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Learning About Presses (Coaching Series Part 2)

Our last blog covered the basics of squat movements and today I wanted to talk about presses.

The middle 3 movements of the 9 Foundational Movements of CrossFit are the Shoulder Press, Push Press, and Push Jerk.

Just like with the squat progression from our last post, the shoulder presses come from a basic human movement that we do every day; putting things overhead and pushing objects away from the body.

Things like putting plates up, putting a bad in the overhead compartment on a plane, and opening doors can all be helped by performing these movements more efficiently and safely by learning how to perform these movements!

The general physical skills of coordination, mobility, strength, and power all are primarily worked when dealing with these movements so let’s get to learnin’ about putting weight overhead!

The Presses:

Progression: Shoulder Press (Strict)-> Push Press -> Push Jerk

With presses our main thing that we are focusing on is front rack and overhead mobility as well as body awareness.

The main faults we see in pressing outside of athletes who have been regularly coached in these movements are things like: leaning back to press, moving things away from the body to accommodate the movement patter, and immature pressing that involves the elbow pushing outward as we go up rather than inward.

Training these movements in this progression can give you the tools to safely move loads overhead that you would not be able to with brute strength.

Shoulder Press:

Points of Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xe19t2_6yis

The shoulder press or “strict press,” involves starting with a barbell resting on the athlete’s shoulders in a full grip, hands just outside the shoulders. The spine and legs do not move at all throughout the lift and the path of the bar must move as close to straight up as possible!

The reasons we start here are that many athletes will either lack the mobility to move weight from this position (wrist pain in front rack due to elbows not being able to move up high enough) AND it provides an excellent environment to feel what happens when we try to move weight and let it get away from our center of gravity!

For an athlete that has trouble letting the barbell rest on their shoulders and their wrists start to hurt, our first instinct is to look at the wrist and view it as being inflexible. But, I challenge any athlete reading this to make their wrist more flexible, you really can’t! The issue is what that wrist is attached to, the forearm. There are 4 muscles in the forearm that dictate how well our hands can close and support load. If they lack the strength to hold the weight up, compression in the carpal area of our hand starts to happen and cause pain. The best ways to alleviate this in the front rack for pressing, in my experience, is to train grip strength via expanded hand carries like plate pinch holds or hex DB carries and to work on your lat muscle’s ability to relax! This can be done by stretching the lats and chest through the “bench stretch” that we perform in class!

(Everyone with a desk job and/or has trouble with front rack and overhead positions, copy and paste this to your notes and set a reminder to talk to your coach about some good accessory routines to improve this).

*There are other medical reasons that can cause this stiffness such as tendonitis, which would come from overuse. If you feel this is the case, rest of the affected area is the usual recommendation and so is following up with your doctor!

Push Press:

Points of Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6-DMh-t4nQ

Once you have learned how to move weight from your shoulder to overhead without pain and can keep the bar on a vertical path as you press it, you will start to add weight and realize something…the weight gets heavy and it becomes harder to safely move the weight.

So, do we lean back and sacrifice everything for the gains? No. Instead we begin to rely on our core and legs to provide support.

While everything else stays the same as the shoulder press in terms of spine straightness, barbell resting, and bar path. The hips are now sent down and back a couple inches into a mini-squat. We then create power from the floor and transfer it to the bar through our torso, pushing through the barbell with our arms as the bar begins to fly off the shoulders!

This keeps the movements in larger muscles and teaches us a safe way to coordinate our muscles to help move heavy loads overhead (just think of everything you’ve learned through push presses as you play “rocket ship” with your kid! I bet you are throwing out your back way less often now that your body understands what to do in heavier overhead pressing situations)!

Push Jerk:

Points of Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-hKuAfWNUw

You learned the push press and have it down cold, but you have hit a wall in terms of being able to put the weight overhead. You dip, drive, and press all you can but, you can no longer lock out.

This is where we learn to learn to catch weight in the power position.

As a barbell travels upward and hits the apex of its’ trajectory, we have to counteract the fall with locked out arms or we simply aren’t strong enough to keep the bar up. If the apex is lower than the height of our body at full extension, then we are gonna have to lower our hands to meet it. To keep the arms locked out, we must bent the legs to accommodate the load.

This partial squat with arms extended overhead is called the “Catch” or the power position!

The most important lesson learned here is how to safely coordinate the body to use our legs to drive the barbell up and then catch the barbell with arms fully extended overhead. Once that is accomplished, we can begin to move weights that are up to 30% higher than weights lifted in the push press!

In real life, the power position learned here translates to safely receiving heavy loads from an elevation that is higher than your shoulders. Whether someone is throwing you a box from your moving truck or your catching your kid doing the old “catch me” bit, bending your legs to accommodate the new force being applied to your body can reduce the risk of injury.

What’s Next?

Well, what is the other thing we do every day that isn’t putting stuff up or sitting down?

We pick stuff up!

The next movements are all going to involve safely and efficiently picking up objects from the floor, with the exception of a weird one that we don’t do in class.

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