13 November 2010

Exercises You've Never Tried- The Old-School Military Press

Take a trip with me, back to a time where men were men, people rode horses or walked whereever they were going, and there was a rampant fascination in the Western world with professional wrestling, weightlifting, and skyscrapers.  A time when a guy in Britain decided to start holding the first mixed martial arts competitions in the world, only to be forgotten in everything but the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle until recently.  A time when drinking and weightlifting were activities that could be publicly enjoyed together.  A time when our President boxed and wrestled professionals in the White House. In other words, an awesome time.  This was the beginning of the 20th century.
Sir Edward Barton-Wright, grandpappy of MMA and superheavyweight of badassery in the early 20th C.

Imagine yourself in this time... maybe riding one of those ridiculous penny farthing contraptions down to your local beer garden for a couple of pints, and then walking into the adjoining building, taking off your shirt, grabbing a preloaded barbell and heaving the thing overhead while bullshitting with your buddies.  This, my friends, was the time we should be emulating in the gym.  This was the era of Saxon, Goerner, Hackenschmidt, Maxick, Sandow, and Aston- ripped, ridiculously strong guys who lifted weights no one can duplicate today, all natural.  These are the men from whom we can learn, and guys we should emulate.  

Every now and again I'll go back to the well on exercises, and dig up one that I've either not done recently or never done before, and it's invariably one from the pantheon of exercises these hard-as-nails motherfuckers held in ridiculously high esteem.  I recently did that again, and started doing an exercise that's about as unlike me as you could imagine, as it's not the kill-everyone-and-fuck-form-I'm-fucking-lifting-get-the-fuck-out-of-my way lifts, but rather the strictest of the strict lifts.  Allow me to present the old school military presses.

The Military Press can be done one of two ways- one handed or two handed.  The rules, essentially, remain the same, but I'll cover them both.  For the two handed version (according to Maxick's book Great Strength By Muscle Control), the lift is conducted thusly: "Holding all the muscles rigid, lift the bell upward and forward as far as possible by means of the deltoid, until you reach the position shown in Fig. 9.  It would obviously mean disqualification if the lifter were to bend farther back than illustrated by Fig. 9.  The rules provide that the heels must be kept closed, the legs straight, and the body quite erect throughout the lift.(Maxick, p.39)
"An excellent performance in this lift would be one and a half times the lifter's bodyweight."(Maxick, p. 41) Frankly, I only do these on ultra light days, and have thus not attempted all that much weight on these.  I like them, however, as a warmup for BTNPPs and for heavy push presses, and have started giving them a try as a stand-alone exercise.  They're... interesting.  Humbling, to say the least.  Having one's heels together definitely removes much of your base, so you're really left with just your pressing power and little else at play.  Having done them a bit heavier, I understand why random 150 lb guys in the early 20th century had such sick shoulders- it was strict military presses, along with a paucity of benching.
Saxon appears not to have been a fan of this lift, as he completely glosses over it in his book Text Book of Weightlifting, although "he pressed between 250 and 260 lbs., accomplished as if he had a lot in hand and let it be known that he did not bend back an inch or sway or move in any way, just forced the bell up with sheer power in a perfect “military” style of press as we then called that style of lift. He could have raised much more by leaning back" according to Thomas Inch. (Inch)   Saxon was, of course, the manliest motherfucker ever to walk the Earth, and a guy whose lifts are probably never going the be duplicated.  Another guy from that era who tore it the fuck up on this lift was Maxick, who hit a two hands military press of 230 pounds at a bodyweight of 145.  That lift, according to David Willoughby,  "which he performed in 1909, would be equivalent today to a lift in the same strict style of about 267 pounds, or to a Two Hands Olympic Press of about 312 pounds That is to say, in pressing power Maxick was the equal, in his day, of any of the light-weight Olympic champion pressers of the present time."
145 lbs of "fuck you up".
The other version, obviously, is the One Arm version.  Form on this is much the same:
"the One Arm Military Press strict rules are still followed, and the lift is just what it is called – a press while at military attention.
There are two ways that the lift has been performed. The athlete could use his discretion regarding what to do with his free arm. He could keep it at the side of his left thigh (assuming that he is pressing with the right arm), or he could hold it out at right angles to the shoulder. The strictest way would be holding the arm at the thigh, for that would be more in keeping with “Military Attention.”
For record attempts a dumbell would always be used and the athlete would spread his feet just far enough to allow the weight to be straddled. He would then lean over, and in a rather quick clean pull the weight to the shoulder, and almost at the same time snap his heels together and start getting his body braced for the lift. Here is where a little so-called “science” can be used.
The elbow is carried back a bit, the handle of the weight must be in line with the chin, and now the athlete can get his back rigid. He contracts his thighs, and at the same time his buttocks. This gives him stability and a firmness which the beginning does not realize is important in all overhead pressing. Here is where the lifter can use discretion as to how he wants to hold his free arm. If he holds it at the side he can, by pressing against his thigh and tensing his arm, give himself rigidness. He can also get almost the same effect by keeping his arm at right angles to the shoulder, and tense his upper back, by pressing it in a downward motion. All this is done by the experienced One Arm Military presser, but it is not apparent. It is just about all the “science” there is to the lift. Eyes are kept looking straight ahead. Some lifters will keep the palm of the hand facing them throughout the lift, while others may turn it just the least bit toward the front, which is also permissible, and may be of some help. Now the weight is slowly but steadily pressed over the head, without the body swaying front, back, left or right."  (Klein)
Seems pretty simple, and I've done them with reasonably light weights on more than one occasion.  While I've been content with 100 lb singles, however, old-school strongmen were not.  They took this exercise seriously, did it constantly, and had sick weights to show for it.  Edward Aston, for instance, could one arm military press 172 at a bodyweight of under 200 lbs, while Sandow put up 121, Saxon pressed 127, and Grimek easily did 120 for three with a barbell, which had to have take some ridiculous grip strength.  According to Alan Calver, the guys in Europe were even better at this lift, as "Witzelsberger, of Vienna, had done 154 lbs., but I have since been told that while Witzelberger kept his heels together and his legs straight, he bent his body over slightly. It is said that Cyr once made a military press with a 165-lb. bar-bell, and Mr. Jowett says he saw the giant, La Vallee, do 165 lbs."(Calver)
Grip strength appears not to have been a problem for Grimek.

Different writers seemed to have different ideas of what a good one arm military press was.  Sig Klein, champion trainer and all around awesome guy, though that "one-half of [a lifter's] body weight [is] a fairly good One Arm Military Press. If he can do two-thirds of his body weight he can be considered exceptionally strong, and very few athletes have succeeded in doing this." (Klein)  Maxick, however, thought that anyone who could put up 90 lbs with one hand and strict form was a badass.  They took this exercise seriously, though, and this was apparently the only way overhead lifts were performed for a long time.
No matter how much weight you're using in this lift, it definitely appears to have contributed far more to awesome shoulders than the highly vaunted lateral raises ever did.  The next time you're considering that exercise, think about this- when was the last time you saw a guy at your gym with truly awesome shoulder.  Probably on the 7th of never.  Even if you did, it's far more likely that they guy was an Olympic lifter than a bodybuilder.  No matter what the magazines might tell you, pressing builds shoulders.  Thus, grab a dumbbell, force it overhead with nothing but willpower, a fuck-you attitude, and a haughty disdain for gravity, and harken back to the good old days.

Just leave your penny farthing at home.

Calver, Alan.  Super Strength- Chapter 14- Lifting a Barbell From Floor to Chest.  http://www.bobwhelan.com/history/superstrength14.htm
Inch, Thomas.  "My Friendship with Arthur Saxon" http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2009/01/my-friendship-with-arthur-saxon-thomas.html
Klein, Sig.  The One Arm Military Press.  http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2010/06/one-arm-military-press-sig-klein.html
Maxick.  Great Strength By Muscle Control.  http://www.maxalding.co.uk/Great%20Strength/gs-intro.htm
Willoughby, David.  The Super Athletes.


  1. This exercise rules, and in my opinion it builds shoulder strength better than anything.

    There's a gymnastics facility near my house, and I have a buddy who works there. Pretty strong guy, especially considering he only works out with gymnastics-type stuff, not weights.
    Anyway, about a year ago we both decided we wanted to be able to do free-standing handstand push-ups.
    His handstand was more solid than mine, and he had a bit more shoulder strength.
    To work on this, buddy did HSPU's against a wall, walking on hands, etc., while I did some of this, but mostly heavy (for me) military presses, fairly often.
    End result, I got my full handstand push-up two weeks before buddy did.
    I'd like to think it was mostly because of the military presses.

  2. What you've written is a TRUE military press. Heels together, no leaning with the body, just pure pressing power. That's sheer awesomeness!!!

  3. Jamie, what do you think of this:


    And this:


    And this:


    Zeitgeist the movie.. I wonder if you have seen it, and if so, what you think of it, and if not, I hope you watch them, it was quiet an eye opener for me..

  4. Holding the barbell like that in the starting position must be a killer.
    Always been doing it resting on the end of the shoulder.

  5. I tend to prefer overhead pressing 1-3 reps and even then, I'd much rather do BTNPP's or front PP's.

    Either way, my bench goes up if I'm overhead pressing well.

  6. I read somewhere that the initiation test for some police precinct was to strict military press an 80 pound dumbbell.
    (I think this was from some of Sig Klein's writings. I could be wrong, though.)

  7. hang pulls and push presses (alternated with military presses) will give you delts that beat any bodybuilding chump's. let them stick to their cable lateral raises and front raises.

  8. Marrkos- I've got that in my Netflix queue, but haven't seen it yet.

  9. Okay!

    I wonder what you think of it, it does seem to fit in with the other ideas and ideologies you have shared with us, allthough they have managed to pour it into a "hippy-like, tree-hugging, love the world, peace and happiness" kinda message.. Not exactly the "hate the world, fuck all women, kill all cows, lift heavy weights, and insult everyone" lifestyle you live, but nonetheless, I do think you will like it. I know I did.

    Also, while we're at the subject of mental stimulation, have you read "1984" and "animal farm" from George Orwell? Old stuff, but very mind-expanding as well.

    I imagine you have, but just wondering..

  10. Re: Zeitgeist

    Jamie, save yourself the trouble. Here's the cliff-notes version:
    -Christianity was made up to control people, and stems from paganism. It's just one of many versions of the same myth that happened to take hold.
    -9/11 was an inside job.
    -Although it doesn't mention Jews directly, it basically states by implication that the Jews who own everything want to dumb us all down via media bullshit and technological toys and implement world government.

    When I saw that movie I said to myself, "No shit. Did I really have to waste two hours of my life to learn things that trivial and self-evident?"

    So, Jamie, just for you, the Clif-Notes version.

  11. Get your tin foil hat ready if you are gonna watch Zeitgeist.

    Although their point about Christianity is pretty good. Too bad Nietzsche beat them to the punch.

  12. Well, they didn't provide me with a lot of new information, but they did open my eyes, and made me realise how fucked up the world is. Knowing and realising something are two different things.

    The whole Utopia-like "Resource-based-economy" they want to build, is a funny concept to think about. It is however completely unrealistic.

  13. This has probably already been posted here at some point but here is Mariusz doing BNPPS:


    Uh-oh! What's this? Hercules curls at 1:18! lmao:


  14. Hahaha. Marius is the reason I started doing those things. What a fucking beast that man is.

    As for Zeitgeist, that shit amuses me- I'm not above watching the occasional Alex Jones vid. I cancelled my cable a couple of months ago, so I've been watching a decent amount of documentaries on Netflix. Worst case, I can have it on in the background while I do other shit.

    In re 1984, etc., I'm a big fan of dystopic fiction, and read those in high school. Frankly, Harrison Bergeron chumps everything else ever written in that genre, but I enjoy those as well.

  15. Animal Farm seems really over-rated to me. Orwell just took a historical event, the Russian Revolution/ascension of Stalin, and retold it using animals as characters. If I wrote a book retelling the events of the Vietnam war, using fish as characters, would you bother to read it?
    1984 was a lot more interesting, especially the language distortion element.

    I've taken to doing sets of only the lower half (I stop when I clear my head) of strict military presses on days when I do jerks or btn push presses to compensate for the lack of stress those exercises put on the lower part of the movement. I don't know if this is a great idea, but I'll keep at it for a few months and see if it helps anything.

  16. Those partial presses to eye-level or forehead-level were one of Anthony Ditillo's favourite exercises.
    Push presses to the top of your head are good too. You'll really feel them in your upper back.

  17. Picking on a 17-year-old girl over the Internet is pretty cowardly. Especially coming from someone who can't even talk to women in real life. Hiding behind a phony name to do it makes it even more pathetic. What are you hoping to accomplish anyway? It's already been established that if your little schtick was ever funny it hasn't been for a while now. Your obsession with her only proves what a geek you are.

  18. "Cops are pussies"? I don't know...cops are the only people I know who advance towards trouble. If they could, the military prefer to tactically outflank, etc. but will fight head on. But cops (and firefighters) go straight in regardless. Try it some time.

  19. In most cases where cops advance into trouble it is towards a weaker person while they have the security of knowing they have an entire police force behind them to pummel the person if they don't follow the cop's directions.

    The few police officers that exist that actually help solve worthwhile crimes are almost as rare as seeing a unicorn. The rest of them are there to hand out tickets to keep the boroughs revenue stream flowing and harass normal people due to some sort of penile deficit.

    As for your soldier and firemen argument...who said anything about them? Don't start in on some 9/11 hero rant about everybody who works for the government being a hero, because that's just dumb.

    Cops are pussies and if you think they are here to help you, I think you should take a look around and ask yourself when the last time one of them actually did something to help you. Or are you one of these people who thank them when you get a speeding ticket?


  20. Simon, you are a sad little man with a fake screen name.

  21. You must be a cop.
    Hello, Officer Needle Dick.

  22. I get a big kick out of these "I hate the police" douch bags.
    They'd be first to accept the help in an emergency.

  23. Hello to you, Officer Needle Dick's partner.

  24. Derek Poundstone's a cop.

  25. gotta look how muich you can military press for one rep Jamie, cus despite you said you hate the bench press, you have a good press , and thats shows a lot of shoulder strenght

  26. I like how, as much of an asshole he can be, Jamie rarely descends to the level of entering the fucktarded arguments that crop up here, such as the above Cops R gud vs. Cops R baaad. Way to keep it profession... well, semi-professiona... A little professional? Fuck it, thanks for maintaining at least a modicum of good taste.

  27. Hahaha. Given that I recently changed my avatar on a couple of forums to the cover of Bad Taste, that's ironic. I find that most of the arguments online are stupid to a point where it's difficult to understand why anybody bothers, but people've got to find ways to amuse themselves, right?

  28. http://articles.elitefts.com/articles/nutrition/jack-up-your-testosterone/ GAY.

  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

  30. Can you explain your views on that film zeitgeist to me?

    I struggle with the idea of a prison-less and lawless world. Is that anarchy? for there to be no prisons, surely the advances in technology would need to be perfected to an airtight degree prior to the abolishment of a monetary economy; which in itself is paradoxical. The narrator talks about exponential improvement of technology in a resource economy, but there would be unforeseen technological needs at the beginning of this structure that could take years to resolve.

    By that stage it would be too late though as money would be already gone and so there would be total and utter chaos and pain.

  31. I haven't seen it, but I can tell you from a minarchist perspective that there would be small private jails for processing and holding criminals prior to adjudication, but all offenses would be punishable by fines payable to the aggrieved party. Should the guilty party fail to pay, he'd be marked as an outcast and no one would do business with them, because they were untrustworthy and likely to defraud or outright fuck others on payment.

    Additionally, everyone would be armed, as they'd not be able to rely on others for protection. As such, the possibility of robberies would be slim to none, as anyone could draw down on a robber and blast him. Same goes for any violent crime.

    Check out the book Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith. It explains such a society in great detail.

  32. Thanks man. This is a subject i intend to debate for the next while with my friends who sent me the link to the zeitgeist movement and explained its benefits and it's grey areas to me. I still have a lot more to learn about it though. The idea of a monetary system being practically if not totally abolished is quite befuddling