Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Lost Art of Dumbbell Pressing - By Jim Duggan


One of the most effective upper-body exercises is the Overhead Press.  Whether you utilize a barbell, dumbbells, any of the various machines, a log ( as popularized in the early World's Stronges Man contests during the 70s), tremendous strength can be developed by pushing a heavy weight overhead.  And, of course, your muscle mass will increase, but more importantly, a stronger shoulder girdle will make that area of your body less susceptible to injury.  We all known persons who have sustained shoulder injuries.  Some minor, others more serious, sometimes even requiring surgery.  Over the years, many authorities have expounded on the reasons for the increase in shoulder injuries to people who lift.  Too much emphasis on Bench Pressing, not enough direct shoulder work, muscle imbalances in the deltoid area, etc.. Fortunately, it is universally agreed that if trainees devote more time to doing overhead pressing, and strengthening their shoulders, there will be fewer injuries to that vulnerable area.

Even though I competed in powerlifting for many years, I have always enjoyed doing overhead presses. Perhaps it's because my earliest inspiration to lift was watching the Weightlifting championships on television as a kid.  I vividly recall watching the 1976 Olympics as a twelve year-old and being awe-struck as the weightlifters hoisted huge poundages overhead.  All these years later, I am still impressed watching somebody lift a weight off the ground and push it to arm's length over their head.     

For many years, I have used standing Military Presses as my principal overhead exercise.  I would usually use a power rack, set the bar at chest height ( or slightly above depending on the rack.)  I would usually do sets of five or six.  And, of course, with a power rack you also have the option of setting the pins a little higher and doing partial presses.  But I'll save those for another article.

Over the past few years, I've done more Dumbbell Presses than I have with a barbell.  Sometimes it was more convenient, since I don't have a power rack in my house.  I do have dumbbells.  Two of the best items I've purchased have been dumbbell handles from Ironmind Enterprises, Inc..Both the thick-handled and regular size handled bars are excellent tools for doing Dumbbell Presses. Last year, I concentrated on doing One-Arm Dumbbell Presses using the thick-handled DB bars.  I would load the bar, grasp it with one hand, clean/pull it to my shoulders and press it overhead.  I would try to stand as straight as possible, no leaning.  I would usually do several sets, beginning with a weight I could handle for six reps.  I would increase the weight on each succeeding set until I could do one or two reps.  Even though I am righ-handed, I would make every effort to keep the reps even with my (weaker) left arm.  This is an excellent exercise, provided that you use good form.  Come to think of it, you can probably say the same about any movement you perform.  Anyway, if you keep your body as straight as possible and lock out the weight and hold it overhead, you will develop significant strength in your shoulders.  This increased strength will easily translate to your barbell presses.  At least it does for me.

Since the beginning of this past Summer, I have been doing something different for my shoulder presses.  I'm still utilizing dumbbells, but I'm doing higher reps, and a different movement.  I've been doing dumbbell clean and presses, using two DBs at a time.  I'm also lowering the DBs to the hang position between each rep.  This makes the exercise a lot harder when you have to clean the DBs each time.  You can also lower the dumbbells to the floor, but I like the idea of doing a hang-clean for each rep.  And since I'm doing higher reps, this will also improve your conditioning to some extent.  There are two ways that I've used this exercise.  The first method was to perform a set of eight reps, rest a minute or so, then increase the weight and do six reps.  Another rest and weight increase, followed by a set of three or four. This method works quite well, except that you have to keep changing the weight on the DBs.

Another method that I've been using for the last few weeks is to use one pair of dumbbells.  I will begin with ten reps. I will rest exactly one minute, then perform a set of nine.  One minute of rest, then I do eight reps, and so on.  I would continue until I hit one rep.  The important part is to keep the rest at one minute.  No longer.  And even though the number of reps decreases with each set, you are still working quite hard.  When it gets to the point where you can complete the ten sets easily, then it's time to use heavier dumbbells. Or, for an extra challenge, after you complete the last rep, you can try to move up the ladder again.  In other words, add a rep with each succeeding set and see how far you can make it.  This method is especially good if you are pressed for time- no pun intended- since you can complete all ten sets in less than fifteen minutes.

Many of the greats of the Iron Game utilized dumbbells and made tremendous gains.  With some imagination and hard work you can make similar gains while at the same time honoring those who have set the standards of Physical Culture.
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Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

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