How To Plan Your Pressing Schedules
by Charles A. Smith
We are getting pretty close to the end of the press series and before I go on to the second lift of the Olympic Three, the Two Hands Snatch, there are a few points I want to clear up with regard to schedules, assistance exercises, basic power routines and the future of the lift itself. In this chapter, however, we are concerned only with schedules as they apply to men of varying experience. Perhaps some of you have thought these press articles have been too elaborate and detailed. Let me assure you that “detail” in any lift, where the problem of fast improvement is concerned, is very necessary. For complete success there must be complete understanding.
When we look at the masterpiece of a celebrated artist, or watch the lifting of a champion, it is not sufficient to say these manifestations of ability are explained by putting paint on a brush and applying it to canvas, or that a strong man has lifted a weight above his head. You cannot explain the works of a da Vinci or Michelangelo, or the lifts of a Davis or Schemansky in a single phrase. There are deeper meanings than just a surface interpretation of what they are doing and why. You have to know what makes these men the leaders in their field. And when you find out why they lead, you must be able to judge your own potentials and determine if you can join their company.
I have tried honestly, though perhaps in a fumbling way, to explain to you just what you need to become a great presser. It is possible that you can become one. You may have every one of the natural requirements, but if you haven’t then there is absolutely no reason why you can’t be a good presser, or at the very least a better presser than you now are. Even at the age of 40 I feel confident that, given the time to train, I could press 260, perhaps more, inside of a year. Recent advances in the bench press have brought my best Olympic Press up 20 pounds above my former lift, and this without any practice whatsoever in the standing press.
In this series of press articles you have been shown how to make use, efficient use, of any natural press advantage you may have. You have been taught how to chose a hand spacing, how to breathe during the press. You have been shown how the maintenance of balance can lead to successful presses, and how to conserve energy during the clean. The significance of the grip, the “set” for the press, and the style and training systems of the world’s record holders have been published, and the problem of whether to “direct” the bar during the lift or whether to keep it travelling in one plane had been gone into. You’ve learned something about the anatomy of the lift, about the pressing peculiarities of the Russians and Egyptians, and you’ve been taught the importance of the trapezius and serratus magnus muscles; so you should have, if you’ve followed this series faithfully, a pretty good picture of what you must do, and develop, to become a better presser.
Perhaps the only aspect not touched on as yet is the mental. Needless to say, this must at all times during your lifting be positive. A negative attitude to your lifting will handicap you immeasurably and cost you many valuable lifts. Morty Friedman, who has great hopes for his lifting future, said recently in a conversation with me, in which we discussed these mental aspects: “Your only limit is the one you place on yourself.” Perhaps this sounds a little too “positive” for some fellows, but it’s the right attitude.
How do we cultivate the “positive” mental attitude in which all thoughts of failure are discounted? In my opinion this attitude comes, or is gained, or built up . . . or destroyed or lost in . . . TRAINING! Therefore, the more you succeed in training, the easier your presses go in workouts, the more powerful will the habit of success be ingrained in you. Never at any time forget that lifting is just as such mental as it is physical. In fact, it is a distant state of mind. The entire habit to developing a habit of success lies in the type of schedule you use in training. Obviously, if you keep chopping and changing from program to program in the hopes of succeeding . . . if you constantly and unsuccessfully switch schedules in the hopes of improving the press, then your competition lifts are going to suffer. In addition to not spending the correct amount of time on a given program, you will get into the habit of failure. Your lifting future is partly decided the first moment you start to train. Start off right, and you’ve half the battle won. Start off on the wrong foot with incorrect training programs and it is possible you’ll never make progress.
Now, for the schedules: First, let’s consider the complete novice, the relative newcomer to lifting. During his basic training he has undoubtedly engaged in some sort of pressing schedule. Not necessarily the Olympic press but perhaps bench presses, incline presses or floor presses. He soon finds out that the Olympic press is not a lift that lends itself kindly to any amount of high repetitions. Whereas he was in the habit of rattling off tow or three sets of 10 to 15 reps in the bench press, he finds it too hard to do a like number of reps with any considerable poundage in the standing press. This is because there is a greater muscle mass involved . . . muscles of the entire back and thighs, all under static contraction while the muscles engaged in the actual press are working.
The only way he can use a high number of reps is to handle a poundage that will not give him the slightest press benefit. Thus, instead of using, say, three sets of ten reps, he can get more press power by lowering the number of repetitions and raising the amount of sets . . . to ten sets of three reps, or six sets of five reps. But even this has its disadvantages because the poundage and the sets and reps are static. Muscles contract under a stimulus or resistance. The greater the resistance the more the muscle contracts up to its limit. From the viewpoint of endurance, more work is accomplished with medium weights, but from the point of strength, in order for the muscles to grow stronger and bigger they must be subjected to a constantly increasing resistance, and it matters not whether that increase comes form more sets or more weight. Eventually a point is reached where the weight HAS to be increased.
So you will find it better to grade your beginner’s pressing schedule as follows: Take a weight you can comfortably press for five sets of three reps. Perform each set with a couple of minutes rests in between. In your next workout do six sets of threes, and the next workout seven sets of three. Each workout increase your sets by one until you are performing ten sets of three repetitions. As soon as you can do this, drop down to five sets but increase the reps to four and work up in sets again as before. When you are doing ten sets of four reps, drop down to again to five sets of five reps and work up to EIGHT sets of five reps. Then increase the training poundage by ten pounds and start all over again with five sets of three reps until you are able to perform eight sets of five reps with the new poundage . . . then it’s time for another poundage increase.
So you see that you get the benefit of a steadily increasing resistance all along the line, from a weight you can always handle comfortable . . . a resistance that is constantly increasing, gradually building up your strength so that you arrive at a new personal record without experiencing any setbacks. When you DO happen to find the system’s results lagging, take a couple of weeks’ layoff from pressing and start in again . . . this time performing your presses while seated. One important point to take not of: During your training always keep to the rules. If you get accustomed to lifting in a loose style during your novice days, you’ll tend toward lifting loosely later on.
In every schedule, advances come to a halt sooner of later, even with the advanced man or those who have been training for some time. Even the champion experiences his setback but his knowledge of personal requirements allows him to snap out of his pressing slump. When your advances come to a halt you will have to switch to a new schedule . . . one embracing a different combination of poundages and sets of repetitions. A combination that further stimulates the muscles into new growth of power. The following schedule will be found most useful. Supposing you have a top press of 200 pounds . . . the best press you have ever done. Fix the weight you can do any time at 190 (Remember that necessary “constant success in training” factor). Take 150 pounds and perform three sets of three reps. After a short rest increase the weight to 160 and perform three sets of two reps . . . Rest again and increase the weight by another ten pounds to 170 and perform three single reps, resting between each one. Increase the weight again to 180 and make another three single reps with a rest between each repetition. Once a month try out your limit and adjust your training poundages according to any increase in limit you have made.
Another schedule that has been used with great success by advanced lifters is the 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 system. Josef Manger, the pre-war German lifter, used it successfully. Let us assume that your press is tops with 200. Drop down to 150 . . . perform 5 reps with it . . . rest . . . increase the weight to 160 and perform four reps . . . rest . . . increase the weight to 170 and perform three reps . . . rest . . .increase the poundage to 180 and perform two reps . . . rest . . . increase the weight to 190 and perform a single rep. Then work DOWN again . . . two reps with 180 . . . three with 170 . . . four with 160 and five with 150. A similar system can be used performing reps from five down to a single rep with 190, then dropping down to 160 and performing four sets of four reps with that weight.
When you feel a schedule playing itself out you can effect great improvement once more merely by a substitution in the combination of sets and reps or making a direct change in training lifts. However, this latter “direct change” will be discussed in “Assistance Movements” chapter. One system that has been used with remarkable effect in
Most of the record holders use a system that combines a fairly high weight and amount of sets with low repetitions. The system of
You can see the pattern behind these schedules is a constant increase in resistance as the lifter’s pressing strength increases. Summing it all up, one can say that the only way to improve the press is to . . . PRESS. But above all is the necessity to think for yourself. Because this or that champion used a particular program or combination of sets and reps, that does not imply that his system will be successful for you if you use it. You must consider your own early training, your physical potentials and your temperament and THEN compile your pressing program . . . But THINK . . . QUESTION . . . Your instructor MAY be wrong!