Mastering overhead pressing with a kettlebell has ALWAYS been my Everest.
I can blame bad muscle-building or strength genetics, but really, is that the reason? Most people cop out and say that they're not where they want to be because of this or that outside cause and never look within themselves.
The sad part is that by making excuses and blaming outside circumstance, you also are saying that you're reliquishing control.
I take a different approach…and from this day forth, I think you should too.
It's waaay to easy for us to place the blame elsewhere and to not take responsibility for our lives.
I'm going through some personal struggles right now and as a result, I'm struggling internally as well.
But the one thing that I've come to realize is that everything that I'm going through is a result of what I did (or did not do) – either directly or indirectly. I put myself in this situation and in the end, I'm the only one who can pull myself out.
Nobody else can “make” me react the way I do. I'm responsible for my reactions and my actions.
OK, so what does that all have to do with pressing a kettlebell over your head?
Well for years, I blamed my lack of pressing strength to the fact that I played sports all my life that involved the overhead throwing motion – I was a baseball pitcher up until my junior year in highschool and I played volleyball for most of my life.
And because of poor throwing mechanics or pattern overload (doing the same thing over and over again), I developed some overuse injuries. Even today, as much as I'm trying to correct my right shoulder, I still stand with it slightly rotated inward.
So when I started to really try to increase the weight of my press, I had a lot of trouble.
I was using old methods of too high volume and impatiently progressing to heavier weights too soon. The result would be finding myself on a rehab table again with my chiropractor's thumb in my shoulder joint trying to strip out an aggravated supraspinatus (a rotator cuff muscle).
Enter the ladder.
After being so aggravated with my lack of progress, I started to re-read a lot of the basic materials that I had studied about kettlebell training, specifically Enter the Kettlebell.
I wanted to see if I started using a very submaximal weight, if I could progress slowly and steadily and not gas myself out after a few weeks. You know, being the “tortoise” instead of the “hare”.
So I revisited using ladders to get stronger.
What happened next amazed me.
I started with a very light weight – 20kg to be exact – which was 1 kettlebell less than my “snatch-sized bell”. (In the RKC, when we talk about using weight, we normally do it in relation to which kettlebell you would perform your RKC snatch test with.)
Slowly working from 3 ladders of 1, 2 & 3 and training 3 days per week where I was alternating Medium Intensity, High Intensity and Low Intensity days, I gradually worked my way up to 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. My plan over the weeks on my HIGH intensity days looked like this…
Week 1 – 3 ladders of 1, 2, 3
Week 2 – 4 ladders of 1, 2, 3
Week 3 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3
Week 4 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4
Week 5 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
The difficulty that I had with this plan was that it felt TOO easy. It felt like I wasn't really doing anything. But, if you take a look at the volume that I was doing in total reps per workout, I was in fact, progressing nicely…I just wasn't “feeling it”…
Week 1 – 3 ladders of 1, 2, 3 = 18 total reps
Week 2 – 4 ladders of 1, 2, 3 = 24 total reps
Week 3 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3 = 30 total reps
Week 4 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4 = 50 total reps
Week 5 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 = 75 total reps
In week 5 I was doing more than 4 times the volume than I was in week 1. Now that's progress.
Master RKC Dan John calls this concept of practicing with a submaximal weight “Easy Strength”. And after the 5 weeks of doing these pressing ladders, I tested myself with pressing a 32kg kettlebell (the most that I've ever pressed). That probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but I still have a lot of “dumb jock” left in me, I guess.
Can you guess what happended?
After a thorough warm-up, that bell went up and I pressed it with my “bad” shoulder.
The take home message here is that there is something to be said for patience and adaptation. Even though I was using a weight that I could press easily, the accumulation of volume and steady progression was enough to help me get stronger.
If you're having trouble with your press, or any exercise for that matter, I suggest you take a step back, look honestly at your program, and adopt the mentality of “PRACTICE and NOT working out”.
It's a different mentality and a tough concept to grasp especially if you've been brought up to recognize your training as being some form of torture. But if you're struggling to progress and are frustrated with your lack of results, isn't it time for a different approach?
Chris Lopez, RKC
P.S. Tomorrow I'll have a video for you on how I structured my pressing workouts and how I supersetted the pressed with one of the best supporting exercises for the press.
P.P.S. One of the bi-products of training like this was that my body lost a ton of fat…without even trying. For a pretty good fat loss program, check out the TT Kettlebell Revolution HERE…