Bodybuilding Exercises for General Conditioning: Part I – Presses

Adding Bodybuilding and Strength Exercises into CrossFit is a great way to improve your physique and all round fitness for performance.

The Sport of bodybuilding was popularized in the 1960s thanks to the muscular physiques of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Dave Draper, later Lee Haney, Ronnie Coleman or Kevin Levrone. People were initially impressed by the bodies of these men, who symbolized strength and power.

They were indeed strong and fit, because bodybuilding developed from weightlifting, strongman contests and other strength sports, where strength and fitness were the main goal. The early bodybuilders worked out with improvised weights, used gymnastics and also did lot of cardio activities. Here is a picture of Arnold doing HSPU.

Arnold doing HSPU
Arnold doing HSPU

FUNCTION AND AESTHETICS

Nowadays, Bodybuilding competitions are about muscle mass, definition and aesthetics. These athletes are undoubtedly strong, but many of these guys would have problems meeting the performance standards of elite level Crossfitters, Powerlifters, Olympic Weightlifters or Strongmen/women. 

The excessive use of isolation exercises and too much muscle mass can impair the natural mechanics of the body. With free weights, you must focus on maintaining the proper range of motion, which reinforces coordination and muscle activation. With machines, the trajectory is dictated by the settings.

Many basic exercises used in bodybuilding are great tools for developing strength, power and overall fitness. Usually, you can recognize bodybuilders who engage in these staples (such as squat variations, overhead presses or pullups) because their muscles look more athletic, more akin to the physiques of performance athletes. All of these exercises are used in general conditioning for various sports and are as well part of CrossFit. Every man or woman who really wants to be (not just look) fit should make sure that they are an important part of their training.

TYPES OF OVERHEAD PRESSES

Strict Shoulder Press (Overhead Press, Military Press)

Lifting heavy objects overhead has been a benchmark of strength since the ancient times. It developed into the sport of weightlifting in the 19th century. Initially, there were three events: strict shoulder press, clean and jerk and snatch. The strict press was removed in 1972 because some of the weightlifters, in order to engage the chest muscles and push heavier weight, would over extent their back into dangerous positions.

Nevertheless, various types of overhead presses are still used as accessory lifts in weightlifting training and also have their place in strength and power routines of multiple sports. Unlike in push-press or jerk variations, the athlete controls the weight during the whole movement, which creates constant tension in the muscles.

In bodybuilding, strict shoulder press is one of the primary movements for the development of the shoulders and arms. When executed properly, it is a complex upper body exercise, as it requires stable foundations in core and hip muscles.

A Bullet proof core is one of the main foundations in the sport of strongman. Many of these Athletes stimulate their core muscles by lifting heavy objects overhead.

WATCH HOW BRIAN SHAW TEACHES THE OVERHEAD PRESS

Push Press

Unlike the strict shoulder press, the push press starts by the bending and subsequent dynamic extension of the thighs. The success of the lift depend on the hip drive, which turns it into a full body exercise. It is used in weightlifting to teach the proper dip and hip extension for jerks and for building additional strength.

Track and field athletes, footballers, martial artists etc all need high level of explosiveness, which starts at the hips. It can be developed using the push press. Many bodybuilders do the push-press unconsciously, using the leg drive as a way to cheat through the last few reps of strict presses. Sometimes they use it as a main exercise to stimulate their shoulders with heavier weights and activate more muscle fibres. Overloading is one of the intensification methods used in bodybuilding.

THE IMPORTANCE OF OVERHEAD PRESSES

Heavy overhead presses should be part of the training routine of all individuals who aim for strength, power and athleticism. They improve raw strength, explosiveness, stability and muscular coordination. Moreover, they are good foundations for the two Olympic weightlifting exercises.

Some people might find them uncomfortable due to the anatomy of their shoulder joints. Machines and alternative exercises offer different ranges of motion, which might alleviate the discomfort. This however should only be seen just as a temporary solution.

Regular mobility drills and learning the proper techniques can improve the range of motion and make the overhead press movement feel more comfortable. Addressing any mobility issues will have more long-term benefits rather than ignoring the problem and sitting down behind the machine. Instead, we should turn our bodies into the machines, to rephrase the famous CrossFit quotes.

Push-presses are also included in some CrossFit WODS:

BEAR COMPLEX

5 Rounds for Load

  • Complete 7 Unbroken Sets of this Complex:
  • 1 Power Clean
  • 1 Front Squat
  • 1 Push Press
  • 1 Back Squat
  • 1 Push Press

Complete all 5 movements for 1 repetition of the complex. Complete the complex 7 times, unbroken (without letting go of the bar or resting it on the ground) for 1 round. Complete 5 unbroken rounds, increasing the weight and resting as needed between each round. Score is max weight used for your 5th unbroken round.

BETTY

  • 5 Rounds for Time
  • 12 Push Press (135 lbs/95 lbs)
  • 20 Box Jumps (24 in/ 20 in)

DANNY

AMRAP in 20 minutes

  • 30 Box Jumps (24/20 in)
  • 20 Push Press (115/75 lbs)
  • 30 Pull-Ups

TRY THESE OTHER PRESSING VARIATIONS FOR OTHER WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR STRENGTH

Incorporating Strength Cycles into Crossfit Training – Wendler 5/3/1


Arnold doing HSPU © Greenwood

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About The Author

I come from a small town in Slovakia in Central Europe. I have been involved in sports since early teenage years, know more for the hard working attitude than skills. Later I completed master's degree in physical education and got certified as a personal trainer. Currently I work as an editor at MUSCLE&FITNESS magazine in Slovakia. I am interested in sports and activities that involve movement, building skills and character, such as CrossFit, ...

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