize that you are pushing yourself away from the weight rather than pressing it up. Or concentrate on keeping your lat flexed.
You should have taken a breath before you even cleaned the weight—75% of your lungs' vital capacity is optimal, according to Prof. Arkady Vorobyev. Hold your breath until you fix the bell overhead. If you breathe with the kettlebell on your chest, you will lose tension. Obviously, if you have high blood pressure, a heart condition, or some other health concerns, this may not be an option. Consult with your doctor on the breathing pattern most appropriate for you.
When you are exerting yourself, always contract your rectal sphincter, as if you are trying to stop yourself from going to the bathroom. I explained the reasons behind this madness in Power to the People!
Finish the lift slow and tight and lock out the elbow firmly. Do not even bother to listen to the nervous Nellies who tell you to never lock your joints. Leave them alone with their pencilneck weights and hypochondria. The j oints need strengthening as much as the muscles and locking out is the way to do it.
Let some air out, take some in, and head back to earth. If you are doing high rep presses—not that you ever should in my opinion— you may exhale on the way down through pursed lips or a partially constricted throat.
There is more to lowering a weight than meets the eye. In order to keep your shoulder in an 'anti-shrug' actively pull your elbow down, all the way to your navel. Quite literally, pull the bell down with your lat. Read all the instructions many times before tackling the weight; there are no minor points here.
Once the girya is at its lowest point, drop it to clean and press it again. At least in the beginning—or when you use a bell that is heavy for you—clean it before each press. You will find that the clean loads more spring into your pressing muscles and helps to keep your waist tight.
Eventually, you may choose to do reps off your shoulder, although I am not a fan of them. Let some air out when the bell lands on your chest, take another breath, and press again.
Just to give you something to shoot for, old-timer Pyotr Kryloff pressed a 32kg K-bell eighty-eight consecutive times. And thirty five year old Soviet teacher Mikhail Levchenko pressed the same size K-bell 700 times with his right! You have some work to do, Comrade.
There are many ways to make the military press easier or harder. If you cannot strictly military press a given size kettlebell you have the following options.
The obvious is a negative, or yielding only, press. Jerk the bell overhead, squeeze it to pulp, and pull it down with complete control while tensing and flaring your lat. If you cannot control the descent you are way out of your league; find a lighter bell.
Perform multiple sets of one rep. Once you can do a very slow negative, add a three second pause at one or more places on the way down, especially your sticking point, probably where the upper arm is parallel to the ground.
Moscow bench press champion Alexey Moiseyev refers to this static/dynamic method as 'a powerlifter's secret weapon' and promises, "Application of a combination of dynamic exercises with isometrics will enable you to reach maximal results in your lifts.'
You could use a little help from your legs and do a push press.
Working the start of the press statically is dandy. ".. .the way you improve is by lifting weights, the heaviest possible," quipped isometrics pioneer John Ziegler, M.D. "What's the heaviest weight you can lift? —One you can't lift!"
Once you have cleaned the bell to your shoulder, attempt to press the still-too-heavy weight for three or four seconds. Keep your sphincter contracted and hiss under high pressure; your tongue should be pressed hard behind your teeth and your abs cramping from the effort: Stop shortly before you run out of air.
Make sure that you try to press the bell to the side as much as up; follow the groove explained earlier.
The old-fashioned graduated press works swell. Having jerked the K-bell overhead, lower it an inch or so and press it back up. Stay within the groove you would have followed if you were performing a full press. Increase the range of motion over a period of time until you work all the way down to your shoulder. Keep your reps very low, one to five.
It is easier to press the bell from the shoulder than from the chest. Clean your girya higher than usual so its bottom lands on top of your shoulder, rather than the forearm pressed against the chest. Be certain to time your knee dip right so you do not bruise your shoudler.
Your palm and elbow will end up facing forward and slightly out. Now press. Even though the forearm is not vertical—which makes the drill a hybrid of a press and a triceps extension—you will put up a good weight. This is because the range of motion is limited: at the bottom of the press your hand is level with your eyes rather than the clavicles.
Another variation calls for the bell to land on the back of your arm. Push your elbow back as far as possible while keeping it under the bell. What you get is a partial press behind the neck. PBNs are great for the delts, but they tend to raise hell with your neck and shoulders if a straight bar is employed. Not with kettlebells: you do not need to jut your chin forward, to avoid getting popped on the melon with the bar—and you do not need to be forced too far back beyond your flexibility limits.
If your problem is the opposite, the bell is getting to light for you and you are not ready yet to shell out some 'evergreens' for a heavier one, you have just as many choices.
• The obvious one, or adding reps, is on the bottom of my list.
I have made my case for keeping your repetitions low in non-ballistic drills in
Power to the People!
• You could compress the rest periods as much as you want while keeping your reps to five and under.
• You could slow down to a snail's pace taking up to twenty seconds to press the weight.
• You could lower the bell slow and lift it fast.
• You could pause at the sticking point and elsewhere, as you have done when practicing negatives. The variations are endless.
Atwo-kettlebells press is an option—either simultaneous, or in the see saw fashion. If you press both bells at once, lean forward against the weights once they pass your eyes. You will lock out with confidence and get a greater contraction of the posterior delts. Do not overdo it though; you could wrench your shoulders.
'Two steps forward/one step back' is a very powerful technique for building strength and muscle mass. Use it in any of your slow lifts, not just with kettlebells, and do not forget to report your gains on the dragondoor.com discussion site.
Push the weight up two inches and go back one, up two, down one, etc. until you have reached the top. Progress in a tight, springy fashion. On the way down do the contrary: down two, up one. Breathe shallow.
Generally do just one or two reps at a shot. As an option, you may choose to use the 2-1 technique only on the way up or down. And feel free to go up and down more than once, at some spot that is difficult for you; pump it for two or three mini-reps before moving along.
The plus-two-minus-one technique builds strength so effectively because it thoroughly works through various sticking and transition points throughout the range of motion—for example, the dead zone at your eye level, where the deltoid has checked out but the triceps has not quite kicked in. The technique teaches you keep the tension on all the involved musculature for as long as possible and to 'shift gears' without stalling.
Recent scientific research may explain the plus-two-minus-one technique's exceptional ability to pack meat on your bones. Muscle tension impedes the blood flow and traps various growth factors. According to the study by Schott et. al (1995), the muscle cells' longer exposure to these substances supposedly stimulates their growth. But whatever the reasons, the technique works.
An unusual and difficult way to press is with the bell resting on your palm. This 'waiter press' will teach you a strict and perfect pressing skill and will encourage you to apply pressure to the palm
A cruel and unusual way to press is bottom up and wrist strength.
The drill develops unreal grip
elbow—as the Irish saying goes—and will protect the shoulder. Needless to say, if you are pushing straight out the arm should not rise any higher than parallel to the ground. If it does, the drill becomes a poor trap exercise that hurts the shoulder.
The elbow raise will strengthen your shoulders for pressing. Clean a heavy K-bell and push it up with your elbow . No, scratch that! Do not think of pushing up, rather ignore the weight and imagine that you want to push your elbow straight out. This martial arts imagery will add power to your
Floor pullaver and press
Not a favorite of mine, it is nevertheless a good exercise if you favor working your pecs.
Lie on the floor and bring a kettlebell from behind your head to over your chest with both arms. Keep your elbows slightly bent and 'pull from your armpits'. Your arms should be nearly parallel; flared elbows will hurt your shoulders.
Lower the bell while letting it almost fall sideways; this exercise is a hybrid of a press and a fly. Keep your chest high and your pecs stretched.
Take care not to slam your elbow into the floor, control the weight all the way down. Stay tight and push back up.
You can get an even greater range of motion, comparable to what you can get on a bench, by rolling your body to the side away from the K-bell.
Good morning stretch
The following drill, favored by Russian weightlifters, develops spectacular hamstring flexibility and strengthens the hips.
Note the wrong way to go about it. Be certain to keep your shins vertical; you should be almost falling back. If you let those knees protrude forward the exercise will not work.
As you are folding you will feel a pull right underneath your butt, or a hand's width above your knees. If you do not—read the directions from the beginning.
Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can and come up an inch or so. Inhale as you lift. Release the air with a sigh of relief and sink a little deeper. Your body will fold like a jackknife.
Proceed deeper and in the two steps forward, one step back fashion. Keep your chest open, your lower back arched, and your chin pointed forward throughout the set! Do not go any deeper than the level at which you can maintain this alignment. On the other hand, if you are very flexible you may want to do the drill standing on two sturdy boxes.
Here is an unreal drill for a powerful and flexible waist, back, and hips. Elevate a kettlebell overhead any way you like and kick out your right hip to the side. Keep your right knee locked and try to maintain as much weight as possible on your right leg, throughout the stretch. The other knee may be bent; this is not yoga, Comrade! Note the position of the feet.
Keep your chest open and your eyes on the bell. Release some air and fold forward—never backward! —and to the side. The action is similar to jackknifing in the good morning stretch, but is done more to the side than to the rear.
Once you get the basic windmill down pat, place your hand behind your back. Great Canadian strong man George Jowett—this awesome exercise used to be popular on this side of the pond as well—colorfully describes the hand-behind-the-back windmill's benefits: "You will find this exercise a dandy in more respects than one. Here is a peach for giving your entire back a workout in contraction and extension. The first time you practice it, you will feel a sensation upon your breast bone and in your shoulders akin to spreading apart."
When you have reached the limit of your depth, in good form, squeeze your glutes—very important for safety and power! —and slowly, without twisting, get up, following the groove you have made on the way down. Breathe shallow. It helps to grip the ground with your toes.
Eventually work up to the point where you can place your palm on the floor.
The side press, still regularly practiced by Russian athletes, has been unjustly forgotten in the West. An potent mix of the windmill and the military press, the side press was referred to by the father of American weightlifting Bob Hoffman in his 1946 book Broad Shoulders as "one of the best builders of the shoulders and upper back."
Traditionally, the side press is performed with a shoulder wide stance and locked knees. The lifter pushes himself to the side away from the weight using his side muscles—the lats and the obliques—to assist the shoulder and the triceps. The problem with this classic technique is it makes it too easy to lean back. If you choose to use it you must make a point of cramping your glutes and leaning forward slightly with an ab flex. Still, your back may be in danger.
The following modified side press is generally safer, but harder to master. Hoffman's how-to is hard to improve on:
"Take the bell to the shoulder, stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, step forward slightly with the foot on the non-lifting side. Most of your weight rests on that advanced foot. Lean forward and to the side in the direction in which the foot on the non-lifting side points, assuming that you will start with the right hand, we will call that foot the left, as you lean over and forward you push up the weight with the right arm to arm's length.
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