How to Work up to a 135-Pound Barbell Side Press

April 15, 2004 09:58 AM

Arthur Saxon, Eugene Sandow. Paul Anderson. Herman Goerner. All of these vintage strongmen possessed amazing strength. Although each had his own tailor made training program, they all had one thing in common -heavy emphasis on one arm overhead lifting. There are many one arm overhead lifting variations; my weapon of choice is the barbell side press. Most of what I will reiterate I have gotten from the book and DVD Power to the People! by Pavel Tsatsouline. I will not waste time on the actual execution of the exercise itself. For that you can buy the book or DVD, trust me it is worth every penny!

Before I go into the details of my experience with the side press, let me first say I am no means an expert. I just know what has worked for me. My current max is 135 pounds, which has been one of my goals when I first started one arm lifting. Like many people, I first started out with typical bodybuilding routines, as did many brainwashed zombies before me. You know, the back and biceps, chest and triceps sort of thing. However, I never liked training for "the pump" and trying to reach complete muscle failure; it just felt wrong. I was never interested in the size of my muscles, rather what they could do. After discovering Pavel's ideas and philosophy about strength training I realized I had not been training to my true potential. To put it simply, I wanted real nasty wiry strength. Using Pavel's Power to the People! program as a blueprint I slowly started to phase out the isolation workouts. I focused on workouts that gave me real functional strength. I ended up with a program consisting of deadlifts, pull-ups, and my favorite, the side press. I believe if you work the hell out of the side press your body will take its natural, well-proportioned shape, get compact, dense, and full of strength. I have found the side press to be, for me, the best total upper body exercise for overall strength and musculature. Here is how what I have learned.

I will start with the grip, for everything must be channeled through your grip. I grip the bar very low in my palm, as opposed to in my fingers. That way I can feel the bar more in my hand and have more control over the bar. Also, when the weight is pressing into the palm rather then the fingers, it translates into a greater triceps contraction. I cannot emphasize enough the value of pretension before hoisting the bar to your shoulders! When I lift the bar to my shoulders I let it rest on my traps. I like to start out more vertical, not with the exaggerated hips to the side stance.

When the weight gets heavy, near your max, the first rep is always the hardest, both physically and mentally. This is because you have no stored tension to help you lift the weight, as opposed to starting out in the locked out position. This is why the negative portion of the rep is crucial. This is probably where most people fall short. After you complete your first rep with the pre-tension techniques and your arm is in the lockout position you can take a quick breath and relax slightly. During the negative portion of the rep is where I start to inhale slowly. I try to time my breathing with the motion of the bar. As I lower the bar I am building up more and more tension. By the time you have reached the bottom portion of the rep you should have built up enough stored tension, the bar should move up a lot easier than your previous first rep.

I like to let my lifting arm ride slightly back during the positive portion of the rep. My shoulder feels stronger in this position and it forces me not to lean back but slightly forward. As for the other parts of my body, my legs are about three feet apart, both knees locked, both legs fully tensed. I look away from the bar during the lifting. This just feels natural to me. I also flex my free hand to generate more tension.

When it comes to the actual schedule, I follow the linear program outlined in Power to the People! I try to lift six days a week, two sets of five reps per workout. Do not be afraid to train when you're a little tired or sore. In my experience I had made many strength gains on days when I had no sleep. This may go against the grain, but do not always listen to how your body feels it can be misleading.

By the end of the cycle I shoot for only a five pound gain over my previous five-rep max. Then I'll finish the cycle by doing four reps, three reps, two reps, then a one-rep max in each consecutive day. I feel this way I can avoid burning out my nervous system and avoid huge plateaus.

The key to making strength gains is those long painful grinds. A life and death struggle between you and the bar. As long as the bar is not moving down, never stop trying. The bar may pause and stall; when this happens focus on contracting your whole body through your fist to overcome the force of gravity! The side press enables you to channel all of your energy from your toes to your head directly into your fist. If you're like me and have the desire to become strong, then keep pushing the side press!