I've made it no secret that strength tends to solve a lot of problems. Chronic back pain? Strength tends to help. Running related pains in your hips and knees? Strength can help that too.
Forget to put a new cover sheet on your TPS report? Well, OK, I guess strength won't help you there....but looking like a bad ass won't hurt either.
Anyway, this week I wanted to highlight one of my favorite exercises in building total body strength - the kettlebell overhead press. And I know you're shocked, but I actually do something other than deadlift all the time (but not much else..)
In fact, I'd go so far to say that there's no bigger test of mettle than a heavy overhead kettlebell press.
....well that, or trying to watch "Marley and Me" without shedding a tear. Take your pick.
But from a strength standpoint, the overhead press is one of those exercises that is much more than meets the eye. Beginners look at an overhead press and simply think it's an upper body strength move, but advanced trainees know that it takes everything below your neck to press.
OK, enough talk - here's a video of my heaviest overhead press to date with 44 kilograms (or 97 pounds which is ~52% of my bodyweight)
In order to maximize your press, it's a lot like that Blink 182 song - it's "all the small things." And, good(?) musical reference aside, pressing a heavy bell relies on a good kettlebell clean, wedging your feet into the floor, squeezing your glutes, contracting your abzz, crushing both hands as hard as you can, looking up, and then finally attempting to press the bell. That's a lot of stuff!
If you've never had shoulder problems, then the first place I'd start is working on one of those steps above. Simply mastering a proper kettlebell clean, or learning how to contract your glutes and hands as hard as you can before a press, is going to do wonders for getting you stronger. It may mean taking a few weeks off from trying to hit a PR, but believe me, it's worth the investment.
The problem, though, is that not everyone is ready to overhead press on Day 1.
Or Day 30.
Plain and simple, some people have degenerative shoulder conditions that won't allow for overhead pressing. For others, overhead pressing simply isn't a great idea because they A) have a bone structure that won't allow it (see, Type 3 acromion) or B) have wickedly depressed shoulders that rival a giraffe's. Even though pressing might not be painful right now, repeated pressing is a recipe for impingement.
If you're a member of this crew, dont worry....there's still a way to incorporate this important strength building exercise. Enter: the bottoms-up overhead kettlebell press.
For those that have trained with me, you know I'm a pretty big believer in all bottoms up kettlebell variations. My reasoning is pretty simple - it teaches with a big stick. You have to know how to develop tension; it forces reflexive recruitment of the rotator cuff; increases grip and core strength; all while still getting a pretty good training stimulus.
Whenever someone has had previous shoulder issues, going with the bottoms up press tends to magically cure what ails them. Not only do we get that extra rotator cuff recruitment, it forces someone to find the shoulder groove that best suites them. Then, once bottoms up pressing is mastered, that's when I'll usually start going with a more normal kettlebell press.
As a bonus, since grip strength and tension are very reliant on the central nervous system, it allows me to see how "ready" someone is to train. So, you can tell yourself you got a nice night of sleep and those extra beers didn't hurt you.....but the kettlebell reveals all.
Trust me, I've been there. ;)