Pressing Thoughts


by Dan Cenidoza, CSCS, RKC, AKC, CK-FMS

I recently wrote about how I have pressing more. On a weekly basis, I have increased the volume of pressing I do by over 800%. For today's workout I pressed 75% of my 1RM (77% to be exact) for 5 ladders of 2, 3, 5 & 8 reps -- 90 total reps in just over 60 minutes. This is by far the most pressing I've ever done in one workout.

During the course of the workout I just happened to reach behind my back and perform the Shoulder Mobility test as described in the Functional Movement Screen. To my surprise, I was able to touch my hands in both directions, something I've never done before! The strange thing is that I have made absolutely no attempts at correcting this problem since I learned of it. The only thing different about my training is the increase in overhead barbell presses.

But wait, won't barbell presses, a symmetrical and bilateral movement, further exaggerate an asymmetry in the shoulders? Wouldn't it be better to use kettlebells or dumbbells and do one arm presses to help 'even out' the shoulders?

Not this time.

I turned in thousands of kettlbell presses, jerks & snatches last year when I was training for kettlebell sport and it did nothing for the asymmetry in my shoulders. So what is it about the barbell press that balanced out my shoulders? I think it's the simple fact that the barbell IS balanced.

A common argument for 1 arm lifts is for balance. Perhaps that is true with a strait forward strength imbalance but that wasn't my problem (my best lifts right hand were shared with the left). My problem, as Gray Cook pointed out at the CK-FMS in August 2008, was that my right scapula did not rotate like my left when I reached behind my back. After that he did some kind of physical therapy wizardry, manipulating my shoulder and then all of a sudden it was moving properly. Before turning his attention to someone else, Gray quickly rattled off a few corrective exercises I should do to lock that movement pattern in and I just as quickly dismissed those exercises and never did them again!

Ok, that's not entirely true. I did a few rolls and some stretching but I can't claim that I gave the corrective exercises the time they deserved. What can I say? I am impatient and have limited time to train. When it comes to prehab or pressing in the 60 minutes I have in between clients 9 times out of 10 I am going to press.

But wait a minute! Pressing is one of the SM corrective exercises! Wall sit with shoulder press. Does it matter that it is not a weighted exercise? I guess that's a question for Gray, but my experience tells me that it doesn't matter.

Perhaps I just needed to move both scapulae in the same direction at the same time? Thatís something you can do with a barbell press.

I told Dan John the other day that I really felt like I hit a groove with my press. No more wobbling in the lock out. No more wayward travels of the bar. Just smooth, piston-like pressing that I felt super comfortable with; something I have not experienced before. And the SM scores reflect that.

So is the barbell press the cure to everyone's shoulder problems? I doubt it. But this is one instance where that seems to be the case.

More Barefoot Thoughts

Most of my training is now being done in VFF. Running, lifting, farmers walking, skipping rope, everything. For whatever reason, for today's press workout I grabbed my weightlifting shoes. Solid wooden sole, elevated heel, made for weightlifting... though I just couldn't get the feel for them. I've been lifting in these shoes for years, hit many of PR's in them, and until now, they've been the most comfortable lifting shoes I've ever worn.

I decided to switch over to the VFF after the first couple sets and although I can't claim some immediate boost of strength I did notice some subtle changes as I approached the end of my workout. I noticed that my toes started to grip the ground. I am familiar with the phrase "grip the ground" from my yoga practice as well as from Pavel's writings but this was different. There was an engagement from the feet that I had not felt before, specifically from the big toe. It just felt strong as it pressed into the ground.

I mentioned before that I am stronger with stronger feet and I think this is anecdotal evidence to that statement. It felt like I drew strength from my feet (an occurrence that is happening more regularly now). Perhaps this is what martial artists call ďrooting.Ē Regardless what you call it or how you explain it, there's no denying that I had a sturdier base to press from today and it was achieved without the help of sport-specific footwear.

While on the topic of footwear, let me tell you about an interesting observation I have made in the last couple weeks. My regular shoes, dress shoes, work boots, etc, they donít fit well anymore. Iíve worn size 14 shoes since highschool and for the first time since 9th grade I am wearing a 13 again. Even the rental shoes from the bowling alley (which I am sure are the same ones from 9th grade) are just too big now.

I am simply sharing with you an observation. I am not claiming barefoot training has made my feet shrink (as if I care). I actually measured my feet to the nearest 1/8Ē to get fitted for the Vibramís, and when I stretch my foot out it remains the same. But when I just plant my foot and step, I am now measuring a 1/8Ē less than I was when I sized myself 3 months ago. As crazy as it sounds, I believe I am holding a higher arch now that I have been training barefoot.

This is very loose science right here but I have made an observation and I have a theory. If the podiatrist that fitted me with orthotics 5 years ago still has the molds he took of my feet, perhaps I could test my theory but for now the only evidence to support my claim is a closet full of shoes that donít fit anymore. It does appear that I have a higher arch now, and there is no question my feet have thickened and toughed up (always a good thing) but other than that, all I have to offer you are a few odd details about my feet.

Why should you care?

Because I am stronger with stronger feet. And I bet you are too.