Archives For Weekly Review

Leaning Back And The Overhead Press *

This past week I managed to hit 9 OHP (dead stop) PRs.

To be fair, I only started training this variation (it's a variation for me since I normally press with a rebound) a little over a week ago (January 30, 2015). Just by starting off with conservative weights, getting better at the technique and training it frequently will result in a lot of quick progress.

At first, I couldn't even press 250 lb from a dead stop, but now my 1RM is sitting at 280 lb.

Pressing from a dead stop without a rebound was very humbling at first, but it was also very instructive and educational. It reinforced a few things I'm sure all very strong pressers know: a lay back (or leaning back) is necessary for the overhead press. If you look at the the video when I first tried the dead stop OHP, and compare it to the videos below, you'll see a change in technique. At first, I was standing too erect. While some would consider this "good form" and "strict form", it is really inefficient form, because the bar was not in a proper position to press up in a straight(er) line. Since then, I shifted my hips forward, tilted my torso back slightly to position the bar above the mid-foot before pressing.

By making this small adjustment (a "weird trick"), I've taken my dead stop 1RM from 250 lb to 280 lb within a week.

Working pretty well, if you ask me.

I have gotten a few comments recently about leaning back during the press. For some reason, people think that standing erect during the press is good form, and leaning back is bad form.

To copy-and-paste a response I had on (goddamn) REDDIT to a self proclaimed "beginner" with a 5RM of 115 lb at a height of 5'10" and probably malnourished weight of 185 lb who referred to my OHP as a standing incline press:

Leaning back is necessary to get the bar closer to the invisible line above the mid foot, making for an efficient press (since heavy weights like to move in a straight line). Also, it helps position the head out of the way for a more vertical press (instead of pressing around the face). Leaning back can be minimal with light weights (because it's so light it's easy to control even if the bar is in a poor position), but when you approach heavy loads closer to your 1RM, you will lean back before and during the press.

Here's another response to another comment on another thread (that has since been deleted) about leaning back: OHP 1RM is only 300 lb. I'm sure there are people here who consider this light and can press this weight with less leaning back, and have the bar curve around their head before pressing straight up, but this weight is my (current) limit for me, so I need to position my body so that I'm pressing up in as straight a line as possible. Almost all of my videos are pushing at some sort of limit (ie. some sort of PR attempt), so there's going to be a lean back in an attempt to produce a vertical bar path in the videos.

Leaning back is necessary for the OHP, especially with heavy weights/maxes/rep maxes. It's covered in the popular strength training book for beginners, "Starting Strength" (pp 90, 3rd edition).

Here's the text, for those who don't have the book:

12 Personal Records *

Overhead Press (Dead Stop): 250 x 1, 260 x 1 (1RM), 250 x 2 (2RM), 225 x 5 (5RM) *

Did 250 lb x 1 first, which was a 1RM (couldn't get it last week). Felt easy so went up to 260 lb. That felt OK still. I was thinking about pushing it up even more, but I'll save that for later on.

Dropped back down to 250 lb for a 2RM, then finished it off with a +25 lb 5RM PR from a few days ago. May have gotten another rep but my quads were cramping.

I think I'm starting to get the hang of this OHP with a dead stop.

Paused High Bar Squat: 475 lb x 4 (4RM) *

Wanted a 525 lb x 2 paused high bar squat first, but only got 1. I think my squat has been suffering from the winter blues lately.

Went for 5 reps with 475 lb, but only got 4. Still a PR.

Overhead Press (Dead Stop): 265 x 1, 275 x 1 (1RM) & 235 x 5 (5RM) *

265 lb x 1 is a +5 lb OHP 1RM from 2 days ago. Felt fast. Thought about going for 270 lb, but 275 lb looks better on the bar. 275 lb x 1 is a +10 lb OHP 1RM from a few minutes ago, and +15 lb 1RM from Monday. Not bad!

I think all that pizza I ate earlier this week is starting to show it's true power.

Finished off with 235 lb x 5 for a 5RM, which is a +10 lb PR from a couple of days ago #progressiveoverload #linearprogression #nevergiveuponnewbiegains

Overhead Press (Dead Stop): 280 x 1 (1RM) & 255 x 2 (2RM) *

Had to get some blood testing done this morning, and because blood was extracted from my body, my hit points (HP) is lower today.

Also saw a poster at the clinic that said not to lift anything heavy for 24 hours after a blood test. I complied. I was going to squat today, but changed it to another movement that uses lighter weight and kept the workout short (30 minutes).

Paused Front Squat (No Belt) 410 lb x 1 (1RM) & Dead Stop/Bottom-Up/Anderson Front Squat: 385 lb x 1 (1RM) *

410 lb x 1 paused, no belt was EZPZ.

Tried for a 420 lb beltless front squat 1RM after, but missed. Since the bar was on the safety pins, I figured why not try out the Dead Stop/Bottom-Up/Anderson Front Squat. Used a cross grip first for some reason. Couldn't get it with 410 lb. Lowered it to 385 lb and still couldn't stand up with it. Probably not accustomed to the cross grip, so I held onto the straps. Not bad! May have gotten 410 lb had I used straps.

Stuff You Should Check Out *

  1. Powerlifters Should Train More Like Bodybuilders by Greg Nuckols
    • More reasons to become a muscle sphere.

Torn a callus last week during deadlifts.

Apparently what I did was wedge the barbell in the middle of my hands instead of having the bar closer towards the fingers (on or near the proximal digital crease) like I normally do.

I'm not sure why I did this. Maybe it was to get a better grip. But this was not the case, as the bar slid in my palms towards my fingers during the deadlift, taking a callus with it.

I ended up cutting off the callus that was flapping in my palm with a pair of nail scissors. I think it's healing quite nicely, and hopefully I'll be able to pull sooner than later.

Healing nicely #justmoisturized #torncallus #callus #aloevera #Deadlift #nailscissors

A photo posted by John Phung (@johnny_phung) on

Also started performing a more humbling, stricter version of the overhead press with a dead stop at the bottom.

Anyways, 6 PRs this week:

6 Personal Records *

Paused High Bar Squat: 455 lb x 5 (5RM) *

That Hungry Man TV dinner I had for breakfast messed me up. Felt boated and lethargic all day. Missed the 3rd rep at 535 lb (would have been a 3RM), and attempted a beltless high bar squat at 525 lb (got pinned). Played it safe and went with 455 lb x 5. Lesson learned.

Bench Press: 395 lb x 1 (1RM) *

+5 lb 1RM! Felt heavy in my hands and coming down, but seemed to bounce right back up.

Tried 400 lb. Got pinned. Good thing is that it's easier to take the plates off the bar from safety pin height level.

Deadlift (No Belt): 510 lb x 2 (2RM) *

Almost locked out the 3rd rep with 550 lb, but couldn't maintain grip. Bar started to slide off the tape. FOCK!

510 lb x 2 is a no belt 2 rep MEH. Ended up tearing a callus on that set. Guess I'll take a break from deadlifting for a while!


Overhead Press (Dead Stop): 230 lb x 3 & 200 lb x 5 *

Wanted 265 lb x 3 (OHP with a rebound at the bottom like I normally perform it), but only got 1. I think my overhead pressing muscles are on vacation after pressing 300 lb a few weeks ago.

So, to continue to hit OHP PR's, I've finally implemented a close variation: the dead stop overhead press. I needed to play around with my grip width to get the bar touching my collar bones, and breath at the bottom instead of the top. These are pretty tough. To put it in perspective, I can perform 230 lb x 6 and 200 lb x 10 with a rebound.

Front Squat (No Belt): 385 lb x 3 (3RM) *

Couldn't get a paused 1RM @465 lb, so did this instead.

Looks easier than it felt.

Stuff You Should Check Out *

Pretty sure my work capacity is shit now since I only perform 1-3 working sets and I don't do any intentional cardio. Eventually, in order to get to higher levels of strength I'm sure I'll need to do more work.

By the way, be sure to like and subscribe to updates to Strengtheory (if you're interested in getting strong and stuff).

I generally believe that the key to a big overhead press lies in the information written in the past during a time when 300+ lb presses were commonplace.

That's why I've added this to my library:



6 Personal Records *

High Bar Squat (No Belt): 440 x 6 (6RM) *

Wanted 6+ reps with 500 lb, but the bar rolled forward and I was too tired and weak to recover.

Got a beltless high bar squat 6RM instead. Probably could have did more if I didn't start off with 500x5.

Paused Bench Press: 390 lb x 1 (1RM) *

+5 lb PR, and matches my touch-and-go 1RM.

I think 405 lb is just around the corner (or maybe a few corners).

Sumo Deadlift: 565 lb x 1 (1RM) *

555 lb didn't feel too bad, so I went up to 565 lb.

Bar felt like it was drifting forward when I first started pulling. Immediately put the bar down and readjusted my mind in thinking to pull and lean backwards. Worked!

Overhead Press: 250 lb x 4 (4RM) *

Wanted 3 reps at 265 lb, but balance & groove was off for the 3rd rep on both sets. Felt like I was falling backwards. Still getting accustomed to pressing from the chains. Before when I pressed from the safety pins, I would roll the bar back slightly as I dipped down to prepare to press. Probably just have to adjust my stance.

Paused Front Squat: 430 lb x 2 (2RM) *

+5 lb PR! Lately paused front squats (and other paused exercises) have been feeling more comfortable and powerful compared to non-paused front squats (and other non-paused exercises).

Wanted to FS 410 lb x 4 or more initially, but only managed 3 reps. Can't seem to function too long with a bar pressed against my neck. Or maybe it was the trance music.

Paused Bench Press: 300 lb x 8 (8RM) *

Matches my touch and go 8RM, and exceeds my best paused reverse grip bench press at 300 lb (7 reps).

Stuff You Should Check Out *

  1. The Belt Bible by Greg Nuckols
    • TL;DR: Belt = more gains. Also interesting note on the differences in bracing pattern when wearing a belt and not wearing a belt.

This past week I have reached a rare milestone (by today's standard) that few e-lifters will ever reach:

A 300 lb Overhead Press!


It's only +5 lb above my previous PR, but it's a much nicer number.

A magic number, in fact ("...the magic number: 300" - Bill Starr).

I wish he could see the video, but I'm not even sure he has the Internet.

Things that I attribute to taking my OHP to 300 lb

1. Explosive Initial Drive

I wrote about it here on, and it was further refined by pressing in a power rack with the bars on the safety pins instead of having to walk the weight out (One Weird OHP Trick).

When I first started pressing inside the rack off the safety pins, my OHP 1RM was a mere 265 lb.

Eventually, I managed to take my OHP to 295 lb.

The way I set up the barbell on the safety pins inside of the rack to press helps minimize any wasted energy from walking out the bar.

Basically get in position, violently explode up with my legs (thereby locking out my knees), have the bar slightly rise up, THEN crash back down to get a stretch reflex in order to propel the bar back up again. The momentum from this explosive start helps push the bar past the sticking point (around the top of the head).

2. Thumbless Grip

The bar is better positioned on the heel of the palm, above the bones of the forearms with the thumbs out of the way.

3. Increased Frequency

I increased my pressing frequency to about 2-3x per week. Before it was usually once a week (sometimes less).

The easy way to increase the number of times I press without sacrificing another exercise is simply to use the OHP as a warm up to bench presses.

The overhead press is a lift that requires both strength and skill. The more practice, the more efficient my movements are during the press, meaning higher numbers and more PRs.

4. Multiple 2RM PRs

I hit 3 2RM on the OHP in a short period of time (about 2 weeks). The weight, "groove", amount of effort needed to perform 2 rep maxes are more similar to a 1RM than say, a 10RM. There's probably less carry-over from improving a 10RM to a 1RM compared to improving a 2RM to a 1RM.

Reading some older articles from people who used to press well over 300 lb back in the day, a few of them favored multiple sets of 2 instead of higher repetition sets. I may have to experiment with this.

5. Frequent Failing At 300 lb (AKA Press Starts)

For the past month or so, just about every time I trained the OHP I would take a swing at 300 lb. Sometimes a couple of tries in 1 day.

I could get it to around my forehead level, but couldn't get past the sticking point.

There were a few comments on the interwebs advising me to stop going for the 300 lb 1RM, and just work on repetition PRs. But I knew that failing a 1RM OHP had it's benefits. First, by attempting to press 300 lb, there's a chance I might get it!

There's a Chance

Additionally, a "missed" overhead press becomes a partial overhead press. The partial range of motion that is targeted is from the start of the press all the way to the sticking point.

Doing a partial press from start to sticking point is also known as a "press start" (see Bill Starr's article on the OHP, on page 6). It seems to be a rarely used exercise (at least deliberately) that's easy to implement, and, I think, has a lot of value because you're overloading the initial phase of the overhead press.

There were many times when I would attempt 300 lb, but all I would focus on is exploding the weight as quickly and pressing it up as high as I could. The goal was to generate so much momentum from the bottom that it would help carry me past my sticking point.

Road To A 315 lb OHP *

The next goal is to take my OHP to an even more magical 315 lb. That's only 15 lb away, but if you've ever trained the press seriously, you know that you have to fight for every pound on the bar.

A few things:

  • Refine Technique
    • I currently employ a narrow grip, which is good for an explosive start, but from what some of the old school articles I read, is more difficult at the sticking point compared to a wider grip. So, I'm going to experiment with a wider grip.
  • Maintain pressing frequency
  • More core work
    • Create abs of steel Adamantium Abs
  • More frequent and heavier Press Starts
    • I'm going to experiment with higher loads, maybe 320 lb.
  • Partials reps, using a bar suspended by chains. This way, I can adjust the height of the starting position by adjusting the length of the chain.

Anyway, only 4 PRs this past week:

4 Personal Records *

High Bar Squat: 475 lb x 8 (+20 lb 8RM) *

[heavy breathing]

Only needed 6 reps for a PR, but managed to summon enough powers for another 2 reps.

Overhead Press: 300 lb x 1 (1RM) *

Finally in the 300 lb overhead press club.

Paused Bench Press: 345 lb x 3 (3RM) *

I was thinking about going for 350 lb x 3 for a +10 lb PR, but shoulder aches a little from yesterday so only went for a +5 lb PR.

Sumo Deadlift: 500 lb x 2 (2RM) *

Missed a 610 lb 1RM attempt (conventional stance). Got it past my knees, but couldn't finish. Maybe I should start doing rack pulls/mat pulls to strengthen my locking out power.

Took me a while to find the correct stance (I think) for the sumo deadlift. Haven't done sumo deadlifts in eons. Just because I'm Asian doesn't mean I'm naturally good at this Asian-themed lift.

For years I've avoided the thumbless grip for any pressing movements mainly because paranoia of having the bar slip off my palms. I never tried pressing without my thumbs until recently, and I have to say, I'm a convert. It's going to be responsible for a lot of PRs.

By using a thumbless grip, I'm able to position the bar directly above the bones of the forearms. So when I press (bench or overhead), the force is applied directly to the bar (more or less) instead of going to my wrist first, then to the bar. With a thumbs around grip, it's difficult to get the bar on the heel of the palms so that it's directly above the bones of the forearms because the thumb is in the way.

Also, because the thumb is no longer an obstacle, I can externally rotate my humerus a little bit more (i.e. bring my elbows closer to my body), making the lift easier on my shoulders. For the bench press, using a thumbless grip starts to feel a little bit like the reverse grip - the positioning of the hands is angled (instead of straight), this allows for the elbows to tuck in more naturally, making for a more natural and pain free lift.

Should be interesting to see how far this one weird trick takes me.

7 Personal Records *

High Bar Squat: 440 lb x 10 (10RM) *

Squatted 405 lb x 10 with no belt the other day, so decided to try ~200 Kg/440 lb for a set of 10.

My lungs are burning.

Overhead Press: 275 lb x 2 (2RM) *

+5 lb PR from last week! Thumbless/False/Suicide/Seppuku/"Today Is A Good Day To Die" grip is my new secret weapon.

Paused Bench Press: 370 lb x 2 (2RM) *

Also got a 370 lb x 2 paused bench press PR(using a Thumbless/False/Suicide/Seppuku/"Today Is A Good Day To Die" grip).

Deadlift: 565 lb x 2 (2RM) *

So my man Dan Liebster sent me a roll of John Broz "Thumb Stretch Tape" to try out (didn't buy it myself because shipping is too costly to Canada for some reason). Nearly had 605 lb x 1, but the tape on my thumbs started sliding off, probably due to thumb sweat being built up underneath during my warm up.

Took off the tape, dried my hands and re-taped my thumbs. Got a +15 lb 2RM PR.

Paused Bench Press: 385 lb x 1 (1RM) *

+5 lb 1RM, and 5 lb away from my touch-and-go 1RM.

Thumbless grip is my new favorite "one weird trick".

Also nearly had a 280 lb x 2 OHP, but couldn't maintain the right balance for the 2nd rep.

Paused Front Squat (No Belt): 385 lb x 2 (2RM) *

Couldn't get the 3rd rep, but 2 is still a PR.

Attempted 455 lb x 2 before this but missed the 2nd rep. May have been too big of a jump from my current 2RM (440 lb). Damn you tempting bar aesthetics.

Overhead Press: 280 lb x 2 (2RM) *

This is the 3rd 2RM PR this week (270x2 last week, 275x2 on Tuesday, and 280x2 today), mainly because of using a thumbless grip I think. Pretty sure I won't be able to milk out any more 2RM's though, so going to try 3 rep maxes (or something else) next week.

300 lb OHP is still eluding me though. One day...

Stuff You Should Check Out *

Singapore Powerlifting Alliance interviews Ed Coan in Sydney, Australia, at the recent GPA Worlds 2014

It's only 6 minutes long (including Ed's 300 Kg squat), but packed with nuggets of gold-pressed latinum.