Once upon a time, the world considered the military or strict press the measure of a person’s strength. Included among the Olympic lifts, the clean and press was meant to judge an athletes pure strength, where the snatch and clean and jerk were meant to measure speed and agility.
After decades of slipping standards, the International Weightlifting Federation scrapped the press from its lineup in 1972. Feel free to read this 30-page history for more background on the press.
According to Nerd Fitness writer, Staci Ardison, after the press was eliminated from the Olympics, powerlifters swapped in bench press to measure an athlete’s upper body strength, while bodybuilders opted for other exercises to bulk up muscles.
However, she argues in her article, “The press helps improve deficiencies in your overall upper body strength, translating to improved numbers on the bench press, chin-ups, rows, and more.”
In short, if you want the strength and core stability, you better be pressing overhead.
Also referred to as the strict press or just the press, this movement takes the barbell from an athletes shoulders to above their head with arms locked out. With a strict press, there should be no dip and drive to help get the weight overhead.
At the power rack or squat stand, have the barbell at or just below the collar bone. Grab the bar with your hands just wide of your body. Rack the bar, creating a shelf with your shoulders.
With your feet shoulder width apart, adjust your elbows so that your elbows are perpendicular to the floor (you’ll lose a little bit of your shelf doing this).
You may choose to lean back slightly to create a shorter path for the bar to travel. But beware of leaning too far back and creating a curving bar path.
With a hook grip, take a breath in and press the bar overhead until the elbows lock out.
Lower by breaking the elbows and slowly lowering the bar, brining the elbows back to parallel with the floor, creating your shelf for the barbell, and re-rack your weight.
Variations of the press
If you don’t have access to a barbell, you can perform the press with dumbbells. Clean the dumbbells up to your starting position. Holding the dumbbells so the bells are perpendicular to your shoulders, press as normal.
A push press is beginning your press with a slight dip and drive to help get the weight moving above your head. While some more advanced lifters may incorporate these into their programming, beginners should use a push press if they fail reps on their strict press.
For example, if you are trying to do three sets of five reps at 45 pounds (an empty barbell) and you can only strict press 4 of the five reps, do a push press for the fifth rep to help build strength.
If you are having to push press more than one or two reps in a set, you may need to consider going down in weight.