Saturday, August 7, 2010

For love of the Bent Press

For those of you who think I'm committing heresey by continuing to post about weightlifting, I promise you this painful chapter in The Bodyweight Files history is almost done...

Arthur Saxon. "The Ironmaster!" At the turn of the 20th century, he emerged as Eugene Sandow's most formidable opponent in vying for over-used terms like, "strongest man alive" or, "srongest man on Earth." His most famous and written-about weight lifting feat was his "two hands anyhow" lift of 448 lbs. Two hands anyhow was a pretty simple feat: just get as much weight overhead as possible. The standard method of doing this was to bent press a heavy barbell and reach down with the opposite hand and grab a lighter weight and put that overhead.

But what the hell is a Bent Press?

It's a lift that's been lost in time. Dan Lurie was probably the last, major bodybuilder to heavily practice this lift back in the 1950's. It's also a lift that's hard to describe in writing. I read a couple of descriptions of it on the Sandowplus website but even then, I had a hard time visualizing it. A video makes it far easier to understand. I like this video on the lift in question...

So, why'd it go "obsolete"? I've read quite a bit about the history of strength training and to be honest with you, I never really got much of a satisfactory answer. Maybe the guys who liked it best didn't end up ruling the roost (think: Mark Barry, Bob Hoffman, Joe Weider, etc) of weightlifting and/or bodybuilding didn't love it enough. Maybe it was because it didn't get adopted as an offical Olympic lift back in 1928, which seems to be about the time the lift began to fall from popularity. Or, and this is my guess, you just can't move a lot of weight or move the weight fast like you can in powerlifting or Olympic lifting. There's even been some mentions that some of the starting positions were bad for the back (some of the old timers really had a heavy, almost scoliosis-looking curve to their back when doing this lift).

So, the bent press has been out of favor for the past 75 years. Why is it becoming more popular? I don't know if anyone's noticed but old became new again in the past 10 years. The Bent Press has similar elements to the Turkish Get-up and the Windmill movements commonly used with kettlebells. So, naturally, it's resurgence seems to coincide with the Kettlebell "revolution."

It's also got some practical reasons for it's comeback, not tied to someone else's whims or marketing plans. The key to understanding the Bent press is that you're not really lifting the weight so much as you are getting under it, kind of like what you do with a snatch. Unlike the snatch, you're not doing this in a ballistic motion and you're not catching it. It's a much more controlled, slow motion, holding the weight in the exact spot that it started at as you move yourself underneath it, only truly lifting it when your arm is fully extended.

Why do this lift? Well, what muscles do you have on the side of your trunk, from your hips to your neck? Obliques, Lats, Serratus, Traps, deltoids, plus all the deep stuff along the spine and hips that nobody knows the names of... Well, that's all going to be working double-overtime as you execute a Bent Press. The amount of muscles firing as stabilizers is off the charts when you're doing it. It's a crazy-ass, strength-building exercise that will quickly make you appreciate how powerful Arthur Saxon must have been to Bent press 350 lbs at a bodyweight of 210-220 lbs! Or, Dan Lurie's 285 lbs bent press at 168 lbs!

I'm still pretty new to this exercise so I don't feel qualified to be my normal, opinionated self giving out marching orders about how to do this exercise perfectly. Still, I have a few things to add from personal experience. I've done this exercise with dumbbells, kettlebells and stones. That's also the order of what I consider to be easiest to hardest. I don't know if I'd recommend doing them with stones unless you can find one that has the right shape and if you're careful. I found one in Sacramento that was kind of long, thin and at the balance point had an almost triangular shape to it. Even then, without a grip, it's far more liable to fall out of the hands and onto the head. Not good, but the threat did re-enforce good Bent Press form!
The information on this site is a not a recommendation. It's just what we do. We take responsibility for our actions. You should too... Mark Twight

Before picking up any object at all to Bent Press, it's a good idea to practice the motion with no weight at all. Pay attention to the hand and keep it in the same place during the lift. Drop your body underneath it rather than raising it upwards. That's the point to this exercise.

I'm just going to leave it at that for now and get back to working at this one some more...

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