15 January 2013

Pimpin' Ain't Easy #4- Let's get Down to The Finish

Yuri Vlasov, badass overhead presser and progenitor of one of the greatest quotes of all time: 
“The blood of your fathers has turned to water in your veins. Not your lot is it to be strong as they were. Having tasted neither life’s sorrows nor it’s joy, like a sickling you look at life through a glass. Your skin will shrivel, your muscles grow weak, tedium will devour your flesh destroying desire. Thought will congeal in your skull and horror will stare at you from the mirror. Overcome yourself, overcome yourself. I tremble, I seethe, I clench, I seize the haul.”

Time To Set It Straight
It was recently brought to my attention that I abandoned this series like a 16 year old's dumpster baby on prom night, so I thought it prudent to finish this motherfucker up posthaste.  From what I've read online and in the comments in this series, people seem to have a hell of a time with overhead pressing, and they're all incredibly perplexed as to why they suck at putting weight overhead.  The answer, however, is really fucking simple- you're not used to doing it, have never prioritized it, and definitely don't overhead press as much as you should.  I covered some of the exercises you should be doing in the previous entry, so it stands to reason I should give you a place to start and a destination for which you should aim, lest you just mill about the gym randomly doing Savickas Presses and mumbling Big Daddy Kane lyrics to yourself.

Bill March- what you look like when you don't suck at the overhead press.

Begin At The Beginning
If you suck at the military press, which is likely, because most people seem to regard it as the weightlifting version of Susan Boyle's vagina, you're going to need to start with baby steps.  When I began really focusing on the overhead press, I did so by starting out with a weight I knew I could handle for 6-8 reps, and pounding the shit out of it at that weight every other day.  In my case, that was 135 lbs on the strict military overhead press.  Once I got to the point where I could reliably hit that for 10, I bumped up to 155, and restarted the process.  I continued in that fashion to 185, where I got to the point where I could hit 5-8 without much of a problem, and then started going for doubles and singles.  Former U.S. Olympic Weightlifting team coach Jim Schmitz had a slightly different approach.  Given that I had already been training for 15 years when I got serious about overhead pressing, my experience was likely uncommon.  Schmitz, on the other hand, likely has seen all manner of noobs wander through his dusty gyms, and thus is a good resource to consult.  According to the venerable Schmitz,
"For beginners—or if this is a new exercise for you—I recommend sets of 10 reps with a weight of about 25% of your bodyweight. If you weigh 150 lb., then start with about 35 to 40 lb. for 2 sets of 10 reps. If you are an experienced lifter, I recommend sets of 5 reps with a weight that you can do for only 5 reps. However, it would be a good idea to take a very light weight for 10 reps as a warm up. To make the military press more of a complete and effective exercise, you can power clean and press each rep. Two important things to remember are to get set before you press and to hold the weight overhead for at least 1 second for each rep, and 3 seconds on the last rep of each set. Also, when you lower the barbell back to your clavicles and deltoids, you want to catch the bar with a little give in the legs so as not to beat up and bruise yourself or jar your spine. It’s sort of like catching a baseball: you give with the barbell, and then get set for the next rep.
According to Schmitz, if you're a man in the prime of your life, you should be able to overhead press your bodyweight.  Women, on the other hand, should be hitting 75% of their bodyweight, though from my experience I'd say more like 66%.  That's not a knock on females, but rather a concession that even chicks who regularly put weight overhead generally don't have the upper body strength that comes with testosterone and a childhood of intense physical activity.  For instance, my girlfriend is a former competitive Olympic weightlifter turned powerlifter, and she only strict presses 80 lbs at 135.  Her jerk and her behind the neck push press are both more than double that, but that's likely due to the involvement of her lower body in driving the bar up.  Given the role leg strength plays in women's upper body movements, focusing on strict pressing is likely a good idea for women, as it will translate nicely when they switch back to power movements.  That said, everyone, irrespective of their gender, should have strict military pressing their bodyweight as a primary goal, if for no other reason than it's silly not to be able to do so.

Doesn't need a reason or a caption.  This is just awesome.

Interestingly, an article on Critical Bench compounded my beliefs on this issue- doing strict, rather than power movments, should definitely have its place in your program.  To wit, bench press specialist and drug free world record holder Rock Lewis pointed out that he does the majority of his bench pressing with his legs in the air.  We've all seen the kid we consider to be functionally retarded benching 185 lbs. with his legs up and crossed in the gym at some point, but there's actually merit to that method, according to Rock- he's benched 620 in that fashion at 242.  Additionally, Rock utilizes high volume to bring up his bench, hitting eight to ten sets of ten three days a week for much of the year, then drops to four sets of ten and six sets of five.  That basically mirrors my method for getting my overhead press out of the toilet, so it might be worth trying.

Having elucidated my method for bringing up my overhead press and that of an esteemed US Olympic weightlifting coach, we might as well take a look at other methods.  Tommy Kono is one of America's untarnished Olympic treasures- he was a badass in Olympic weightlifting and in bodybuilding, and had an overhead press of 347 at 198.  As such, Kono's as much an authority on overhead pressing as Lindsey Lohan is on disgracing one's parents.  Kono had some very specific theories on how people should train- namely, that less is more and more will fuck you up.  In the event that you, like me, love training and think low volume programs are to be scorned and belittled, you might initially think Kono's program would be somewhat unfulfilling.  That is, however, until you take into account the frequency with which he does each lift.  Kono broke his program into two parts, the first of which he'd do for three to six weeks, and the second of which he'd do for two to three.  Both periods of the program consisted of two to three days of the same workout.  In the first phase, Kono's overhead work consisted of putting weight overhead for between 16 and 24 sets.  That, for the vast majority of us, is hardly low volume.  In phase one, Kono did the following:

Overhead Press 5 x 5
Power Snatch 3 x 3

In the second phase, Kono stepped it up a notch and took a page out of Doug Hepburn's book, as he included the press off the rack.  In this phase, Kono's overhead work consisted of:

Press off Rack 8 x 3
Power Snatch 3 x 3
Squat Snatch 2 x 3; 2 x 2; 3 x 1

When he wasn't training for a competition, Kono stuck with three days of overhead pressing, 8 sets of 3 for his press work.  The interesting thing about Kono's training, in my opinion, is the fact that while his overhead work likely outstrips the average trainee's to a degree that it resembles the comparison of a nun's sex life with a back alley prostitute, Kono was a vociferous advocate of lower-volume training.  According to Brian Carson,  "Kono was very outspoken at the time against the bodybuilding and lifting magazines that advocated heavy volume training. Kono insisted that the body responds better to brief workouts performed 2-3 times per week with less not more exercises. Yes, people, Tommy Kono was/is a very smart man."

March strict pressing 390.

Another US Olympic pressing phenom and Mr. Universe was Bill March, a guy of whom you've likely never heard.  March was built like a brick shithouse- 5'7", 200 lbs, and lean as hell.  As I've mentioned previously, the strict press pretty much became a joke, which is one of the reasons it was dropped from Olympic competitions.  March preceded the really extreme back-bending contortionist routines that led to the abandonment of the lift, and hit 353.1 at a bodyweight of 198 for the world record in 1963.  His routine was vastly different than anything of which you've likely heard, and therefore requires some investigation.  March did shoulder work twice a week, utilizing partials to bring up his overhead press.  Dubbing it the "March Overload Power System", March overhead pressed Tuesday and Thursday, then maxed out on the Olympic lifts on Saturday.  He encouraged every lifter to find their own sticking points, which vary greatly between individuals, then break the lift into three sections according to those sticking points.  For the purposes of his training, March referred to the the three sections as low, middle, and high, which correspond to the shoulders to about six inches higher, eye level to just above the head, and then the lockout.  Once you've identified where your sticking point is, like eye level to the top of the head, you should focus on that part of the lift like a Ritallin-addicted stripper on dollar bills.  March recommended only doing one set of three, to complete failure, on that portion.  Start with the portion of the lift giving you problems, then move on to the other two portions of the lift, doing one set of three with a 12 second static hold at the end of the set.  Unique and innovative, which is usually what you need to be if you're going to kick ass like Chuck Norris in a Sir Mix Alot video at anything in which you might compete.

That should resonate with you like the Kraken's "bloop" bouncing off the US Navy's hydrophones- you're not overhead pressing enough.  Lest you think you Kono was full of shit, however, and think that once a week shoulder training is enough, there are a number of strongmen who'd disagree strongly enough to match the violence of response to stimuli that the obstreperous autistic kid who tried to buttfuck himself with an TV remote because his mom cancelled his WoW account exhibited.  For instance, hall of fame strongman and occasionally impressive MMA fighter Mariusz Pudzianowski trained twice a day, six days a week when he was a strongman, rotating between three gym workouts and three event training workouts.  As such, he does each of the three gym workouts twice a week.  Day two of his workout consists of 6 x 5 on behind the neck push press, with crucifix holds in the evening.

Derek Poundstone, another epic strongman, discovered that the weak link in his overhead press was actually his triceps.  As such, he added tons of heavy tricep work to his shoulder-heavy routine of strict overhead presses (standing and sitting on the floor), log clean and presses, and one arm overhead presses (Q&A).  Poundstone focuses on shoulders and traps on Monday, then hits them again on Saturday with event training after pre-fatiguing his shoulders and triceps with chest and tricep training on Friday.  

The reason for his giant, vascular shoulders should be pretty obvious.

For those of you curious as to what I do for shoulders, it varies rather considerably.  My favorite three workouts, however, are the following.

Klokov All The Time
This workout just consists of Klokov presses, which I detailed here, and often consumes the entirely of my workout.  For some reason, I love these enough to just do them indefinitely.  As such, I'll do one of two things.  I'll either pick a weight and do it for an hour to an hour and a half with as little rest between sets as possible, or gradually ramp the weights up.  Thus, I do this:

1 Hour of sets of 8-12 reps with 135, which ends up being 20-40 sets


5 x 10 x 135
10 x 3-5 x 185
2-5 x 1-2 x 205
1-2 x 1 x 225

If that seems like a hell of a lot of volume, that's because it is.  I could not love a human baby as much as I enjoy doing Klokovs, however, and it's my go to exercise when I feel like shit and don't want to train.

Behind The Neck Extravaganza
This is exactly what it sounds like.  I usually work up to a max single on behind the neck push press, and recently tied my personal best while battling walking pneumonia.  This workout goes something like this:

1 x 1 x 135
1 x 1 x 225
5 x 1-3 x 275
1 x 1-2 x 305
5 x 1 x 315
3 x 1 x 325
2 x 1 x 355
1 x max x 315

Mix It Up
For this one, I'll generally start with strict military presses, then go on to push presses.

Strict Press
1 x 10 x 135
1 x 10 x 155
1 x 5-8 x 185
1 x 3 x 205
3-10 x 1 x 225

Push Press
5-10 x max x 225

There's really no rhyme or reason to the manner in which I do these workouts- they go entirely by what I feel like doing, and then I do that.  I generally have two days a week when i do shoulders, and the workouts range from the shit I just mentioned to a few sets of Klokov presses for max reps with 185.  The more, the better, on shoulder work, and I'll just mix it in whenever everything else hurts or I just feel like pressing.

Dmitri says press something.

It should be clear, at this point, that you need to train more overhead press, and that failure to do so will only make you look silly when all is said and done.  In the event that the point's not yet been made, here's an incomplete list of Crossfit chicks who manage to be hot while outlifting you on overhead work.

Becky Conzelman- Bizarrely Bible thumping, 40 year old Conzelman busted a 160lb thruster at a bodyweight of 123 in competition, and has hit a 180 lb clean and jerk  (Green).  She's gotten that overhead strength from a shitload of training, as "She has been doing five CrossFit workouts, four weightlifting sessions, and one or two gymnastics sessions per week."(Green)

Jenny Davis-  Alright, so they're not all burning hot, but this broad is fucking metal, as she literally just took a steaming shit on your IQ and your best overhead lift.  Davis is a Yale graduate and has a 195 lb. clean and jerk and 145 lb. snatch at a bodyweight of 148.  Her secret?  "Her main emphasis has been volume, with shorter [workouts] taking a back seat.  “I’m training five days a week, with a mixture of singles and doubles,” Davis says. “I’ve been doing a lot of higher volume bodyweight movements and trying to incorporate some gymnastics play in there."(Schermerhorn)

Angie Pye- Though the above picture might not indicate that she's pretty as hell,  Angie Pye manages not only to be capable of a 190 lb. clean and jerk and 150 lb snatch at 148, but is so lean that you should be considering a 2 week fast after looking at that picture of her back.  Pye trains 8 times a week, which is likely why she puts more weight overhead than most of you.

Mona Pretorius-  Rocking a name that seems to have been pulled directly from a comic book, she's  a six time world champion in karate, and she clean and jerks 231 lbs.  Did I mention she weighs 132?  Make sure you put plastic down before you blow your brains out, fellas- no need to leave a mess for the family to clean up.  She trains twice a day with a mix of Olympic weightlifting and Crossfit, and does a metric shit ton of overhead work.

At this point, you should be reaching for your car keys to get your happy ass to the gym and overhead press.    Either that, or a .44 Magnum.  It's time we brought the lift back into prominence and stopped, collectively, sucking at it like a toothless hooker in a Thai brothel.  Get at it, motherfuckers.

Carson, Brian.  Tommy Kono Program.  Tommy Kono Power Program-Part 1.  Tommy Kono Power Program-Part 2.  http://workout-routines.net/index.php?s=tommy+kono

Froneman, Amy.  Mona Pretorius: dynamite in a small package.  Health24. 29 Jul 2011.  Web.  15 Jan 2013.  http://www.health24.com/fitness/General/16-4634,64364.asp

Green, Meg.  Mover and Shaker: Becky Conzelman.  http://games.crossfit.com/article/mover-and-shaker-becky-conzelman

John, Dan.  An Overview of Bill March Materials.  Dan John.  Dec 2009.  Web.  15 Jan 2013.  http://danjohn.net/2009/12/an-overview-of-bill-march-materials/

March, Bill.  The Overload Power System.  Tight Tan Slacks Of Dezso Ban.  5 Jan 2011.  Web.  15 Jan 2013.  http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2011/01/overload-power-system-bill-march.html

Q&A with Derek Poundstone.  RX Muscle.  27 Mar 2009.  Web.  15 Jan 2013.  http://forums.rxmuscle.com/showthread.php?5069-Q-amp-A-with-ASC-Pro-Strongman-Derek-Poundstone

Schermerhorn, Keka.  Empasizing Volume: JENNY DAVIS.  http://games.crossfit.com/article/emphasizing-volume-jenny-davis

Schmitz, Jim.  The Manly Military Press.  Ironmind.  Web.  15 Jan 2013. http://www.ironmind.com/ironmind/opencms/Lifts/Military_press.html

Tatar, Ben.  Interview with awe-inspiring bench presser Rock Lewis.  Critical Bench.  Mar 2008.  Web.  14 Jan 2013.  http://www.criticalbench.com/Rock-Lewis-Bench-Presser.htm

Tommy Tamio Kono.  Hall of Fame @ Liftup.  Web.  15 Jan 2013.  http://www.chidlovski.net/liftup/l_galleryResult.asp?a_id=274#records

William March.  Top Olympic Lifters of the 20th Century.  Liftup.  Web. 15 Jan 2013.  http://www.chidlovski.net/liftup/l_athleteResult.asp?a_id=484#wr


  1. I completely agree. Pressing is one that I feel weak as shit on and want to get better at! Novice lifter here, 155 for sets of 5 @ 185 bodyweight. Been wondering what I could do to improve it.

    Would you recommend your training above? How many times a week? Also, did you have a "light" day and a "heavy" day?

    1. I generally don't make a conscious decision to go light or heavy. Typically, I mix them up. I'll add a section with my typical workouts.

  2. On the same day that I decide to make OHP one of my prioritized lifts you post this. It must be fate. Also, love the kid with the remote.

  3. Jamie, you mentioned on Facebook that you lowered your calories, eating more protein and less fat.
    How is a typical day of eating looking like now?

    1. It's the hamburger diet I've written about before, in one of my competition prep blogs. I don't recall which one.

    2. No more APD, then?
      Or do you plan to get back on it after your meet?

    3. You eat the burger without cheese, I presume.

      Don't they get fucking really dry and inedible?

  4. Nice post. I was just today feeling incredibly disgruntled that strict pressing has been feeling shittier and shittier lately. I have been trying to back off heavy weights a little bit and get more volume in, but the system I was following was just kind of stupid haha. I really like the method you followed of working to hit 135 for reliable sets of 10, then bumping the weight and working at sets of 6-8 again till you could get sets of 10 again. I think I'll start on that next week, it'll help give me a goal to shoot for and keep a lot of volume. Thanks for the ideas.

  5. In Kono's books he's against high volume training the current weightlifters practice. He insists on quality and rest more than anything else.

    After reading this post earlier in the evening I wasn't in the mood to OHP since I benched yesterday. Luckily I remembered the overhead barbell carries/walks you wrote about in the past and did those instead. Good stuff.

  6. Replies
    1. Yeah, I really couldn't not repost that bad boy. Or not not use a double negative there.

  7. I agree with jack, that quote is one of the most inspiring things I've read in awhile.

  8. What's your opinion on the old school BTN press? Either seated or standing but basically only to about ear level. Pretty much all the old school bodybuilders, strongmen and powerlifters used that lift so there's enough merit in apparently.

  9. Been following ur blog for awhile nw really cool philosophy and ive been pressing over head for quita a while having a 180 push press nearly my body whieght but I injured my shoulder so nw im having a real hard time getting back to pressing any suggestions on how to go back there ?!

    1. Try harder, is really the only answer. I got walking pneumonia and could barely move, much less train, for a couple of weeks. Getting back into two a days has been fucking horrible. Just keep hammering at it.

  10. Holy shit that quote is awesome....I barely focused on the rest of the article because I was thinking about it. Grabbing my car keys and heading to the gym....

  11. Fuck yes, you consult people now! Do you focus on strength building or mass with consulting? What if I don't know what I should focus on yet?

    1. It's really whatever people want to focus on- I'm helping you achieve your goals, rather than me giving you goals. Building mass is really just diet, so the programming should put mass on you if you're eating right. If you want nutritional advice, it'll cost a bit more.

    2. Great. I'm finishing this routine in like a month. I could use some good advice from a guy like you, after I finish this cycle. I train for 2.5 years now, very short I know. But the last 6 months I have been following your routines and made the best strength gains. I have been wasting time with these wannabe bodybuilder routines. Thats why my stats still suck.

  12. It's posts like these that make me want to start overhead pressing more frequently than the 3-4 times I already do this week. I'm starting to love the klokov press more each time I perform the lift.

    But I was wondering, based upon your past experiences, if when you first starting to increase the number of days of overhead pressing, did your numbers on reverse grip bench start to go down, only to go up higher than before?

  13. If you're only overhead pressing 3 to 4 times a week, you're obviously not that dedicated. I'd give up, or maybe just stick to reading Mens Health and doing their routines.

  14. Been incorporating BTNP daily but strained my neck for second time now and it puts me out for at least a week,you recommend and neck exercises before hand?

    1. You just need to catch the bar in the proper position.