At one point in his powerlifting career Jim Wendler, creator of the powerlifting protocol known as 5/3/1, struggled to increase the weight he was pressing overhead.
Tired of mediocre training sessions he worked hard to improve his pressing power. “There’s something incredibly primal about the press,” says Wendler. “I fell in love with the press, first because of the effect on my bench press. Now it’s no longer a means to an end, but the end itself. The press has become a mainstay in my training programme and easily my favourite upper body lift.”
Here are some pointers from Wendler on how you can boost your overhead press:
- When you take the bar off the rack your lats and upper back should be super tight and pulled together. “The key to taking the bar off the rack and a quality starting position is using the lats as a shelf,” says Wendler. “This means that you shouldn’t support the bar with just your arms and shoulders, but also the lats. This ensures that the bar path stays close to the body, not arched out in front.”
- Volume is king. Wendler did five sets of 10 reps to increase his pressing power and it helped quite a bit. “I still recommend a good base programme with heavier, progressive weights, but don’t be afraid to do a lot of volume after the main training.”
- Don’t use the push-press to help you on the press. “If you feel like your press needs a kick in the ass, a little leg drive might be in store for you. However, do not do this movement just because your press sucks,” says Wendler.
- Become a form Nazi. The overhead press has received a lot of bad publicity over the years for being the main contributing factor to upper body injuries. Wendler says it is only a poor excuse not to do an exercise correctly. “Go read ‘Starting Strength’ by Mark Rippetoe. If you don’t already own it, get it. You’ll learn the press and get an overwhelming tutorial on the squat, deadlift, clean, and bench press.”
- Wendler lists the following exercises that helped his pressing power: Dips, ab wheel, face-pulls, rows, chins and curls.
- Be patient. According to Wendler the press is one of the slowest exercise you can improve on in the gym. It is slower than any lower body lift and even slower than the bench press.“This can be frustrating for the lifter and cause them to give up,” says Wendler. “Welcome to the world of weight training. Increases are not linear and there are setbacks. Strong people persevere in life and in the weight room. Get stronger. Be patient. You aren’t going to get any sympathy from veterans. Maybe Mark Rippetoe said it best: “When you press a barbell overhead, you celebrate the spirit of weight training.”
To find out more on how to improve your lifts visit Wendler’s website at www.jimwendler.com