Lifelong Movements – Invest In Better Movement: Movement No. 2 – The Kettlebell Single Arm Press

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Lifelong Movements – Invest In Better Movement

Movement No. 2 – The Kettlebell Single Arm Press

This is the second blog post in the series, and after some exceptional feedback from the last blog, I feel super-hyped to keep passing on the knowledge I have gained from working with some of the best practitioners (sports doctors, physiotherapists, and Master Personal Trainers, to name a few) in the exercise industry. I will be taking on board some of the points suggested for improving the blog whilst keeping its authentic appearance.

Just to recap, I will cover the same areas in each blog post in relation to the specific movement discussed. These are:

  • Background of the movement;
  • Movement analysis;
  • Literature that is freely available;
  • My top three key coaching cues;
  • Limitations and correctives.

Background of the movement

The kettlebell (KB) single arm press (SAP) is loaded with cross-over value. By this I mean activation from core to extremity (or activation overflow, as Tudor Bompa would say). I’m talking about how ridged the core must be to create a safe spine and how stable the hips must be to maintain tension throughout the entire posterior chain (crucial to prevent back problems during pressing above head).

In the Strong First community, they use the KB SAP as a measure of strength within the Beast Tamer (KB SAP, strict pull up, and pistol squat – all with a 48 kg KB – HONKING).


Movement analysis

Shoulder press with most common gym-goers (as well as bench press) is probably the number one movement for causing shoulder pain. The most frequent symptom description I usually come across is ‘a pinching feeling in the front or side of the shoulder’. This doesn’t surprise me once I see them lift – it is disastrous. See below for poor position for shoulder health (remember that this is an injury prevention blog, NOT a sculpting post).

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The set

Pick up the KB and place into the rack position, with the wrist in slight flexion.

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The body should feel stable through using the ‘screw the heels in’ technique I mentioned in the last post.

Some use ‘connect the shoulder’ terminology or ‘suck the shoulder in’ to set up the shoulder before pressing. I prefer the former. How do we communicate this back to the client? Here’s how:

The grip of the KB is hugely important. Claire Booth shared an awesome video of this a few weeks back of Fabio Zonin discussing this topic. Get him on IG.

The action – part 1

As with most lifting, the strategy must always involve creating tension. In this case, we draw down the rib cage towards the anterior hip. This is achieved by crushing the glutes together (force closure mechanism of the hip, creating a good foundation of stability – remember that the spine sits on top of the hips; you wouldn’t build a house on sand, would you?).

As the scapular is in a good position from the ‘connecting the shoulder’ technique, the shoulder is now ready to take load and has enough space to prevent impingement.

Creating intra-abdominal pressure also secures the spine’s safety during heavy presses.

At this point, the client is ready to press above the head.

The press will be dynamic, using slight thoracic rotation, slight shoulder abduction (around 20 degrees this we call scaption, but towards the end range this will come into adduction), and full shoulder flexion (which will be relative to each individual).

At the wrist, we go from neutral to pronation and full elbow extension.

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The action – part 2

The lowering of the KB takes a slightly different path. My coach (who, as you’ve probably already worked out, is Claire Booth) taught me to pull the KB back into the rack position.

This would be full elbow flexion, back to neutral wrist (slight flexion) and only shoulder extension (no abduction) or coming through scaption.

Literature that is freely available

Two papers I have come across that I found quite interesting can be found on researchgate.net. They are:

Muscle Activation when Performing the Chest Press and Shoulder Press on a Stable Bench vs a Swiss Ball by Uribe et al (2010) ; and

Effects of Body Position and Loading Modality on Muscle Activity and Strength in Shoulder Presses by Saeterbakken and Fimland (2012)

My favourite articles, though, have to be from the Strong First community. Google ‘Strong First Presses’ and you will have a list. I particularly liked the one by Giada Flamini.

My top three key coaching cues

Again, I always use a bottom-up approach. Use it as a check list:

  • Feet
  • Ankle
  • Knee
  • Hip
  • Low back
  • Thoracic/Cervical spine
  • Shoulders
  • Elbow
  • Wrist
  • Head.

1). Get tight – sometimes, this is used as a throw-away comment by coaches without them even physically checking. I saw a great video once on how to check this:

2). Rotate and push – this cue just gives the client that check of understanding that there is a rotation element of pressing the KB so as not to compromise the shoulder.

3). Sniff and fire – this leads on from the previous coach cue. The ‘sniff’ creates good intra-abdominal pressure (meaning a safe, tight core). The ‘fire’ allows the client to understand that it’s not a slow press but a dynamic push.

Limitations and correctives

1). Thoracic spine rotation – this is my arch-enemy. Having fractured my neck and having had multiple injuries to my low back, the T-spine takes up a lot of the stress. Extension and rotational movements keep proving difficult for some clients. Here are a few suggestions:

2). Shoulder stability – something that all meat-heads choose over stability is strength (I include myself in this, until I learned that stability can only be sacrificed for so long before chaos happens). Here is a little test:

This completes the second blog post in the series. The next one will cover Bulgarian Split Squat.