Lifts that make a man out of you – the one arm side/bent press

The bent press. The side press.

This is a lift you will probably never see performed in most gyms, and for a year its the only overhead work I did in preparation for strongman contests.

Why?

Why did old time strongmen lift almost naked? Jesus…

Back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s there wasn’t a single gym within an hour drive of me that had strongman implements, so to maximize my ability to lift odd objects the best way I could, I did the bent press.

This is about as whole body as an upper body lift can get. And it puts your body into a position it is not used to when doing overhead work.

There isn’t one part of you that isn’t working when you do this lift:

  • Obliques and abs to stabilize.
  • Lats for pressing and stabilization.
  • Hips become stronger, you increase hamstring flexibility.
  • Shoulders become stronger and more mobile.

This lift can be performed with either a dumbbell or a barbell. For safety’s sake at first, I would recommend using a dumbbell and work your way up to a barbell. The barbell requires more balance and more body control, which I would not take lightly when performing this lift.

Invest in a pair of quality collars. Spring collars aren’t going to cut it. I purchased Ironmind Bulldog 2 collars because they bit into the bar when wrenched down, and with 185+ pounds on the bar, that comes in handy.

In the early 1900’s this was a classic strongman lift.

Arthur Saxon was rumored to press 370 overhead using this style. Whether or not that is accurate weight is a topic of debate for another day.

This isn’t a complex lift to perform, but it takes practice to get it right.

  1. Start with the barbell on the floor, weight on, collars tight. Double check them for tightness. The last thing you want is for weight to slide off the barbell when you are finding a balance point. Use bumper plates if you have them, dropping iron plates from 6 feet up is frowned upon in most gyms, trust me on that one.
  2. Pick it up (lever style) by the end of the bar so its vertical, clearly one end will be on the ground.
  3. Find the center of the bar, a Texas Power bar is a great idea because of the center knurling. Use your dominant hand first, let’s say the right hand.
  4. Lean down, squat style, with your hand on the center. Place your right shoulder on the bar and lean the bar onto your shoulder, hand still on the bar and stand up with it. This takes practice, so start with an unloaded bar to get the feel down.
  5. Find that sweet spot to rest the bar and prep for the press. Mine was with the bar across my upper back and my right hand close to my shoulder. You should be able to rest the bar there without too much strain and effort.
  6. To press you will bend over away from the weight, legs locked, similar to doing a kettlebell windmill without the other hand touching the ground. As you are bending over, you are pressing the weight upwards.
  7. To complete the rep you stand up fully with the weight, above your head.
  8. Lowering it sucks. Period. This is why I say use bumper plates. There really isn’t an easy way to lower this weight if you are going heavy. Trying to control a heavy barbell with one hand is like watching “Masterpiece Theater”. Its hell. Hate to say this, you can choose to lower it to your back or you can just follow it to the ground. If you do this, make sure no people are around you so they don’t eat the bar.
Ok, better.

Part of the problem with the side press is finding the balance on the bar. You have to be careful, one centimeter off and the bar looks like a seesaw as you try to press it. Remedy this when the bar is on your back, use the free hand to help. Muscling up a bar that is off-center is not only stupid, but damn dangerous.

Warmup first, thoroughly. This lift puts a lot of stress on your shoulders, lower back and hamstrings. If you are inflexible, this lift will expose you quickly. Start light.

If you do this in a commercial gym, as I did, be prepared to answer a thousand questions as to what the hell you are doing. I guarantee that almost nobody in any commercial gym has ever seen this lift before, so if you want to do it there, make it count and don’t look like a dope.

Again, start with a DB first, get the basic form down before you move on to the manmaker of a barbell side press. Not only will you get stronger in the side press (obviously) but every upper body lift will increase. Every single one. Its a great overall lift for the upper body, but its not for the uncoordinated.

Good luck, and don’t drop the damn bar on your head.

 

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