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Continued Improvement in Overhead Press

Inch Dumbbell Overhead (Photo by Joe Mugovero)

One of my main body strength goals for 2012 was improving my Overhead Pressing ability, so I really began to look at all the contributing factors to a big press. Things like a strong core, lockout strength and speed off the shoulders were some of the things I looked at most heavily, because when I was doing strongman training, those were the things I focused on most often for building the press.

However, one of the things I did not take a real close look at, at first, was my flexibility and mobility in my shoulders and torso. To my surprise, working stretching into the routine has proven to be the absolute biggest factor in my increase in pressing strength recently.

It’s kind of ironic that including the simple practice of stretching would have such a big effect. I remember watching Lee Haney videos on ESPN when I was a teenager, so it’s not like this is the first time I ever heard of the concept.

My absolute neglect for stretching and any kind of range of motion or mobility maintenance came when I started studying NSCA materials. The literature stated that if you performed exercises with a full range of motion, then there would be no worry for loss of it.

More recently, several proponents of Biofeedback/Gym Movement have even spoken of their lack of use of stretching and mobility work in their routines.

Well, here is the problem with all those organizations and belief systems, from Lee Haney, to the NSCA, to GM: they are only referring to lifting and NOT what is going on the other 22 hours in the day.

For me, and maybe some of you reading this, the most important factor for my flexibility and range of motion status (aside from sheer genetics), I feel, is my positioning during those 22 hours.

The amount of time I am in a seated position, whether it is working, driving, or just lounging around is staggering. Sometimes, it seems as though if I am not walking to or from my car, or if I am not training, then I am sitting on my ass, and getting more and more locked up.

In relationship to my pressing numbers, I posted a few weeks back how I was able to make incredible jumps in pressing strength with some stretching and soft tissue work prior to and during my pressing workout. That post is here: What’s Working Now – Improving Overhead Press.

Now, although the improvements I saw in that workout were impressive as far as the actual weight jumps from one workout to the next, the numbers were still not where I would want them because in the past I have been capable of much more.

So, I began going back through some old video clips of myself pressing, and one thing I noticed was that several years ago I looked much more fluid. These days in my videos, I walk like Frankenstein, as if my spine is fused and when I press, I have almost zero lean in the thoracic region of my back at all. In the past, my thoracic mobility was far greater and a real strength of mine, so I knew I had to do something to get back there. Once I began incorporating drills right into my workout, I began instantly seeing some good results, thus the post I mentioned above.

And once I started seeing progress, I began trying out even more movements to see what would work the best. I’ve come up with three movements that I have gotten continued good results from and I want to share them with you so you can try them.

Pipe Roll Thoracic Arch

Squat Cage Doorway Stretch

Squat Cage Shoulder Point

These three movements have proven to have the biggest benefit for me in my training, of the dozens I have tried. If you think you are lacking in the mobility department for your thoracic spine, or if you think your shoulders are inhibited in some other way, then you should give these a try.

If these drills don’t seem to do anything for you, then I encourage you to do some experimenting. We are all different and have different limitations, so in turn we will all need to do different things in order to address those limitations.

Results From 8 Weeks of Concentrated Mid Workout Stretching

Barbell Military Press – Recent PR

In recent memory, in the Barbell Press out of a cage, my best has been 215. I have gotten that number so many times I have lost count. That really irritates me, because it is about 40 lbs under my best strict press on a barbell.

Without stretching or soft tissue work, I was topping out at 215 whether I did overhead press first or if I did Bench Press first. And that little factoid irritates me because you would think that after benching the triceps would be too tired to match my best PR, but it has seemed to have no effect whatsoever.

So, here is a recent video of some new high water marks for the Barbell Press out of the cage.

Barbell Military Press – Old Working Set

I am not sure if you can tell in the video clips, but I am able to get a bit more extension in my thoracic spine in the new PR video (I could certainly feel the difference that day). In the working sets video from a few months back, I don’t get anything at all. The benefit to getting this fluidity in the thoracic portion of the spine is that each repetition feels better, and feel less like I have two baseball bats running from my shoulders to my glutes, restricting me. Being able to bend ever so slightly back near the shoulder area lets me press much easier.

Take note, I am not talking about bending the lumbar spine like a 1950’s Olympic Press, as shown above. That is something that you should try to avoid. I played Russian Roulette with that too often back in the day and have no desire to go back to it. What I am looking to improve is my thoracic spine, the mid to upper torso (shown below)

Dumbbell Military Press PR

My numbers in this had been so bad, that I was pretty much stuck at 50’s. Then with time working on my ROM and soft tissue, I was gradually able to work up to 70’s and now 85’s is becoming my new standard. Below, I hit a set of 6 with 85’s, a set which felt so easy up until the last set, it is hard to put it into words.

In the video above, I think it is a bit easier to see the extension I am getting in the thoracic spine. This video was shot two pressing workouts after the Barbell Press workout where I pressed 235.

To sum things up, although my upper back/torso issues are not so bad that I walk around with like Quasimodo or have scapular winging, I still have issues with tightness in the shoulders and lack of thoracic mobility. Like an addict with a gambling problem, it took my a long time to admit to having these issues, but now that I have owned up to them and begun addressing them, as well as seeing the results, I feel I will be able to continue to improve.

Look for more updates coming down the pike on this. Until then all the best in your training.


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