Saturday, September 2, 2017


A while back, someone took the time to compile all of my random thoughts blog posts and put them into one singular document.  It ended up being 70+ pages of bizarre one-liners and non-sequiturs that ultimately made me look like some sort of psychotic strength prophet, but among the discussion was a curiosity regarding why, if forced to only choose 3 movements to train, I’d pick the squat, chin and press.  Specifically, the question was why the press vs the bench press.  There was a good argument for the bench over the press; it engaged more muscles (specifically the pecs) and it allowed you to lift more weight, so surely it was the superior option of the 2, no?  Ultimately though, my answer was that, though the bench may have advantages on paper, the press makes you a stronger human compared to the bench, and when asked why, it is because the press is an active practice in overcoming.  The bench is a workout, the press is overcoming.

Image result for Pumping Iron feels like
You were all making this joke in your heads already

Fundamentally, all strength is derived via a process of overcoming.  Nietzsche deemed this process “The Will to Power”, and it was predicated under the notion that all living creatures have an inherent drive to exert their power against another force.  Nietzsche’s belief was that this drive was even stronger than the will to live, and consequently many creatures faced their deaths as a result of their will to power having them bite off more than they can chew.  This is why Nietzsche is also famous for the quote “that which does not kill me makes me stronger”, which was rather fitting for an individual that spent the majority of his life suffering some form of sickness or another.  In either capacity though, what we observe from this is that strength is not acquired from mere practice of BEING strong but from the act of overcoming; of exerting strength against a superior overwhelming force.

The press is an active practice IN overcoming.  A true strict press, taken out of the rack, with the bar racked across your body, has no eccentric loading whatsoever.  There is no wind up, there is no stretch reflex, there is no bounce and there is no stored energy; it is purely you exerting your will against the bar in the hopes that you will be strong enough to move it.  It is OVERCOMING the dead weight and inertia inherent in the implement, and if you fail to overcome, you fail to move the weight.  This is why there are so many tricks to overcome the starting position of a strict press; holding the bar in your hands rather than across your collarbone so you can dip down at the start, push pressing, slight knee/ankle flexing, viper pressing, that abomination of a double bend Rippetoe is now promoting, etc etc.  All these things are “solutions” to what isn’t a problem at all; they remove the overcoming element of the press.

Seriously; what the f**k is this?

This is why pressing makes you stronger than benching; it forces you to actively practice overcoming every time you train.  You build a habit of overcoming through constant practice, and in turn that ability to overcome itself is trained.  And this ability applied universally; not simply to the press.  One in the habit of overcoming overcomes fatigue during the medley, they overcome exhausting late in the training session, they overcome a lack of sleep and food, they overcome injuries, they overcome stress, etc etc.  They are the practiced and skilled overcomer.  They are strong; not simply able to lift more weight, but actual for real strong.

This is what I talk to when I discuss “real strength”.  I’ve written on the topic on many occasions, and I constantly remark that the mere ability to lift a load is no indication of strength.  In a significant amount of cases, what one witnesses is in fact skill.  We observe the technician dutifully set up through an elaborate ritual ensuring that they are optimally configured with the best leverages to maximally exert themselves.  They take full advantage of all techniques allowed within their ruleset, select the style best suited for their leverages, and masterfully perform their craft.  But this is not overcoming; this is performing.  Overcoming is ugly; it is brutal, sloppy and dangerous.  Overcoming is what we witnessed in the first "World’s Strongest Man”, when competitors attempted to bend rebar and lift water filled barrels over their heads for the first time.  It’s what one observes at a competition when someone handles an implement for the very first time.  All that is available IS overcoming, and the practiced overcomer succeeds while the technician unpracticed in these ways fails.  Real strength is the ability to impose your will against an object that resists with all of its might relying purely on your ability to overcome.

Image result for Lou Ferrigno world strongest man
Did I mention that it looks ugly?

And this is true of all exercises that necessitate overcoming.  Good mornings off pins, deadlifts, yoke squats, etc, all of these are movements that allow one to develop the skill of overcoming.  And, of course, this is not a call to ONLY train these movements.  It’s the classic beginner’s mistake to think that, if 1 is good, 10 is better, and all is best.  There is certainly room and need in programs for NON-overcoming movements, but one must understand the value in regularly practicing TO overcome.  And this is why, when limited to only 3 movements, at least one of them MUST be a movement of overcoming, for without this, the skill of overcoming is lost and one becomes reliant on tricks, tools, techniques, skill and ability rather than sheer tenacity and will to power.

In your pursuit of strength, do not neglect your ability to overcome.



  1. WTF was that standing incline press? OHP 3.0? Rip ... mane.... just, no... The extends to which people will go to say they "rep" 225 on the OHP.

    What an exercise in insecurity to contort the truth this way for a lift that is not even an official sport. I am truly baffled.

    1. Interesting point of fact is that the lift is now once again part of an official sport. Rippetoe has created some sort of "Strengthlifting" federation, which is squat, press and conventional deadlift, and this press technique is allowed. It was also something witnessed in weightlifting back when the press was included. Always going to be way for people to find ways to bend the rules, haha.

    2. Ah, the old "we'll make it an official sport" to justify this stupidity. Classic! Wonder how many people will compete worldwide in the STRENGTHLIFTING federation.

      In before I see it as a line and badge of honor on someone's resume...

    3. Probably more than you'd think. Some crossfit boxes have apparently picked up the idea as a 'crossfit total', since they seem to love the idea of powerlifting as much as they loathe the actual sport.

      I get why you'd press that way in competition - and you do see similar stuff in strongman when it's an implement that refuses to be push pressed like some blocks or natural stones - but I'm mystified as to it's usefulness for general strength training. Maybe I'm missing something, maybe it's part of Rips nostalgia for the old days of weightlifting.

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