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Default Assistance Exercises for the Press
by BendtheBar 07-13-2011, 09:27 AM

Assistance Exercises for the Press

by Charles A. Smith (1952)


This, my final chapter on the Two Hands Clean & Press, is concerned with what are known as Assistance Exercises. It has been said that there is only one way to improve your press and that is to “press, press, and press!” Now, there is a certain amount of truth in this, yet I challenge any coach or lifter to show me a single strength athlete who has not, at some period during his career, forsaken the “Competition” Press and switched to some other exercise – or who has not used another lift or exercise that closely approximates the press, in addition to his usual competition press training.

It should be obvious to you that consistent practice of a certain lift is not in itself sufficient to make any lifter outstanding in that lift. That is why this Press series has been covered with such detail. The way you breathe, the type of grip you use for the Clean as well as for the Press proper, the way you stand, foot spacing, skeletal structure; all these factors and dozens of other minor details influence your pressing performance. And the degree of success you experience in your press is dependant on how you make use of your natural endowments, or overcome their lack.

When a man begins competition lifting, he has usually had some considerable experience in the field of bodybuilding exercises. In other words, he has already laid foundations for his lifting career. He has used squats and dead lifts, various types of presses, shrugs and rowing motions and types of dips, and he can jump right into a typical Olympic Press schedule, once he has learned to lift according to the rules. He may use any one of the schedules, such as are advocated by prominent lifters and champions, or he may evolve his own training program. But he will find, sooner or later, that it is not possible to stick to a single routine and continue to make gains. The enjoyment of your workouts is one of the most important factors that make for lifting success. If you don’t enjoy your training, then you lose your enthusiasm, and if enthusiasm vanishes then progress usually comes to a halt. The only man who relishes a meal of stale bread is a starving man. Once the initial pangs of hunger are routed, he doesn’t continue to eat stale bread. He eats food in greater variety. The only person who thrives on a basic exercise is the guy who has just started bodybuilding, or who has been using other movements that differ widely from the new exercise, such as are part of another athletic activity.

If you continue to press over a number of years, you will not unnaturally expect the lift to improve. And so it will, up to a point. Beyond that point there is no advance. It is that period that some call staleness, but it is actually a static period conditioned by the muscles developing a habit pattern and then refusing to evidence the normal reaction to exercise as in the past. You might say your muscles become bored with the same old routine. The fact that try working harder, that you have always worked hard, or that you are “in your prime” makes no difference! You will even have a struggle to maintain your limit press.

There can be other causes apart from the muscles getting into a rut. One group might be weaker than another. The deltoids and triceps are those that fit most readily into this category, since the weight lifter has nearly always performed squats and dead lifts and heavy shrugs to take care of his basic overall power.

First, let us consider the pattern of a normal lifter’s training. As previously pointed out, he built his basic power foundations and has entered the ranks of advanced lifters. Then he starts to use a given schedule backed up by seated presses or floor presses or bench presses. After a while, the benefits that he obtains from this type of schedule come to a halt, and he looks around for another system. He might use any one of a hundred – a program that provides the necessary change as relief from training boredom and staleness. Up to this stage, he isn’t bothered by any one muscle group letting him down. So he exercises more often or more vigorously. He might increase his workouts from three times a week to five times. Or, he can increase his overall load, his amount of sets and reps by training three times a day, three times a week, as certain champion lifters have done. Again he comes to a halt. Perhaps he finds it difficult to start the bar away from the shoulders, or keep it moving once he commences to press; or maybe that “mythical area” known as the sticking point makes itself felt and prevents him from finishing the press. It is at this stage he realizes that every man has his physical limit, and he is rapidly approaching that point beyond which he cannot go unless he uses some unusual methods, or else embarks on a program of intense specialization. It is at this point that his entire future depends on the course he takes. For failure to improve can so dishearten him that he sometimes even considers quitting lifting altogether. He might wisely take a layoff, but even this rest can, in certain instances, be more of a handicap than a help, for when he resumes his lifting he has to work harder than he would have done if he had continued training and altered his program.

An alteration can be effected by using one of the Power Programs given in a previous chapter – and this will provide the lifter with training variety for a considerable period; it will strengthen the back and deltoids, the triceps and thighs. It will give him all-round results that may not directly reflect themselves in an immediate pressing gain. But at least they will provide a refreshing change of program and renew his interest in lifting itself. But what if he needs a pair of more powerful deltoids, or a stronger drive, or the strengthening of a weaker arm? What then? I believe that the following Assistance Movements will provide outstanding pressing results.


Exercise One: Floor Press

Handling heavy weights in movements that approximate the lift you are striving to improve contains important mental as well as physical benefits. One of the best of these is the Floor Press, also known as the Press on Back. In this exercise you have to take the weight off from a dead start, press it to arms’ length, and then, because of the higher poundage afforded, lower it steadily under full control in order that the upper arms and elbows are not jarred against the floor. In this exercise, lowering the barbell provides almost as much benefit as pressing it to arms’ length. It is particularly useful in building up triceps power, strength needed to take pressing weights steadily overhead. It develops power to get the bar past the sticking point, the area where it slows up in limit and near-limit lifts. Lie flat on the floor and either roll the barbell up to position, tossing it over to the position shown in the illustration, or take the weight from boxes or supports out of the way of your pressing range of motion. The grip should not be more than shoulder width. If you can manage a slightly narrower grip do so, because the narrower the handspacing, the more work the triceps are forced to perform. Keep the elbows close to the body, not “flared out” and press the weight to arms’ length above the chest. Lower steadily, under complete control, to commencing position and repeat. Start off with a weight you can handle for 6 sets of 3 reps and work up to 6 sets of 5 reps before increasing the poundage.

Exercise Two: Neck Press With Varying Grip Width

The deltoids and trapezius are the muscles that start the bar away from the shoulder and get it to the point where the triceps take over and lock out the arms. The modern press depends a great deal on deltoid power, for the hand-spacing limit has been lifted, and many men who are unable to press any considerable poundage with a close hand spacing find their wide-grip press several pounds above the previous restricted hand-spacing lift. Bobby Higgins, a world’s record holder, used a very wide pressing grip and said that any weight he could get away from the shoulders, he could get to arms’ length. Bench Presses are valuable aids to more powerful Olympic Presses, and if you don’t think so, page John Davis.

For greater deltoid power, try this variety of bench press. Take a grip out to the collars. Hold the weight above your chest at arms’ length, lower steadily but lower it not to the chest but almost to the base of the throat. Press it to arms’ length without a pause. Start off with a weight you can handle for 3 sets of 5 reps, working up to 3 sets of 9 reps before increasing the poundage. Added power can be gained by gradually narrowing the hand spacing until it is equal to you Olympic Press hand spacing. Increase the weight very gradually when pressing to this area of the upper chest/neck.

Exercise Three: Strict Seated Barbell Press

There are certain exercises that develop the quality of determination. The poundages you can handle in them are lighter than in the ordinary press, and for this reason you fight the bar because you tell yourself that even though it feels tough, it is within your power. Such an exercise is the Seated Barbell Press. Suppose you can press a certain poundage 5 repetitions while standing. You will find it hard to make 3 reps with an identical weight if properly seated. Lower the barbell 10 to 15 pounds, clean it to your shoulders and seat yourself on a sturdy box or exercise bench. Press the bar to arms’ length, lower steadily and repeat. Don’t allow any movement of the body – no back bends – and try to keep the press as close to “military” as possible. If you don’t want to waste any energy, take the barbell off squat racks. Keep both feet in front at all times. Start off with 6 sets of 3 reps and work up to 6 sets of 6 reps before increasing the weight of the bar.

Exercise Four: Dumbbell Press, Seated On Floor

Another movement similar to Exercise Three, developing the pressing strength of each arm, is the Dumbbell Press performed while seated on the floor. Because of the position the exerciser is compelled to maintain, the press is almost a military one. If possible, it will be found best to have your training partners hand you the dumbbells as you are seated on the floor, with your legs stretched straight out. Press the dumbbells to arms’ length, lower and repeat. Keep the reps low and the sets high. 8 sets of 2 reps will be plenty to start. Work up to 8 sets of 4 reps, then increase the weight of each dumbbell.


So much for the assistance exercises. What about the Press as a competition lift? There are many experienced officials who maintain that it should be eliminated from competition, and replaced by one of the single hand jerks or snatches. It is a fact that the Two Hands Press has been the cause of ending many beautiful friendships. No one seems to agree as to what constitutes a “correct Press”, altho we have rules that state in precise terms just what the lifter has to do to get a “pass” and exactly what will gain him three reds!

At the last world’s championships, the press was the cause of a lot of trouble; one foreign official noticeably passing everything his countrymen got to arms’ length, and as noticeably ruling out lifters of other nations for the very faults he allowed his own men to get away with. One famous strength athlete who is respected for his strict style was ruled out for raising his toes, while another lifter got a pass for a press that saw the back of his head almost scraping the platform. Occurrences such as these almost always cause comment – adverse – and renewed demands for the abolition of the press.

Shoud the press be taken from Olympic competition?

NO! It should be retained. For it isn’t the lift that is at fault, but the officials and the lifters. The lifters should know the rules, yet in many instances they do not, and they are quick to brand any official unduly strict if he rules out their poorest efforts. The officials, who are SUPPOSED to know the rules and who often don’t, allow lifts to become records that do not merit such distinction. I must include myself in this category because I once passed a press, now a national record, under the influence of a previous lift, that constituted a world’s record. Since that day, I have tried to keep the letter of the rules as fairly and impartially as my human frailties will allow.

The cause of all the trouble lies possibly in the rules themselves. As they are, a good official has no option but to rigidly follow them. Yet he knows that for many men the rules are unjust. It is the rare individual who can manage to maintain a STRICT MILITARY POSITION that modern press rules DEMAND! Nowhere is there anything that directly or indirectly says a man can use a back bend. In fact, the rules say that the SLIGHTEST deviation is cause for disqualification. Yet if you attend any of today’s many lifting meets, you will not see a single press made according to the clauses governing its performance, while the official who attempts to keep the letter of the law is distinctly unpopular.

What is the solution? It lies not in the removal of the Two Hands Clean & Press from modern competition, but in lifters and officials either making an HONEST effort to lift and judge honestly, or else demanding that the style now universal, yet actually ILLEGAL, is made the OFFICIAL style . . . And yet, would that prove to be a solution? Not necessarily; for you would always have those lifters who insist on being poor sportsmen, and officials who DON’T KNOW THEIR JOBS!

What we need are more men who lift for the fun of lifting, who are sportsmen in every sense the word implies, and officials who refuse to be intimidated by a lifter’s “connections” or the fact that he is a champion. The majority of our boys are fine fellows, keen competitors, and ready to accept defeat with a smile and victory gracefully. The majority of our officials know the rules and abide by them.

Yet if is a fact that three judges, keeping to the rules for the press, could make lifters at a World’s or National Championship look silly, for it is extremely doubtful if a single lifter would merit a pass for even his starting poundage. When lifters remember that the officials are there to help lifters as well as pass judgment on their performance, and when officials – that is SOME officials – realize this, then we will have an atmosphere in which all decisions are accepted as final, with no beefs from anyone.

The Two Hands Press is, in my opinion, an essential part of Olympic Competition Lifting. The three lifts were chosen carefully. They were chosen to test the strength, the speed and timing, and the stamina of a lifter. These qualities in themselves constitute TRUE POWER. The Snatch is the lift of speed, the feat at which the natural athlete excels. The Two Hands Clean & Jerk demands an output of speed, strength and stamina. The Press affords the men of sheer strength a chance to stay in the competition, and for this reason alone, it should be retained.
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