P I T

October 4, 2014

Understanding the standing front press

By irving henson, pit personal trainer

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The standing front press is basically pushing a barbell over your head. It requires you to move the bar from the top of your chest to the overhead position. No half reps. Full range of motion from top of chest to overhead position, and no jerking the weight up with your legs.

It is one of the hardest lifts to improve on among the 4 big lifts (the other 3 being the squat, benchpress and deadlift) The reason is not that it uses a “smaller set” of muscle groups, but more because it is often neglected in a training program. Here’s some tips on how you can improve on this great barbell exercise –

It’s not just the shoulders that are doing the work.

The shoulders fire up to start the acceleration of the bar. The triceps then fire up simultaneously and at the lock-out position, your upper back takes over to stablise the bar in the overhead position. The midsection also works to stabilise the torso, the butt fires up to keep you stable and the legs work too, to keep you standing. That’s right – It’s a “total body workout” (I’ve always wanted to use that line in an article – as cliche as it may be).

Fire up your upper back when initiating the lift.

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Firing up the right muscles and recruiting them properly is of utmost importance when performing ANY lift. I always tell my class ” You know what you read about the core in magazines? Your muscles in your upper back are the core of upper body lifts “.

Whether you are benching, doing a handstand, doing a pushup, chinup etc etc, your upper back muscles play an important role. Why?  If your upper back isn’t kept tight, you lose all stability in your upper limbs. And when you are not stable, you are not strong.

“Being unstable while trying to produce force is like sitting in a small boat and trying to fire a rocket launcher”

Keep the movement of the bar linear.

Like I mentioned in previous articles, I am a strong believer that the bar should move in a straight line as much as possible. This keeps the bar movement simple and straight forward.

Now, if you are pressing it off the top of your chest, isn’t your chin in the way?

Well, it is. And the solution to that is simple – Move your chin out of the way.

“How” is not so simple. Well, it is. But it takes practice.

We do a hip bump. We basically bump our hips forward (NOT the bar) and lean back slightly just so that we can move our chin out of the way. Many people equate this to a “jerk” movement like what they see in olympic clean and jerks. It isn’t the same.

In olympic jerks, the lift is all in the legs. They jerk the bar off the chest immediately into the overhead position. In fact, if the bar doesn’t immediately go from chest to overhead position, and they are seen “pressing” the bar, it’s a failed attempt.

In the strict press however, the knees stay locked throughout the press. The bar is “pressed” up and not “jerked” up. The hip bump is used just to allow the bar to pass the chin into the overhead position in a straight line. So no. You DO NOT have to use much force. You do however have to keep your midsection braced really tight to avoid getting injured.

Know your lockout position.

The bar should end up above you. Never in front of you. If the bar is in front of you at the top position of the overhead press, the front of your shoulders will be screaming to hold the weight up. Whereas when it is directly above you, with your entire body underneath it, EVERYTHING holds it up.  Besides, having the bar in front defies gravity. The weight will be basically pulling you forward.

At the top of the lift. A few things must be in place.

1. Elbows locked out.

2. Biceps behind the ears.

3. Chin down and eyes up.

Keeping your chin down will allow you to fire up your upper back a lot easier to maintain that overhead position.

However if you look down, you will feel like you are falling forward. Keeping your eyes up will help you maintain your balance. Likewise, tilting your chin up and looking up will make you feel like you are going to fall backwards doing the lift.

*Tilting your head up and looking down at the lockout position will not only be very unstable, it will make you look like a complete a..hole.

Activate your glutes.

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Hip thrusters are a pain in the a$s. Pun FULLY intended.

As mentioned in a previous article, the glutes are one of the most important muscles in your core musculature. It’s what keeps you stable when you lift. Firing them up is very important. There are many ways to train this muscle group. Hip thrusters are just one of many ways to do this. Training your glutes will also help with your deadlifts and squats. Heck, having strong glutes will help you with EVERYTHING.

Treat the shoulder press with respect.

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If you want to improve it, you need to put in the time and effort working on it. It’s more than just an auxiliary exercise. It’s a full on and very complete lift. It takes a lot of strength to get a good strong shoulder press.

Squat your bodyweight for 1 rep? Easy.

Deadlift your bodyweight? Easy.

Bench your bodyweight? Easy.

Press your bodyweight???? NOT easy.

Take proper progressions, and treat it like you would treat your other lifts. The standing front press is a great lift to master but if you are not careful with it, you can get a big FUBAR on your hands.

Do your auxiliary work. 

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Tricep work, external rotation in the shoulders, even bicep work to look after that elbow joint. Like any other lift, there are exercises to be done for the supporting muscles. Remember, you want to keep your muscle imbalances at bay and your joints healthy. Not doing your auxiliary work will throw you into retirement early.

As always, keep your movement tight. Keep safe and train with the proper progressions. I wish you all the best with your training.

See you at the PIT.