If you want to build massive, powerful shoulders, face the facts: You have to get your ass under the bar and do some presses! I’m not talking dumbbell presses here, either. The secret to building incredible power and thick upper-body muscularity is standing overhead presses.
I know a lot about this subject because every strongman contest includes some manner of pressing— either single-arm circus dumbbell or log/bar overhead press (or both!). So to win the World’s Strongest Man or the Arnold Strongman Classic title, I have to be a top-notch presser.
In strongman competitions, technique requirements are some-what loose with regard to momentum. In other words, we perform push presses with a heavy log or an Apollon’s Wheel (similar to a barbell) using momentum—not a superstrict overhead press you might perform in a bodybuilding workout.
The major difference between the two is that with strict shoulder presses, the legs are locked out during the entire lift. When preforming a push press, leg drive is used to get the bar moving, therefore allowing you to use more weight for the press.
So you “dip” with a slight knee bend and then forcibly straighten the knees as you push the weight upward. This momentum is done precisely to generate maximum pressing power.
Depending on what you are training for, using push presses can allow you to handle more weight for any type of standing press movement. You can also utilize push presses for the last few reps of a standing strict press set, which will act somewhat like a “self-spotter” and allow you to finish more reps as your shoulders start to fatigue.
The press itself is only part of the strongman equation. In the gym you can take the bar off a squat rack at shoulder height and begin in the pressing position. But for competition, we have to get the bar from the floor up to the front of the shoulders, which is a major task in and of itself. When getting the bar, axle, log, etc., from the ground up to the shoulders for a standing press, several different techniques can be used. For a standard barbell or axle, the best method would be doing either a power clean (pulling the bar explosively from the ground to the shoulders in one motion) or using a controlled clean, which is used in strongman. This involves lifting the bar or axle to the upper abdomen, leaning back under control and then popping it up to the shoulders from there.
When using a log for pressing, just row it into your body and hold it tightly to your upper abdomen. From that position, drive your hips forward, roll the log up your body, and shoot your elbows through so that you are in a standing press position. Then dip your knees and finish from there.
As for my own lifting regimen, I typically rely on both strength and endurance in the same training session. So I will do working sets of 1–5 reps for strength and then do dropsets to hit a couple sets of 8–12 reps. I train some type of pressing movement two times per week all year long but adjust the training once I know the exact movements that will be contested at the particular event I’m training for. For example, depending on the contest I am getting ready for, I will normally train two-arm presses and one-arm presses on separate days.
I don’t do a lot of assistance work (such as lateral raises or bent laterals), but I do include these when I’m in recovery periods of my annual training. Still, my advice for most lifters is to train all three deltoid heads to avoid muscular imbalances that can occur if you do only front presses.
To build the mass and strength to do some heavy pressing, you have to have the right supps. I rely on MHP’s Up Your MASS, Dark Rage (pre), and Dark Matter (post). I’ve also added MYO-X. My strength is through the roof: This stuff is the real deal!