Monday, December 1, 2008

How The Champions Train For The Press - Charles A. Smith

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How the Champions Train for the Press
by Charles A. Smith


In my last article I explained the Russian style of pressing and how their foremost lifter, Gregory Novak, trained. Now come some other famous lifter’s training schedules and you will at once notice how individualistic these men’s programs are as compared to the Russian training on the two hands Olympic press. Where the Soviets try to force a single style on their lifters, the other nations strongmen are more or less allowed to choose their own style and system of training. Now I am not trying to belittle the obvious advantages attached to the Russian methods, but I believe a more free, less rigid system would benefit their great lifters immeasurably, tho the Russians are more realistic in applying the modern press to the rules, yet the err in my opinion by supposing that everyone is suited to a lay-back style.

However, apart from mere comparison, the rigid Russian training attitude has little or nothing to do with the main content of this article. I am merely interested in giving you as many examples of training styles and methods as possible, so that you can form your own training schedule and advance as fast as Nature will allow. If you were to make a graph of the rise of pressing records and another one of competitions on a national and international scale, you would see that the press performances have increased as the number of lifters grew and competed. Now this is a natural outcome but let’s delve a little further . . . In every bodyweight division, pressing performances have soared and this steady rise seems to have had its start from 1928 onwards. It is in the lightheavyweight and heavyweight divisions that the climb has been most marked, altho all the bodyweight classes have shown a steady increase. Specialization because of increasing competition is the reason. In the early days of the period following 1928, the quick lifts were in the forefront and lifters tended to train on snatches and clean & jerks more than pressing. This was in my opinion the result of the German influence on lifting, in that the Germanic athletes were more inclined, because of the temperament, to the slow lifts such as the press, therefore regarding the press as the more important lift. One German record-holder on the press clean & jerked a mere 15 lbs. more in competition.

Gradually the more athletic type of lifter came to the fore and it was then the faster feats of strength athletics became prominent, until it was customary to see snatches many pounds higher than presses in a lifter’s total. But now the hands of the clock have completed a full circle, and altho pressing has again come to the front, it has done so not because of a presumed importance over the snatch and the clean & jerk, but because modern lifters have at last recognized that it is no longer good enough to be tops in the quick lifts. To be a modern champion, a strength athlete has to be a great performer in ALL THREE LIFTS. Consider Shams the Egyptian lifter. This man has been trying to win a world’s of Olympic title since 1936 and didn’t succeed until 1946. Why? Because in spite of record breaking performances on the snatch and clean & jerk, Shams was a relatively poor presser. As soon as his press improved and he hit tops on his other lifts, Shams also hit the Olympic jackpot, winning his first International title.


In 1947, the Korean team created a sensation at the Philadelphia World’s Championships. Now, their lifting was much below the records they had previously established, but it was apparent that the men from the “Land of the Morning Calm” had suffered from the long journey and the innumerable inoculations. Despite their below par performances, one lifter more than made up for them, Sung Jip Kim! Johnny Davis has told me how he saw this wonderful middleweight press 212 lbs. for 14 consecutive repetitions in strict military style, and when I saw Kim at Philadelphia, I also saw what an immensely powerful man he was. Afterwards I had the opportunity of talking with him through an interpreter. Here is the way Kim trains for the Olympic press . . . bear in mind that he once held the world’s record with 264 ½ lbs. and has unofficially pressed 281 ½ at middleweight limit.

We are concerned only with the press in this article, but it might be a point of interest to give his complete training method too. Most of the Korean lifters trained I viewed trained along the same lines . . . that is, they used the press, the snatch, the clean & jerk and squats . . . plenty of squats, a lift I’ve always held has a direct bearing on the strength of the rest of the physique as well as just the thighs and the back. Kim starts in the press with 187 ½, pressing it for five or six sets of 5 reps. He takes a good rest, then ups the poundage to 198 ½ and presses this for 4 sets of 5 reps. He takes another lengthy rest and, using the same poundage performs another 2 sets of 5 reps. Kim rests again and increases the weight to 202 ½ and presses this poundage for 3 or 4 sets of 5 reps. He presses the weights as fast as possible yet keeps strictly to form. Once a month, he tries out his limit.


Big Jim Bradford from Washington, D.C., one of the brightest stars in the American weightlifting crowd, has another distinct style of working out. Bradford has found that working on one single lift at a time doesn’t tend to improve his style. He has discovered that it is essential to constantly practice all the Olympic lifts to maintain steady progress. Jim trains three times each week, using all three lifts in each workout. First he starts on the press, warming up with a medium heavy poundage, then jumps to a fairly heavy poundage, then jumps to a fairly heavy weight and works up to his limit, or ten pounds below his limit in sets of 3 reps. He ends his training with deep knee bends. Jim has pressed well over 300 on numerous occasions.


Louis Abele, one of the greatest heavyweight lifters this world has yet seen, a man who never fully realized his immense powers and capabilities, who at one time held the world’s record press with a poundage of 315, had a unique training system. He had many variations, sometimes training six days a week and sometimes three. But he always trained HARD. Abele took a poundage 35 pounds below his limit and performed a single repetition. He took a couple of minutes rest, and then did another single rep. He kept this up until he had performed 20 single reps. The second training week, he added 2 ½ pounds and used the repetition method instanced above. The next week he again increased the weight by 2 ½ pounds and when he attempt finished at 20 reps became tough, he would cut down to 12 or 15 reps, or else take more rest between single reps. When his exercising poundage approached his former limit he would drop down to 25 pounds below limit and work up again as previously outlined. Another schedule Abele used as a rest-up from the above was the “5-4-3-2-1” system. He would start off with say 210 for 5 reps, then 220 x 4, 230 x 3, 240 x 2, 245 x 1 then 225 x 3 and a final set of 214 for 3 reps.


Bobby Higgins is another world’s record holder and 1847 World’s featherweight champion; in fact, one of the greatest men of his bodyweight the world has ever seen, who had a definite schedule of press training which was remarkably successful. Higgins trained four times a week and for three hours each night. He used all three Olympic lifts but emphasized the press. First of all, Bobby would warm up and then start his press training proper. He pressed 135 x 5, then jumped to 150 x 5, 170 x 3 and after a few minutes rest 185 for a single rep, then a jump to 200 for another single. Here comes the unusual part of his press training.

One would think that at so close to his limit Bob would keep to single repetitions, but after the single rep with 200, Higgins took an even heavier poundage, 210 for 5 sets of 2 reps. After another short rest, the bar would be loaded to 225 and an effort made to press this weight. If successful, Bobby was reasonably certain of making 230-235 at a meet. Incidentally, Higgins used a extremely wide grip, remarking, “If I get it started . . . and that’s all I have to do, I can complete the press. If I can’t get it away from the shoulders, then I just don’t press the weight.” Higgins pressed 231 ½ at the 1947 Philadelphia championships to tie the world’s record held by Su Il Nam, the Korean. He has also pressed over and above this weight innumerable times in training and at three pounds above the lightweight limit, that is, at a bodyweight of 135 pounds, pressed the incredible poundage of 240.


Doug Hepburn, World’s record holder in the two hands Olympic press, uses yet another system of press training. He uses almost the same system as Johnny Davis . . . 6 to 8 sets of 2 repetitions with a near limit poundage. Hepburn trains three days a week. ONE DAY ONLY on presses and the other two days on squats and dead lifts. Here is one of his pressing schedules: He first warms up with a weight 40 lbs. below his training poundage, the weight he is going to use for those 8 sets of 2 reps. When using 320 for his actual training poundage, he warms up with 280 for a couple of reps, takes a short rest and then jumps to the 320 which he handles for 8 x 2 reps. His next pressing day, usually a week after, he tries to add 5 to 10 lbs. to his training poundage, warming up with 285 and then jumping to 325 for the sets and reps. H spreads the press routine over the space of an hour and puts everything he has into each repetition.


We have already given you the training schedule of Johnny Davis on the press, but perhaps it would be good to include some more remarks by this great lifter and coach. Davis has always pointed out that the type of schedule that suits one lifter does not necessarily suit another. In order to be a good presser, Davis says, the lifter must ascertain what method of training suits him. Baring the exception to the rule, no single method of training suits each and every individual. He sums up the important press training points as follows:

1. The use of fundamentals for the type of work with which you are concerned.
2. Experimentation. Rest or change of routine when reaching sticking points.
3. Devoting your entire energies principally and exclusively to the lift with which you are concerned. With some lifters, training every night in the week can be too much, and with others to train three times a week would be insufficient. Since the important factor in training is to increase the poundage of the press, a system to build not only strength but tenacity is needed. After these qualities have been developed, the style of your press must be brought as close to the rules as your physical structure and recent pressing style will allow. Tenacity is the factor that helps you fight the bar through the a area of the sticking point, to keep the press going without permitting it to slow up.

Once you develop a style, you should stick to it. Don’t keep chopping and changing around. Form your training schedule on the press and train hard until you have exhausted your schedule’s possibilities. First, as Davis says, use only the press, the “fundamental” of your workouts. Work hard and with determination and forget about all other types of exercise or lift training until your press has shown considerable improvement. When you find the press itself isn’t sufficient to improve your pressing poundages, then comes the time for either rest, change of routine, or experimentation with other schedules, with “unusual” movements and assistance exercises in an effort to lift you out of the slump. Finally, I have given you the methods of some great weightlifting champions and record holders and I think that you could do a lot better by creating your own pressing system out of the schedules these outstanding strength athletes have themselves used to develop their superb power.

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