Do You Even Bent Press? (Why And How You Should)

On January 10, 2014 by Physical Culturist

bent press arthur saxon

The Bent Press is a type of weight training exercise wherein a weight is brought from shoulder-level to overhead one-handed using the muscles of the back, legs, and arm.

A very large amount of weight can be lifted this way, compared to other types of one-hand press. It has been said that more weight can be lifted with one hand in this manner than in the typical two-handed overhead barbell press.

The Bent Press was a staple of the old-time strongmen and strongwomen such as Eugen Sandow, Arthur Saxon, and Louis Cyr, but is no longer popular and poses safety concerns due to the contortion of the body and stresses placed on the shoulder joint and spine.

However, proponents of the exercise argue that since it uses the leverage of the body in order to lift the weight, if done correctly it can be quite safe. Despite its name, the arm does not press the weight aloft (Wikipedia).

Below is footage of old time strongman, W.A. Pullum, performing the Bent Press:

An Impressive Feat of Strength

The Bent Press is an impressive-looking movement. When performed correctly, enormous amounts of weight can be supported. This is a great lift to perform if you want to freak out some fellow gym members or to impress an audience at a show.

1 arm barbell press

Arthur Saxon Bent-Pressing 2 Men Overhead
ARTHUR SAXON. This remarkable lifter performed this stunt when with the circus. The total weight of his two brothers shown above was well over 300 pounds. He had no difficulty in bent-pressing them, one arm overhead, daily.

Benefits of the Bent Press

According to Mike Hanley,

This movement is great for the lat muscles of the back as well as puts a tremendous amount of tension on the core muscles. The bent press can be a great exercise to supplement to a bench press routine since it teaches one how to flex the lats. Flexing the lats is one of the best things you can learn when trying to improve your bench press numbers. If you want a bigger bench then add this movement into your training routine for a 6-8 week period.

How to perform the Bent Press:

(by DragonDoor) For those that do not know, the bent press is a standing exercise where you put up a weight overhead with one arm by getting under it. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. There are so many factors of positioning, body type and training that I will only cover the fundamentals of what I believe to be important ground rules.

Rule 1: Safety First

    a. As Pavel preaches and so do I, always respect the weight. Whether it is 10 lbs. or 110 lbs., treat it the same.

    b. Secondly, the bent press should be practised where you can throw the weight down if there is a problem: on rubber mats or outside.

    c. Common sense. If you want that PR and the numbers indicate that you should but you don’t feel up to it, then don’t do it. Your body is telling you something.

Rule 2: Form

You’ll find that the weight has to challenge you somewhat to really feel this exercise properly. The bent press starts when you are holding the weight at your shoulder. There are many different ways to get the weight to this position. Observe.

how to do the bent press

There is a spot on the base of the palm where the wrist meets the palm on the pinky side that recruits more muscle fibers. Keep the weight there.

Now you are ready to press. There are two ways. You can twist your trunk and then begin, or twist as you lean forward. Your latissimus should be flared out and taking on most of the weight. The forearm is perpendicular to the ground. Eyes on the weight.

how to do the bent press

The crux of it is: you get under the weight as it seems not to move. You’ll find in grinding power movements that the weight seems not to move at first. The magic is that more and more muscle fibers flex harder and harder creating more and more tension. Thank your nervous system for that.

Eyes on the weight.

how to do the bent press

Your upper back muscles stabilize the weight until you glide under it to lock your arm out. Now you’re half done.

The second part of the movement is to keep the arm locked and slowly straighten up. That is the positive movement of what is known as the windmill. The back stays straight as you glide from the bent to the side position to a standing upright position. Keep your arm locked while performing the second step. Observe.

how to do the bent press

Through out this entire exercise keep your eyes on the weight!

Now that we have gone through some fundamentals let us move on to goals and some subtle training tips.

Arthur Saxon was one of the strongest men of all time due to this exercise, the bent press. You’ll notice that if you choose to cheat this exercise one of the two things could happen: you will get injured or show poor results. Form is everything. The only way to learn is to do.

Training planning suggestions:

Most pressing exercises yield small progress unless mass is added. The bent press you can add a lot to. I went from 75 pounds to 125 pounds in 6 months as I came to discover this marvelous exercise. You can too. The reason being, the bent press is probably the only exercise that uses the total body and hence more muscles.

Do this exercise within 85%-95% of your max twice a day for 3 to 4 days a week. I typically ramp up from a lower weight.

If you’re having trouble with the form or you plateau, then use pullups, chinups, or some kind of upper back exercise to maintain proficiency and you’ll come back at least as good as when you left.

My latest PR immediately followed 3 weeks of no training of any type, including bent press. The bent press is such an overall strength exercise that it is good to do it less frequently, especially when you’re doing other things. It will quickly overtax your nervous system.

Comrades, apply proper lifting and tension techniques as always. You can’t go wrong. In the end you’ll be stronger then you set out to be.

Power to you!

how to perform the bent press

Video Tutorial: How to Perform the Bent Press:

For more extensive information on the Bent Press:

Also Read: Old Time Strongman Training Methods

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