One of the most challenging strength movements for me is overhead pressing; it is just one of those lifts that progresses slow and steady for me. Even with my limited success, I still enjoy performing this movement and constantly challenge myself to get better at it.
When a movement is difficult to progress with, it is very important to analyze how the movement is performed, what the optimal technique is and how to make adjustments to make the movement optimal for you.
I have received help over the years from some great kettlebell coaches and I will share a few tips to help you press a relatively heavy kettlebell.
Set it up Right
Before you can press a big kettlebell it is important that you are set up to succeed. Getting the kettlebell into the proper rack position allows the kettlebell to be stable so you can get a good initial pressing movement. If the kettlebell sits loose in the rack position, not only will it be tough to make the initial press successful; it will also take more strength to stabilize the kettlebell in the right position, therefore wasting valuable strength needed to press the kettlebell overhead.
The right rack position varies from person to person depending on body structure. The kettlebell should sit comfortably close to the body and be able to remain there without effort to keep it stable. When I train people on how to set up the rack position, I tell them that the forearm should follow the angle of the ribcage.
Wrist angle in the rack position is also crucial for a successful press; you want the wrist to be strong and as vertical as possible. It is very common to bend (gooseneck) the wrist which makes your pressing platform weak.
Squeeze the Sponge
Squeezing the Sponge is a direct tip I got from Master RKC Mark Reifkind which helped my strict press tremendously. This metaphor is used by Mark to get people to activate their Latissimus dorsi muscles to press. Too many trainees consider the press to be done with the shoulder muscles; however Mark advises that the Lats should be the primary mover and great stabilizer of the weight.
Once the weight is in the racked position, before you begin the press, squeeze the arm into the side of your body as if you are trying to squeeze all the water out of the sponge that is between your arm and the side of your body; this will prime the Lats for assistance with the movement.
Tension is a killer of efficiency and endurance but it is very useful when you want to move a heavy object. The sponge tip above is a form of tension building, along with this you will want to grip the kettlebell handle firmly, tense the mid-section and glutes, feet should be strong and driven into the ground and also tense the non-working side (if you are using a single kettlebell).
Push Against the Contact Point
The biggest question I get from my athletes about overhead pressing is how the shoulder should move. I tend to avoid flaring the arm outward into external rotation because of safety reasons due to the weight displacement on the shoulder joint; keeping the arm in can be confusing until I got a second eye opening tip from Mark Reifkind.
His tip was to press against the contact point of the kettlebell where it meets your wrist and forearm. Keeping this contact seems to move the kettlebell through a smooth and proper groove, keeping the shoulder inward, the weight over the hip and in a position where the Lats can assist effectively.
This last tip may seem self evident, however if you are used to pressing lighter kettlebells with ease overhead and you try a heavier one that seems not to budge, you might quit too early. Pressing a heavier kettlebell may take up to three seconds to get overhead so as long as you are safe and stable, stick with it until it locks out overhead.
There you have five tips to help your strict kettlebell press. Enjoy.