Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Military Pressing (1937 and 1944) - Bob Hoffman











The Best Way To Military Press (1937) by Bob Hoffman

The average untrained man has little pressing ability, for there are few movements in any vocation which simulate movements of the two-hands press. But when a man first attempts to life a barbell he will try to press the weight overhead after cleaning or continentaling it to the shoulders. As he continues with his barbell training he will do more pressing than any other movement. Most fellows will consider the man who presses the most to be the strongest of the group. It was always thus. Pressing was thought to be a question of sheer strength and the man who elevated the most in that style was considered to be the strongest man.

Little thought was given to the outstanding records the man may have created in other styles. There is no relation between the two hands pressing ability and the one hand pressing such as in the bent press. Some men, as Strassberger of Germany or Harry Freeman of Baltimore, the great featherweight of a few years ago, could press within five pounds of what they could clean and jerk. Strassberger pressed 292 ½ in the same contest in which he two hands clean and jerked 297. He later went on to establish a world’s record of 298 in the press, which was short-lived however, owing to the rapid rise of the twenty-two year old German, Joseph Manger, who is at present Olympic Champion.

Although Rigoulet one hand snatched 264, two hands snatched 314, cleaned and jerked 402, his best in the press was 230. Anwar Ahmed, who finished in a tie with Robert Fein of Austria, in the last Olympics made a new world’s record of 319 in the clean and jerk yet made the comparatively poor press of 203 ½. Others of the Egyptians, with the exception of Touni, were poor pressers; the chief reason being that they train principally with barbells, lifting weights in the same groove always and do not have the all around development that men who train with dumbells attain. Touni is a hand balancer and tumbler, a record holder in performing tiger bends, thus he makes a dumbell of his own body and receives similar results to those who train with dumbells regularly.

Hipfinger of Austria held the world’s record in the one hand snatch and the two hands clean and jerk, yet he could press only 198 as a middleweight. This left him hopelessly outclassed in competition with great champions such as Ismayer of Germany who could press 236 and was a star at the other lifts too. He would be so far behind after Touni’s world record press of 259 in the middleweight class that astounding skill in the other lifts would not help much.

Pressing ability is of course a question of training, but more than anything else, is determined by just how one is put together. The short man is more often a good presser, a poor snatcher and cleaner. The tall man is usually better at the snatch and clean. There are exceptions to the rule of course for pressing ability is not just a question of tallness or shortness. There are tall men, that is tall in proportion to their weight, who are exceptional pressers. Bob Knodle, 112 pound champion year after year, who established an American record at pressing, 155 pounds, was very tall for his weight. Roy Hall, of the York Club in Toronto, Canada, is a good presser for a tall man. We have working with us here in the Strength and Health Building a young man by the name of George Gosnell. He’s one of the boys that grew up in our neighborhood. Five feet nine inches tall, he weighs 123 pounds and presses 180 pounds. That’s a fine press; and later I’ll tell you why he can do it while others can’t. Johnny Terpak is tall for his bodyweight, yet he pushes up heavy weights with such ridiculous ease that the spectators gasp. It’s leverage that makes a really good presser. Of course most men are neither exceptionally bad in leverage or exceptionally good, so the majority will become good pressers in time.

I have laid claim to the title, for some time, of the world’s worst presser. I know another instructor who is just as bad but he doesn’t brag about it as I do. All through my lifting career my poor pressing ability has been the bane of my existence. When I first received my barbell back in 1923, I made a bad press with 80 pounds and a clean and jerk with 150. A year later I could only two hands press 115, yet could clean and jerk 225 and bent press 150. Moat any fairly strong fellow around the Y could press 115 so it was thought that my ability on other lifts was just knack. When I lifted shortly after my auto accident in 1932 against the German American A.C. in the first contest which we won from them, I pressed only 121 and cleaned and jerked 236. In our contests of 1931 and 1932 when the York Oil Burner A.C. was rising to the top of the weightlifting world, I repeatedly pressed only 135 and clean and jerked 260. In one contest I pressed 135 and clean and jerked 265.

This was no fun. Ladies present would say to Rosetta, “I thought you said your husband was strong. There he is out there pressing with the little fellows.” That’s why I had to become a good cleaner and jerker, to make the highest lift in contest after contest. I often made my first press at 125. One year when I was present at the New England championships the lowest lift made was 140 pounds in the press. And there were 112 and 118 pounders present. How would I feel, with my 230 pounds bodyweight at that time, to start first. But what lifters were there! Little men like Lucien La Plante, 112 pound champion of America and record holder; Ralph Viera, later 118 pound senior champion; a little colored fellow; Charlie Arbrush’s brother, who pressed 150 pounds, and men like Vincent Fee, present junior national 118 pound champion.

I finally gave up on the press. Every man that ever became a member of our team went past me on the press. Some of them progressed from 115 to 185 in a single year, while I stood still. Gord Venables gained from 115 to 205 in less than one year. The crowning ignominy of my pressing career took place one day early in October of 1934. I had stopped training on the press, and that day could make only 145 in military, or even continental style. Yet I jerked 295 very easily, bent pressed 200 for the first time, and snatched 205 for the first time. A distinction I suppose, but not a very honorable one.

Just what is the trouble when a man can’t press, you’re wondering. I have lots of young men ask me to watch them pressing when they come to York, to tell them if their poor pressing ability is a question of bad leverage. Usually it is just lack of practice and shortage of strength. The width of shoulders in proportion to the length of the arms has something to do with it. The development of the shoulders has an important bearing on the pressing question, but the real reason for one’s pressing strength is the proportion of the length of the upper to the lower arm. Good pressers have long upper arms, poor pressers have short upper arms. If a man is so built that the Humerus bone of the upper arm is long in proportion to the length of the ulna and radius of the lower arm, that man can not hope to be a good presser.

George Gosnell, although long in the arms throughout, has such a favorable relative length of the upper arm that he does what we call a two hands bent press of 180 pounds. He can start his lift with both elbows on the hip bones. Joe Germ of Raymond A.C., Cleveland, runner up in the 132 pound national championship, can start a press extremely low in this manner. His 185 press at the nationals and 190 on the other occasions is very good in comparison with his other lifts.

Press in front of a mirror and note the relationship between upper and lower arms.

Laying the barbell on the chest preliminary to pressing, a poor presser will have the bones of his upper arm exactly perpendicular with the floor. The longer upper arms of the good presser will cause them to extend well forward. Thus his press is already started before it leaves the chest, while the poor presser must start from dead center.

A few years ago when I was newer at this business, a theory was advanced by a leading instructor who agrees with me on the unfavorable leverage of the short upper arm, that men so handicapped should press with the hands very close together. As little as six or eight inches apart. This was intended to bring the elbows forward and make possible a more favorable effort.

Many lifters of a few years ago tried this style. But none of them got anywhere. There was Arnie Sundberg, of Multnomah A.C., Portland, Oregon, national champion for several years, phenomenal on most lifts; a man who one hand snatched the heavy solid 139 pound barbell that a few hundred fellows at our recent Strength and Health show August 8th tried to lift here at the club grounds. He made six snatches with it one day. He was one of the first to clean and jerk the 217 ½ pound stage bell that I bent pressed. On August 8th, he made 203 ½ in the two hands snatch when the best in America was Bill Good’s 209. He made an American record of 269 ½ in the two hands clean and jerk which stood until replaced with Bob Mitchell’s 275. Yet he pressed only 159 with this close grip.

In the early stages of his lifting career Stan Kratkowski, middle-weight champion year after year and member of two Olympic teams, made only 175 in the press as compared to 231 in the snatch and 286 in the clean and jerk. He used this close grip and it was only after he adopted the training methods and lifting technique in the two hands press that he learned upon a visit to York that his press has gone up steadily to 230.

Wally Zagurski, always one of the strongest members of the York team – it’s doubtful if any man but Dave Mayor is stronger than he – made press records with a fairly close grip. His bad leverage was a handicap, but his great strength made possible worthy attempts and even the creation of records. He’s now doing better with the pressing method I am about to describe.

There were many others, including myself with my famous 135 presses, who used this style. But gradually we learned better. All of our men’s lifts have gone up and up; national and world’s records were created and remade by York Team men. It’s quite evident that this new method is far superior to the old close grip style, even for those men with unfavorable leverage. I’m not a great presser, but my press has gone up to the point where I recently made 190 in good form and 200 with considerable hunching. I feel sure that in time I’ll surpass 200 pounds in correct style, for the 190 correct and the 200 not so correct were done with very limited training, usually once a week, and at times with moderate dumbell training in between.

Instead of using a very close grip to bring the elbows forward, I prefer, for that purpose, to hold them at the side. At the same time a considerably wider grip is taken. At one time I would hold the thumb and one finger inside the hand grip of the standard bar. Now I hold each hand about four inches wider. The elbows are held close to the side, so the upper arms are held quite a lot wider apart than the breadth of the shoulders. From this position the press is made with the elbows held in toward the body. Much more favorable leverage can be put forth in this manner. A good start is possible and it is easier to finish the press with this wider grip. I use the thumb-less grip. That is with the thumbs extended in the same plane as the fingers rather than encircling the bar. And I hold the bar well back on the fingers. This method makes possible about ten pounds more in the press, for the fingers impart additional leverage as they do in shot putting.

I appreciate the fact that there are differences in the construction of various men, but the style I advocate and have found to be the best, the methods of lifting that I teach will suit ninety some odd per cent of all men. Here in York we have a sort of proving ground for different methods of exercising and lifting. I have always made of myself a human guinea pig in trying various experiments, but I can learn faster and definitely prove new ideas or theories by having a number of men to work on.

For a man who is constantly active, who is in the midst of enthusiastic lifters at all times, a man who is present at a score of contests a year, can keep right on his toes with barbell physical training and lifting. It is so easy for him to forget many of the small things in lifting that determine the difference between real success, a record poundage and just an ordinary performance. Many things combine to make the champion in any sport, and there is even more to learn about all the small details in performing the three lifts than in any one event such as running, jumping, shot putting or vaulting. Constant, intelligent practice, following the right methods is the way to get best results.

I have been asked hundreds of times just how one can improve their pressing ability. I have written considerable about it, but I hope that this article will answer the question once and for all so that it can be referred to in the future.

At one time the accepted practice was to make single attempts as few as seven times in the course of a training period. We press a great deal more than that. All of us perform a great many repetitions. Five being the usual limit, three with very heavy poundages. In my own practice I would usually press seven series of five with 135 pounds which system led up to my first success with 185 pounds. In practice I would make it hard by encircling the bar with my thumbs and starting with a grip, with each hand about six inches from the center hand grips. This is difficult at first but it improves leverage, making possible the application of more power on later competitive single attempts. With each successive series of five each I would move the hands just a bit closer. Until the last lifts were made with the hands in the normal position.

It’s a good idea to press with the hands in these very wide and close positions as it develops the muscles from different angles. By teaching them to exert force in more difficult positions, they can handle more in the usual method of pressing during competition.

Anthony Terlazzo does only a great deal of repetition pressing. Johnny Terpak does the same. At least three presses with weights starting from a moderate 145, then 165, 185, 195, 205 and occasionally two with heavier weights. Aside from this constant pressing with repetitions they will make single attempts several times in succession with heavy weights. For instance, Terlazzo has on a number of days recently made three single presses with 225.

Apart from actual pressing, Tony seldom fails to include pressing in the hand stand position with his feet against the wall, the hands on two boxes. The pressing is made progressive by tying dumbells to the belt. Many of the York lifters perform this exercise.

Most of them practice some one arm pressing in the military position. At times alternate presses with two dumbells, running in weight up to a hundred pounds each.
A great deal of dumbell work is done. Alternate pressing, side pressing, lateral and forward raises, lateral raises while leaning, alternate press on box. In short, any dumbell movements which involve the shoulders. Although the press on box develops the pectorals more than the deltoids, it is still a good exercise to improve pressing. Developing the muscles from every angle, you know, builds power and better pressing ability.

To some it may seem odd that exercises which involve the trapizii are most important in developing pressing ability. The trapezii play a major part in pressing with the style I have advocated in this article as the best way to two hands press. In the majority of cases the good presser is also a good snatcher. There are exceptions, of course, usually those with bad leverage. If you could see the trapezii in operation when Terlazzo is performing a really heavy press, you would see why it is necessary to develop this part of the body.

Similarly if you could see others of the world’s greatest pressers, you would note the same action of the trapezii. Terlazzo, as you know, holds the world’s record in the military press 132 pound class; he has repeatedly broken it in the 148 pound class. Robert Fein of Australia has held the world’s record in the press and the snatch, being the man who took this record away from Bob Mitchell. He presses exactly in the style I have described, and holding both records in pressing and snatching is proof again that pulling and pressing go hand in hand. Note the slope of his shoulders in the picture which appeared a few issues ago.

Therefore you must practice considerable rowing to bring up your military press and two hands snatching. I believe that the best results are obtained when rowing is done with the body in the upright position. The common shoulder shrug will help. One of my favorite exercises is rowing with two dumbells while standing erect. These can be pulled higher than a barbell. Pull them up so that the hands are about as wide apart as the shoulders, the elbows extended straight out from the shoulder. In practicing compound dumbell exercises I may not use more than a pair of twenty-five pounders, in a series of five exercises each performed ten times, fifty movements in all, without setting the bells down. I frequently perform the exercise just mentioned as the first exercise and the fifth of such a series. I believe it had much to do with my own improvement in the press.


As mentioned, any exercise which involves the shoulders will add to your pressing ability. And if you want to become a good presser, press and press and press. While the two hands snatch can be practiced three times a week, the two hands jerk not more than twice a week, five times a week and several times each training day is not too much for the press. The best pressers practice some pressing every time they pass a barbell or a pair of dumbells. If you’re real ambitious, perform as many as fifty presses each exercise period. Your press may be slow in responding, but some day you’ll find that you have jumped fifteen to twenty pounds or even more.

A favorite exercise of the French weightlifting team for all-round shoulder development and for improving the press is the dumbell military press with the palm in and the weight against the front of the shoulder.

It is best to stand in front of a mirror so you can observe how exact the movement is as most value is derived when no body movement is apparent and the hand must be turned in during the entire drill. About 25 lbs. is enough to start with and do 10 repetitions each hand.

Instead of performing this exercise in the usual press style, from shoulder to arm’s length overhead, the hand is brought down almost to the hip. At first it may seem like a combination curl and press, but it is really a press from the very extreme low position to the highest


Better Military Pressing (1944)

by Bob Hoffman



In October, 1937, an article appeared in this magazine called “The Best Way to Military Press.” In this article I cited the fact that in many contests there were almost as many styles of two hands pressing as there were lifters in action. Some lifters were still using the very close hand grip with hands not more than six of eight inches apart. This style of lifting for those with real or apparent unfavorable leverage had been advocated by one instructor and his disciples had put this method into use. There were others who used the widest sort of a grip on the bar, some who pressed with the thumbs around the bar, some without the thumbs, some with the wrists turned well back as in shot putting, some started the weight very low on the chest to obtain a longer drive, others held the bar high on the chest, across the shoulders so that there would be a shorter distance from the start to the completion of the press.

The rules of two hands pressing which appeared in this magazine in the October issue explain just how a two hands press must be performed. Feet on a line, not more than 16 inches apart, the body in the military position, hips level, back straight, although the rules do not concern themselves with the position of the hands, holding the elbows against the body or well out, pressing from the shoulders or form low on the chest, they do supply all the discrepancies which are cause for disqualification. One would think that two hands pressing, in our sport which is popular the world over (52 nations are members of the International Weight Lifting Federation, all follow the same rules, practice the same lifts) that styles would be very similar. But as stated before, there were almost as many pressing styles as there were lifters.



Here is a description of the way we coach our York lifters to two arm press. Some lifters prefer to press with the thumbs encircling the bar, some with what is known as the “thumbless grip,” with the thumbs held back in line with the fingers. Most of the York stars have tried both methods, and there did not seem to be a great difference in their records with either style. You can find what serves best in your case. When the thumbless grip is used the bar lies well back in the hand and there is an endeavor to press a few pounds more with the movement of the hands as is done in shot putting. But the York champs who have set the records, Terlazzo, Terpak. Davis, Stanko, all use the thumbs around style. There was a theory at one time that pressing with the thumbs around would tighten the holding muscles and cause them to oppose the pressing muscles, but this theory has been exploded with the successes so many thumbs around lifters have made. Grimek goes so far as to use the hook-grip throughout the entire lift. By encircling the bar with the thumbs, a much surer, stronger grip results, and when very heavy presses are made this is a help.

All the men enumerated in the last paragraph use a comparatively close grip. Slightly inside the knurling for the smaller men, at the edge of the knurling of the bar with the side of the fingers of the hands. Usually when pressing with the thumbless grip, the thumbs are laid at the edge of the knurling and this means that the hand grip is about two inches wider than with the thumbs around style.

It always seemed almost too close when bigger, more muscled men held the bar in this position but it proved to be the method with which they could press the most weight. There was a theory at one time that a close grip was advantageous because it brought the elbows forward and thus shortened the pressing distance. But the York champs hold their elbows at the side of the body and not forward. This method permits a greater drive to the press, a longer range of movement, it is going fast and strongly when the normal sticking point would be reached.

In trying this style you will find that your hands are wider apart than your elbows, hands are usually wider than shoulder width, throughout the press the elbows are held in toward the body. Practice this movement with a moderate weight so that you can master this form of pressing the elbows in and forward as the weight rises, with a little practice you will learn the groove through which you should press.

There are differences in the construction of lifters, but this style will be suitable for the vast majority.


We are constantly asked just what can be done to improve one’s pressing ability. There is always the fear on the part of the incipient lifter that he may be the possessor of bad leverage, upper arms too short in proportion to the lower arms. But more pressers make their low records because they have not developed strength than are handicapped by unfavorable leverage. The secret of success in two hands pressing is persistent practice.

Press, press, and press. Pressing is one exercise you can do a lot of. Five times a week and several times each training day is not too much for the press. The best pressers, the really ambitious fellows, practice some pressing every time they get near a barbell.

In competitive lifting you must get your press in the groove, but in developing strength and muscle it is wise to train the muscles from every possible angle, that’s why we advocate the 1,000 exercises. There are so many muscles involved in two hands pressing, so many allied muscles which when strengthened to their limit can help a little, be the difference between a record success and just an ordinary press, that it is necessary to practice a great many exercises.

Most of the York lifters practice some one arm pressing in the military position. They frequently press with a pair of dumbbells while sitting. practice the alternate press with two dumbbells, practice the side press, forward and lateral raise, two hands pull over, lateral raises while leaning, press on box, in short any exercise that will help the pressing ability. Dipping on parallel bars, and pressing while in the hand stand position are good developers of the pressing muscles. Heavy dumbbell pressing in particular develops a great many muscles as the single bells are harder to control than the barbell. Other exercises which involve and strengthen the shoulders such as the dumbbell rowing motion, the two hands snatch and the forward raise with barbell bring good results. John Davis practiced this latter exercise regularly with a 150 pound barbell and it certainly played an important part in his pressing ability.

Aside from these many exercises which are made a part of the program a great deal of two hands pressing must be practiced. Most of this in the proper position, the same style you will use to make your personal records. But much practice should also take place with a much wider hand hold. This strengthens the shoulders, makes it easier for them to consummate a heavy press when you are back in the correct groove again.

Repetition pressing brings the best results. These repetitions can be practiced a number of ways. Many times some of our champions as well as myself have made fifty presses, ten series of five repetitions, with 30 or 35% less than one’s record poundage. These fifty presses may seem like a lot of presses, but it is not too many, and the ambitious presser should make at least this many presses during his training program.

But you must also employ a heavy weight weekly. Select a weight which you can press five times on the first attempt, increase the weight and press it three, increase again and three if possible, if not twice, and then see how much weight you can press. Then make a number of heavy single attempts as near your record as possible. Ten single heavy presses is not uncommon. Perhaps work up to the heaviest press and then drop back down to many sets with a weight which will permit three to five repetitions.

To improve in pressing you must practice frequently as well as practice considerable heavy pressing at or near your limit.

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