Power Up Your Press




By Mike Westerling

The Guru of Grow





Strength athletes love new programs and PR’s even more. The first thing most people do when starting a new program is expect to hit their best ever lifts right out of the gate. If they don’t it must be the programs fault and they move on to a new one.

The human body doesn’t get strong overnight. It can become more neurologically efficient almost immediately when learning a new movement pattern (although it may take quite a while to become consistent with it) but for true strength gains to occur it takes about 6 weeks at the very least.


Think about it from a biological stand point: The body encounters a new stress (if the stress isn’t new the body will not react to it). Let’s say we are using an overload technique like chest supports with heavy weights to increase our log press. A lot of athletes will expect their very next log workout to be better because we added in the “magic” exercise. Now there may be an increase because the athlete found his “sweet spot” on which to hold the log and remembers it for the next workout and instantly gets a better base from which to drive, more leg power into the log and the log feels lighter in comparison to the heavy load held last workout.


More likely what will happen after that first workout is the body will be slightly more tired than usual because it was stressed more than normal and the next workout may even feel worse if enough time, rest and nutrition haven’t been applied. Now let’s assume the athlete already knows his “sweet spot” and the exercises main purpose is to develop huge amount of supporting strength, get the athlete used to feeling mega huge weights and develop confidence. The first time the new exercise is applied the athlete will be stressed in a way that is new to the body and it will trigger a variety of responses.


Hopefully, if there has been enough time, rest and nutrition for recovery the next workout will feel slightly better and the CNS will be operating at a slightly higher level and a bit more weight will be used. Again stressing the body slightly more than it is used to.

This sequence of events must occur over and over again until the body has been given enough time to deal with each new stress, adapt to it and overcome it by growing stronger and larger muscles and more efficient neuro pathways. – (lil’- Ironmill Philosophy interjected!  We Like!)

Also it may take a 100lb gain on that exercise to correlate to a 20lb gain on log. This same analogy can be used in every assistance or supporting exercise.


So many times I’ve hear people say “I’ve tried benching with the boards! It’s friggen useless! I added ‘em in for a 12 week cycle rotating 2, 3 and 4 board presses weekly and my bench didn’t go up much at all!”

Then I find out they didn’t make a gain on their board presses! So, you worked a NEW exercise hard for 12 weeks and it didn’t improve? Is that the exercise? or the programming?!

Now if someone tells me they made a 100lb gain on their board press but their bench stayed the same I’d say there’s no carry over for them.


Anyway, my point is: It takes time to get stronger. When trying a new exercise or program, understand why you are doing it, how it’s supposed to work, then give it time and work your plan.


Ok so now that I’ve laid the foundation of how to work assistance exercises into your routine I will outline some secrets I learned from Ryan Bakke.

Ryan held a world record on the axle at one time and in his own words was  saying, “I’m not a very strong presser, my strict press is right around 225-250”

So how did Ryan hit a world record? He was awesome at supporting huge weights in the racked position which allowed him to use his super explosive legs to get the weight moving!

He could lockout huge amounts of weight from years of overhead lockouts and supports. He had near perfect technique from doing tons of practice sets drilling the form. In other words, he could express every last ounce of power his body could generate on that implement.


So the 4 things we can take from Ryan are:

  1. Work on supporting huge amounts of weight on your shoulders in a tiny little front squat about the depth you would dip for a good drive. This will help you find your sweet spot so you can rack the bar in the perfect place. It will also make your max weights feel light in comparison by building your entire body to be able to withstand huge amounts of weight in this position. Has any strongman ever complained about a squat bar feeling heavy on their backs after walking with 1000 lb yokes? Same principle.
  2.  Work on locking out and supporting huge weights overhead by doing lockouts in the power rack at different heights. Over time if you get real strong from different pin positions you will find if you can throw a weight up that high with your legs, you’ll be able to lock it out.
  3. Drill your technique with laser focus for set after set till it is hardwired into your natural movement.
  4. That much work over trains your shoulders and your strict press gets stuck for a long time-lol!



Heavy Log Racks (starting at 2:40)



Now I know the typical athlete will read this and incorporate it all into his program till he overtrain himself into a lackluster heap of strongman ash. He’ll be in a rush to get it all done and in 3 weeks his knees and shoulders will be sore as hell and hit top numbers will have nothing to show for it.

Then they’ll say they tried this program and it didn’t work!


Now here’s how to work it in to our schedule correctly for you!

  1. Take into consideration the volume you are currently doing and replace some of it with the exercises listed above. For example;  if your current overhead press workout is warm up then 250x5x5 once a week. Do your first 3 sets a bit lighter to save some energy then do your last two sets from the lockout position for the overload effect. Say 205×5 225×5 245×5 then 6” lockouts at 265×5 285×5 then hold the last rep of the last set locked out for max time to get in extra support work. This way the volume hasn’t increased by so much it overwhelms the adaptation response and you got to work the overload.
  2. Put the chest supports after your squats or fronts where you’re already good and warm and don’t need to dedicate an hour warm up to prepare for it. Keep volume low and work on a good long hold with the top weight.
  3. Practice on the way up! Instead of drilling set after set on a totally different day and cutting into your recovery between heavy days add it in to your warm up. Lets say, using the above 250x5x5 push press example you normally do for your warm ups: 45×15 95×10 135×10 185×5 225×5 lets drop the reps way down and increase the number of sets. We’ll use laser focus and generate power and speed getting our dynamic work done right here and programming a perfect lift for our work sets. Like this: 45×5 95×5 135×2 155×2 175×2 195×2 215×2 235×2. In the 2 above examples we have 5,025lbs lifted in the first and only 2,920 in the second so it will be less volume and since we were doing singles it is easier to concentrate and get them perfect and with less fatigue going in to our work sets.
  4. Don’t eliminate strict presses completely! They are a good assistance exercise to help all forms of pushpress and jerk and they are a great tester of if you are overtraining your shoulder girdle or not. Plus with the funky stuff strongman have to lift sometimes a perfect pushpress or jerk can’t happen and the extra shoulder power will allow them to muscle it out. Rotate strict presses in about every third or 4th workout. Also it’s nice to get a break from the back crushing weights that will eventually be supported…
  5. Don’t be in a rush! This goes back to the original statement! Figure its going to take your body a minimum of 6 weeks to adapt to the new stress and grow stronger enough to see it show up in other lifts than just itself. After hitting a good 100lbs more than where you started on the supports and being able to hold it for at least 3x as long the log press will feel like a different exercise to you. After 12 weeks you will really be noticing a difference and after rotating it in and out of your schedule for YEARS… well you get the point.


(Record Scratches in the Background )


Wait a minute Mike. Wait One Minute!?!?! Years YOU SAY???


Yes YEARS my friends.  You heard correct.


Here’s the advice everyone knows deep down in their strongman guts and no one wants to believe.

If you want to get the amount of carry over you will need to become a world record holder in the Appolons axle, Circus Dumbell, Austrian Oak Log: You must stay consistent over the course of months or EVEN YEARS!

Building strength is not like watching True Blood.  You can’t just relentlessly consume season’s of episodes or strength programs and move on to the next like a mindless HBO strength Zombie.


You need to stay consistent! Consistency over the course of years if that proves Necessary!


The cold hard truth is you will probably be sweating and straining away under these lifts for quite a long time before Big Z or Mikey J is going to lose any sleep…..

The good news is, now you may have a few more pieces of the puzzle to work with on inching ever so close in doing so.

Thanx for reading!


The Guru of Grow

Mike Westerling

3 Responses to Power Up Your Press

  1. billy reds August 18, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    Great article Mike.really can appreciate the patience aspect as I’m exactly the impacient guy u refered to.

  2. Mike westerling August 21, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    Thanks for reading. If it makes you feel better we’re all “that guy” ;)


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