Bent Press: A new twist on an old lift.

Earlier this summer, like he routinely does, Jeff sent me a video of a lift he was playing with for me to try out and play around with.  Like almost all of these, I have to do some deconstructing and some reverse engineering to figure out what all is exactly going on.  Usually, after a little playing around I can try what he sent me.  Sometimes, this results in me cursing his name; most times it involves me finding a problem I didn’t know I had.

In May, he sent me a bent press variation video to try.  I’ve been playing around with bent-presses in some manner since 2009.  I received by RKC II certification (which involved demonstrating bent press competency in 2010.)  I had my mind blown at bent press specific workshop Jeff put on in 2011.  I read Dave Whitleys book that was specific to the Bent Press.  I taught the bent press as a StrongFirst team leader at the first StrongFirst Level 2 workshop back in the day. In doing all of this, a few years back I worked up to a 60kg barbell bent press.  In the mean time, I’ve kept it in my repertoire of things to keep me on track.  I’ve bent pressed kettblebells, barbells, dumbbells, sandbags, and my son a couple times.  So, when I COULDN’T recreate what I saw in that video, my soul once again was punched.

I blamed it on my shoulder – I had shoulder surgery back in January, so this was an easy cop out.  Never mind that 99.9% of the things I do on a daily basis and in training don’t bother me any more.  This was that 0.1% time.  I even came up with a logical justification to why I couldn’t do it on the other side…we get to the point where we can justify anything (or, maybe its just me that does that).

After I progressed through the stages of grief (normal for when Jeff has me try things) I realized that my shoulder wasn’t the problem.  Even though I could bent press and windmill to the standards I taught when I was with RKC and StrongFirst, according to my own words, I hadn’t mastered the bent press (mastery means “you can display any skill under any condition/context/situation”).

Then, like normal, I began to reverse engineer this bent press variation of Jeffs in an effort to come up with a way to address the restrictions I had that were holding me back.  What came of that?  The August and September blog posts…

August was about transitioning out of Quadruped.  September, the low outlaw rack.  Transitioning from quadruped to higher postures within the Neurodevelopmental Continuum (NDC) is all about creating stability and then creating a transition strategy; it leverages your ability to push down into the ground to create stability.  The bent press is 100% a lift that relies on your ability to get stability from pushing into the implement and into the ground.  If you cannot do that, you lose pelvis/trunk motor control and you lose the ability of your shoulder to be a shoulder.  

In July we introduced you to the low outlaw rack.  This has done more for shoulder and thoracic problems than anything else we’ve ever encountered.  Why?  It requires the shoulder to find stability in a loaded/compressed environment WITH (and that “with” is vital) a t-spine that is extended and rotated.  How is it different than an arm bar though?  Great question, simple answer – earth.  In the arm bar you are laying on the ground.  While your shoulder alone has to create stability, everything else gets to dial things down because the ground provides the majority of the trunk/pelvis stability.  In any variation of the low outlaw rack, you don’t get to rely on mother earth to help -it’s all you.  When we leverage the trunk/pelvis to be stable, then they work synergistically with the shoulder to create a stable system.  Am I saying that the arm bar creates a short term solution for shoulder stability at the expense of long term actual scapula/trunk/pelvis stability…….maybe.  I do think the arm bar has its place in the role of shoulder stability (it’s not the prom queen though).  If it actually fixed the shoulder stability problem why do we still see a lot of shoulder problems going into Level 2 kettlebell certifications….. just a question (maybe those shoulder problems aren’t actually shoulder problems, just wondering out loud…)

Anyway, when we combine the two (quadruped transitions with the low outlaw rack) we get something that addresses the bent press by working on the bottom of the bent press.  Many people can get into position to start the bent press – the side rack.  Rarely is that the problem; the wheels begin to fall off the bus when they move away from the start position towards the bottom position.  But, at what point did anyone ever check the box to make sure you had the bottom position of the bent press??  

We can do that from quadruped.  Read that again, We.  Can. Do.  That.  From.  Quadruped.

Set up in the low outlaw rack in quadruped. 

Your shoulders should be perpendicular to the earth in this position.  Lift your knees, and breath – don’t hold your breath or clench your jaw; we need to create stability, not fake stability.  Do this several times on each side.  

If you have trouble getting set up in the low outlaw rack (LOR), try this entry point that by itself is a great drill (thank you MIKEL).  Sit like you would be in the tall sit position of the turkish get up with the KB next to your hip on your extended leg side.  For this example, we will set up with the left leg straight and the bell next to the left hip.  Reach your right arm back and grasp the bell. 

Now, perform the TGU transition from here to half kneeling (keep your left arm on the ground).  Instead of progressing, drop your right knee to the ground and open your right shoulder to the sky; now you are in the quadruped version of the LOR.  

You can integrate the LOR into any of they quadruped transitions we covered in August:

  1. Quadruped to plank

2. Quadruped to bottom of the deadlift (BoDL)

3. Quadruped to bottom of the squat (BoS)

4. Quadruped to bottom of the lunge (BoL)

5. Quadruped to bottom of the cossack (BoC)

However, in keeping on task, the one we want to focus on is the Quadruped to BoDL.  Once you get into the BoDL with the top arm in the LOR, you are in the bottom of the bent press. 

SURPRISE!?!  The top arm is loaded and providing sensory input into the shoulder that drives thoracic rotation and creates a motor control response from the CNS to keep everything stable.  (all you baseball players, coaches, athletic trainers – all the benefits of a loaded shoulder without being overhead…)  We are checking off the box on whether you have the bottom of the bent press.  If you get here and realize this is very challenging (or you can’t get here), THIS is why you struggle with the bent press – you were playing connect the dots with one dot (very similar to getting stood up on a date).

I’d love to keep going on about this, but fixing your bent press really is as simple as ensuring you have the start and finish positions – why no one has ever checked out that bottom position before trying to troubleshoot the bent press is beyond me (until recently I was in that group).  But, since starting this, how I teach the bent press is completely different and it is easier than before. More importantly, I was able to get into that stupid hybrid bent press that Jeff challenged me with (WIN! and it only to 2 months this time). Play around with this for a while then get back to your bent press and see how it feels, then let us know.

Enjoy!

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