Proper Pressing for Serious Strength [Train Smart Wednesday]


Good Day!

Coach Jeff Hermann here again to provide you with some sweet training tips for our weekly “Train Smart Wednesday” content! In this article, I will be going over the importance of hand placement and elbow positioning as it relates to pressing a barbell from the front rack position to over head. So lets get started.

  • One of the most common things I come across when coaching an athlete on a proper barbell press (including push press) is the athlete having almost no clue on how far out to space their hands and, after that, how exactly they should be positioned. If you are looking for an absolute answer, you can stop right there because there isn’t one! Hand spacing on the bar will vary between every individual due to limb lengths and general comfort for that individual. The general rule is a thumb length from the smooth part of the bar (just like we spoke about in my front squat article).
  • While this thumb length rule is usually a good starting point, some athletes may place better leverage on the bar with their hands slightly closer or slightly wider than this. For instance, I tend to grab the bar almost right outside the smooth middle and this just works for me. So long as your hands are never directly on your shoulders you are in the clear. For some, a wider grip may feel more comfortable, but be warned that the wider your grip is, the less force you can apply to the barbell. In other words – A wider grip will give you less distance to move the bar, but will also give you less strength in the movement. The same goes for push press as well (even though it is highly dependent on the legs) because of the stabilization required when the bar reaches near maximal height.
  • Let us now go over the actual position of the bar relative to the hand itself. Too often I see athletes attempting to press a bar that is resting either on the middle of the fingers or at their base. To some this may feel like a stable positioning but it is not. Most likely what you will find is that with this positioning, your elbows are pointed too far forward and you are having trouble applying much momentum to the bar. This has to do with the shoulders being too externally rotated to put the shoulders and triceps in a powerful position. This can all be fixed with some minor adjustments that will have you pressing better than ever!
  • What we would like to see is the bar in the palms of the hands and the elbows pointed down a bit. Imagine if you were holding two dumbbells on your shoulders. You wouldn’t have your elbows high with the dumbbells on your fingers would you(I seriously hope not)? NO, You would grasp the dumbbell with a closed hand and have it securely in your palms! A good thing to think of when getting set up is “elbows down and out”, and not straight down, but down as if you were trying to point them at a spot about 3 feet in front of you toes.
  • The last and final piece of advice I can give you, is for God’s sake, press up not out! Too many times the great positioning of the bar and the hand placement is nullified by an athlete pushing the bar away from them. The bar must remain close to the face and go straight over the ears as it passes your forehead. The instant you feel that bar passing your eyebrows, push your head through immediately keeping your eyes straight ahead! If the bar goes out, your center of power and balance is jeopardized and it then becomes a fight to regain stability rather than maximizing the use of each muscle during the movement.

Well, you should be ready to attack the bar like never before guys! Now go out there and put some heavy weight over your head!

– Coach Jeff