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What is a Bent Press?

The Bent Press is a means of elevating a weight from the shoulder to the locked-out, overhead position using one arm.  Contrasted with the strict military press, the knees and hips are involved in this lift as the athlete bends and rotates himself under the weight.  Although the kettlebell is moved overhead with one arm, it does not involve “lifting” the weight with the arm rather, the arm is held stationary in a supporting manner, attached to the body, while the athlete moves his body under the weight.  It is sometimes referred to as the Screw Press.

There are many subtle variations in the performance of the bent press however, the objective is invariant:  “safely get your body under the weight and then stand up”.

Step by Step

Here is a step by step description of a Bent Press using a kettlebell and the right hand:

1.               Clean the kettlebell – Face forward with a single kettlebell in front of you.  Clean the weight with your right hand. (Optionally, you may use two hands.) 

2.               Turn and load – Turn your left foot counterclockwise.  You may or may not rotate your right foot counterclockwise.  Simultaneously, shift your weight to your right foot and move the kettlebell outside your body so that the weight is over your right hip.  This move should cause your lat to contract and form a rigid shelf.  Your upper arm (or triceps) should rest on this lat shelf.  The palm of the pressing hand should be facing parallel to your chest or slightly away from the body.

3.               Fold at the hips while rotating the thoracic spine – The object is to maintain the connection between the triceps and the lat until the kettlebell is very nearly overhead.  You want to feel the left shoulder working under the weight while the right arm remains connected to the side of the body.

4.               Release the lat/upper arm linkage, bend the knee, and lock out the arm – Release the lat/upper arm linkage as the right arm approaches vertical.  Allow the right knee to bend as you lock out your arm.

5.               Stand up – Allow your hips to move slightly so that some of the weight is on your right leg.  This will allow you to use both legs to stand up with the kettlebell overhead.

6.               Square up your stance and lower the bell.

Rules of Engagement

The basic rules of engagement apply when performing this lift. 

1.     Keep your eyes on the kettlebell.  It is a good idea to know where the object is that might fall on you!  In addition, the visual feedback will assist your neuromuscular system in the performance of the lift.

2.     Keep the weight of the kettlebell over your elbow.  If the kettlebell moves from this position the lift will probably fail.

3.     Be prepared to drop the kettlebell.  The Bent Press is a complex lift requiring muscular control, balance, flexibility, and CONCENTRATION.  Strangely enough, many people find this lift easier with a heavier kettlebell.  Of course, things go wrong much faster with a heavier kettlebell.  If you lose control of the kettlebell, GET OUT OF THE WAY and drop the bell.  (This is one good reason for practicing the Bent Press outside.)

4.     Maintain connection in the shoulder girdle.  The shoulder is much stronger when the upper arm bone (the humerus) is firmly in the socket.  Resist the temptation to elevate your shoulder as you stand up with the kettlebell.

More Details

The body does not want to bend over with a heavy weight resting on your hip.  And, even if you can start to bend over, the forearm will try to follow.  Don’t allow this to happen.  Imagine that you are bending away from the kettlebell (or even slightly pushing it away using the triceps). The biceps must not contract and pull the kettlebell toward the shoulder at the beginning of the lift. 

Notice that the starting position for the Bent Press has the weight outside of our body with our spine rotated.  Dropping a heavy weight from the overhead position toward this compromised position is asking for a trip to the chiropractor!  If you want to perform multiple repetitions of the Bent Press insure that you lower the kettlebell SAFELY between each rep.  Square up your feet, hips and shoulders and lower the kettlebell (using two hands if necessary).

As you screw yourself under the kettlebell, support yourself with by placing your left forearm on your left leg.  The weight will necessarily shift from your right leg toward your leading (or left) leg as you fold and screw under the weight.  The support of your forearm reduce the stress on your lower back (or lumbar spine) until you can shift your weight onto both legs.

Avoid false flexibility!  If your shoulder rotates so that your hand is facing behind you, the connection in the shoulder joint will be lost.  This is particularly risky with a heavy weight overhead.  This is worth stating a second time:  Internally rotating the upper arm bone (the humerus) while supporting a heavy weight will cause the shoulder to disconnect and is inviting injury.  If you cannot rotate your torso to perform the bent press correctly, you should do the requisite mobility work before attempting this lift.

After you have folded as far as possible and rotated your torso, straighten your arm as you slightly bend your right leg.  This requires releasing the lat/upper arm linkage.  This is also one of the more difficult parts of the lift.  You must forcefully lock your arm, keep the shoulder in the socket, release the lat/upper arm linkage, and flex the right knee.  “The most critical point of the whole lift is when the elbow leaves the side, and unless all one’s efforts are concentrated on the correct performance of the movement, control is apt to be lost” according to Arthur Saxon,

Note that folding over means creasing at the hips and NOT rounding the lower back.  Maintain a long, straight spine as you fold at the hips and rotate through the mid-spine (or thoracic spine).  Maintaining a lengthened spine and an open chest will facilitate the required thoracic rotation.


Below: Arthur Saxon performing the Bent Press.  The world record bent press of 370 lbs was performed by Arthur Saxon.  But, unofficial reports say he pressed 385 lbs in this manner.


(Photo from “The Text Book of Weight-Lifting” by Arthur Saxon 1910)

















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