I’ve been reading a lot of books written by old time strongmen lately and the lessons and insights in them have been pretty amazing. It is true that there is nothing new under the sun and most of what we think of as “new” and “cutting edge” is really just a rediscovery of things we had forgotten over time. In the late 1800’s/ early 1900’s you could walk into a gym that looked a lot like a modern CrossFit Box, complete with kettlebells, monkey bars and gymnastic rings.
Back then, the strength & fitness field was known as Physical Culture and did things like swings, Turkish Get Ups and many other exercises that were great for building physical prowess but not as good at building muscle in specific areas. This wasn’t a problem when how you looked was secondary to how much you lift, but as Joe Weider and Arnold Schwarzenegger started to popularize modern bodybuilding some of these exercises were forgotten.
A perfect example of this is the best exercise you have probably never seen or heard of – the Bent Press. At one point the Bent Press was one of the main lifts used in strongman exhibitions and contests. It was developed as a way to get the most weight over your head with one arm, and the record is 371 pounds by the legendary Arthur Saxon. Most people today couldn’t even support that much weight overhead with two hands, much less be able to leverage it up with one arm.
However, when you look at it you can’t easily label it as a “shoulder exercise”, a “core exercise” or a “leg exercise”. This makes it tough to tuck into a neat little box when designing a bodybuilding workout. And since almost all workouts were inspired by bodybuilding by the 1980’s, exercises like the Bent Press were forgotten.
So, what is a Bent Press? The best way to think about it is like this: if the Windmill and the Shoulder Press snuck off one night and got busy and 9 months later they had a baby, that baby would be the Bent Press. Combining the lateral hip lean and core strength we want to train for cornering, with the shoulder and upper back stability we need for standing pedaling, it is a super potent exercise that deserves some consideration for your program.
The name Bent Press is a bit misleading because if done right you don’t actually “press” the weight at all. Starting with a weight at your shoulder, you corkscrew yourself down underneath the weight as you straighten your arm, and then you corkscrew yourself back up keeping your arm straight. The result is you standing upright while holding a weight overhead by leveraging through your hips instead of pressing through the arm.
You can check out this video demo to see the Bent Press in action. You’ll also learn some tips for getting the most out of it and how to avoid some common mistakes…
A word of warning, though. This is an advanced exercise and it does require a good degree of mobility and core strength to pull off. I advise that you are very comfortable with the Turkish Get Up and the Windmill before trying this exercise. This is one you have to “earn” by building the primal pattern building blocks you need to support it.
Keep the reps low (1-5) and really focus on the quality of the movement before you worry about pushing the weight. You’ll need to start with a weight lighter than what you can shoulder press to help you groove the movement. Think about “practicing” the lift instead of trying to get a “workout” with it and you’ll pick it up much faster.
The Bent Press is a great way to combine two awesome movements into one awesomer movement – I know awesomer isn’t a word but you know what I mean. And while you may never get close to challenging Arthur Saxon’s record, the good news is that you don’t have to in order to see some really great results on the trail. Like a lot of forgotten exercises that have been brought back recently, the Bent Press can help you improve the primal pattern building blocks you need to ride faster, longer and with more confidence on the trail.
Until next time…