The bent press is an exercise made popular by strongmen and strongwomen such as Eugen Sandow, Arthur Saxon, and Louis Cyr in the 19th century.
Unfortunately the exercise is no longer popular, even though it has incredible benefits. But…
The exercise is making its come back due to people like Oliver Quinn, James Fuller, and I’d like to think I can take some credit too, even though I’ve been against the naming of the exercise.
“The problem with the exercise is, many people don’t understand it, they press from an angle they’re not conditioned for; first off, it’s not a press, hence my resistance against the name, second, they’re not conditioned, lacking thoracic mobility, hip mobility, core strength, lat strength etc.” Taco Fleur
Bent press tutorial
The following is an interview with John Flower who uses the bent press as one of his staple exercises.
What are your Bent Pressing accomplishments?
About a month ago I did 6.6 tonne Bent Press training session of 60 a side @ 55kg. I’ve done 65kg a few times at a bodyweight of 72kg (90% bodyweight). On a bad day, with little sleep, without a proper warmup, I can Clean & Bent Press 60kg for 30 reps. It is my primary lift.
Below a year old video showing the first time I lifted 65kg @ 72kg bodyweight. In other lifts, I am a very mediocre lifter.
How do you program the lift?
I do the lift 6 times a week in varying volumes. I’ve been experimenting for the last year or so with a cycle based on starting with a weekly heavy day of 30 reps and adding 5 reps each week until 60 reps and then starting the cycle with 2.5kg added to the bar. I have a light day where I do 30x40kg and a medium day of 30x50kg. The other three days I do singles in between 10 sets of Front Squats (active rest).
For a beginner, I would suggest doing between six and twelve attempts aside each time they’re at the gym. In addition, doing a single in between sets of other lifts will help get more practice in.
Which muscles does the lift build?
When I first started Bent Pressing I noticed improved strength in awkward situations, e.g. reaching from my driver’s seat to the back seat of the car and lifting something heavy. I suspect that I am a better fighter in hand to hand… but have had the good fortune to not have tested this. Overall I’d say my entire back, triceps, forearms, and shoulders are bigger because of it. The latisimuss dorsi being the greatest benefactor. Which isn’t to say much as I’m not large by most people’s standards, nor am I particularly strong… just relatively good at Bent Pressing.
The Bent Press is a slow movement and it is possible to get a greater volume of work done in the same amount of time with other lifts. The Bent Press doesn’t start showing benefits until a person is doing near 2.5 x their strict Press in the Bent Press. Some people pick it up quickly some take a long time.
Any thoughts on the type of weight to lift?
A kettlebell is fine for beginners, or those that stay in the 32/36kg range. a barbell is preferred by advanced lifters. Heavier kettlebells cause stress on the forearm, and in the wrist joint at a certain point. This information came to me via Oliver Quinn of Westport Battlebells who was Bent Pressing 80kg kettlebells at the time. See conversation.
It matches my own limited experience of kettlebells. They stress the wrist joint because the weight is further from the distal heads of the radius and the ulna. That said if you prefer Kettlebells you will know when you need to switch because your body will tell you. Barbells are better because they are easier to balance and the weight rests more directly over the forearm. They are easier because peripheral vision enables the lifter to check that the bar is balanced and to correct rotation, or tilt, early. Also, it is very helpful to be able to increase the weight in small increments. Kettlebells tend to jump in large increments. The world record and all near attempts were done with a barbell.
Arthur Saxon, Physical Power Pg 26:-
“I will describe the barbell lift, as in a bar bell more may be raised than in any other way.”
How would you correct faults in a beginner?
Many can be fixed by increasing the weight. The Bent Press is the method that allows the greatest weight to be lifted overhead with one hand. If a person is side pressing, pressing the weight up and not getting the body under then the additional weight will fix this!
Who inspired you to Bent Press?
I first read of the lift in Pavel Tsatsouline’s Beyond Bodybuilding. But it wasn’t until I learned that Arthur Saxon set a record of 168kg (371lbs) that I decided to try the lift. I then found a copy of one of his books and made a study of his method.
James Fuller. Who coached me via his Facebook group Strongman Archaeology and has been very patient with me.
Paul Baillargeon. A later contender for breaking Arthur Saxon’s record but couldn’t recover after locking out the elbow in the Bent Position. This video shows him lifting a lighter weight – but probably 100kg+. Also, check out pictures of him doing 146kg.
Double Kettlebell Bent Press at the first modern Olympics in 1896:-
Oliver Quinn of Westport Battlebells
What are your thoughts on the safety of the lift?
The most important thing is to be able to drop the weights. If the lifter is afraid of damaging the floor or the equipment then they may try to persevere with a lift that should be dropped. I have found that by pushing against the weight it will move one way and the body the other no matter which way it falls.
Which Bent Pressing Method is best?
I think there are many viable methods. I step forwards. Other people step sideways. I collapse my nonlifting arm over my front leg. Other people grasp the opposite thigh. Some people change from bend to squat at the bottom, others side bend, to recover. Since the Bent Press is the method that allows the most weight to be lifted above the head with one hand it is impossible to cheat. Up is up.
Looking at the lifting hand is important. Arthur Saxon says so.
Touching the ground is daft and I’d be most unwilling to try when lifting heavy (Arthur Saxon also disapproves of this). I press my nonlifting arm against my thigh to help recover. Other people pull against the opposite thigh to help screw themselves down into the bottom position, others still curl the hand out of the way near their chest.
I see a lot of people rocking the bar to the shoulder in YouTube videos. This was done historically, but it’ll chew up a lot of time. Cleaning the weight is faster and it has the benefit of combining an explosive movement with a slow one. I clean and spin the bar into position for the descent. But it’s faster to move the feet and hip into that position. Charles Rigoulot (holds World Record for One Arm Snatch) shows this faster method of cleaning the bar and stepping. In this case he Jerks rather than Bent Presses. But he’s worth watching as one handed lifts were part of Olympic Weightlifting in his time:-
I like holding the lockout for a couple of seconds before lowering gently to the ground. Getting the weight overhead brings a sensation of joy. Revel in it! Let no one watching doubt your mastery of the weight.