The kettlebell military press has always been an integral part of my training plan regardless of my goals. This is partially because I have always struggled with pressing heavy bells and I know if stop I will regress rapidly. The other reason is because it’s just plain fun.
There is a very primitive feeling one gets after pressing heavy kettlebells. I can imagine cavemen trying to outdo each other by lifting the heaviest rocks they could find.
One thing about pressing kettlebells is that you must be consistent to improve. To press a lot, you must press a lot.
3 tips for pressing heavy kettlebells
Kettlebell pressing is essentially about stacking the body. Throughout the entire movement, you need to remain stacked to avoid creating unnecessary levers. Take a look at the below picture. You can see that his knees are over his ankles, his hips are over his knees, his shoulders are over his hips, his wrist is over his elbow and the weight is directly over his wrists.
To press maximum weights, you need to maintain this not just in the rack position, but also as the weight moves overhead. If you cannot remain stacked from the shoulder down, try pressing from your knees. If you cannot remain stacked from the wrist down, try pressing bottoms up.
What’s pressing bottoms up? It’s the same movement as a regular military press, but with the bell upside down, facing the ceiling. This will ensure you are stacked because when you drift out from the correct alignment, the kettlebell will become very difficult to hold onto. It’s a handy self-correcting drill to teach you what a proper press feels like.
Full body tension
Have you ever heard the saying you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe? To fire a canon, you need a warship, which is exactly what we need to create from the shoulder girdle down. A strong rigid platform to create an oppositional force to which you can press against.
The military press is not an upper body movement. It’s a whole body movement that requires every muscle in the body to contract and relax with each press.
Before pressing, squeeze your quads and glutes as tight as you can. Make sure your pelvis has been tilted backwards just a touch as a result. Then, breathe into your belly and contract your abs as if someone was going to punch you hard in the belly.
As you press upward, crush both the kettlebell handle and the fist of the non-working arm. This action will contract the forearm muscles and will recruit surrounding muscles to assist in the movement, making you that bit stronger by assisting your other muscles to contract harder. It’s known as irradiation, for those playing at home.
The active negative
When pressing kettlebells, we don’t lower the kettlebell from above our head, nor do we drop it. We actively pull the kettlebell down using our opposing muscle groups. In the kettlebell press, this will feel and look similar to how a one arm chin would feel.
This motion serves a couple of purposes. The first one being that the lat on the side you’re pressing with will be responsible for pulling the kettlebell down in the active negative. This allows the muscles responsible for the press to have a short break and be saved for the main show.
Secondly, by engaging your lat on the downward motion, you keep the upper body tension that you’re going to need for the next press. Basically, you’re prepping the warship to fire another cannon.
Programing the press
Press programming, like many kettlebell programs, is best kept simple. All you need is 10 minutes following this progression:
Left arm x 1 press
Right arm x 1 press
Left arm x 2 presses
Right arm x 2 presses
Left arm x 3 presses
Right arm x 3 presses
From here you will cycle back to the start from 1 press again. Move through this protocol resting only as you need until the 10 mins is up. This protocol is best done 2 to 3 times per week with a full day’s rest between sessions aiming to increase the number of cycles each session.
This program has been floating around the kettlebell community for years, and the reason is that it’s so effective. If you’ve been looking to improve your overhead strength, I thoroughly recommend that you give it a shot, remembering the tips you’ve just read!