Starting Conjugate: Basic Press Variations

Burley Hawk
Fri Sep 09, 2022

Starting Conjugate: Basic Press Variations

Building a great bench or overhead press requires an athlete to follow an intelligent training plan that specifically targets the strengths and muscle groups responsible for pressing maximum amounts of weight. As an athlete new to Conjugate training, it is vital to master the basic press variations associated with our training method. 

As many strength athletes know, the bench and overhead press can be two challenging exercises to master. Both involve the shoulders heavily, which are the most moveable joints in the human body. Because of this, it is important to focus on rapidly building the upper body muscle groups that support the upper back, shoulders, and arms. 

We use press variations on our max and dynamic effort training days. Initially, starting with just a few basic variations is essential to allow you to maximize the benefits of each variation.

Below, I will discuss the basic press variations we use as main exercises for max effort upper and dynamic effort upper at Westside Barbell. Keep in mind that these are not the only variations we will use. However, these are the most recommended variations for those new to our training style. 

Floor Press

This is typically the first press variation we will introduce into a program for someone new to the Conjugate Method. The floor press allows us to place a lifter in a generally safe situation while placing tremendous focus on the triceps and upper back muscles. Not only that, the floor press provides us the opportunity to push heavy weights we may not be able to press off of the chest. 

To perform a floor press, you want to lay your back flat on the floor. Your legs can be completely flat, or you can put your feet on the ground with your knees elevated. Either way, it is important to keep the glutes on the floor. The focus is on pressing heavy weight with as little leg drive as possible.

You want to lower the bar until your triceps are flat on the floor with the end of your elbow touching the ground. Once this position is achieved, you will powerfully press the weight to lockout. For this lift to be maximally effective, focusing on each rep's tricep and elbow position is essential. 

This exercise is a max effort exercise and will typically be performed for 1-3 repetitions. 

Strict Press

This exercise is a great way to introduce an overhead press variation into your training and build tremendous reversal strength in both the bench and overhead press. Like the floor press, the strict press places emphasis on the upper back, shoulders, and arms, leading to improved upper body strength and muscle mass. The strict press will also allow a lifter to practice proper trunk bracing, considering it is an integral part of the movement. 

To properly execute a strict press, you want to unrack the barbell and walk to your starting position. Once there, you will begin the lift with the bar on the chest or slightly elevated, whichever shoulder mobility allows. You then want to take air into the diaphragm, focusing on establishing your trunk brace.

You want to squeeze the bar and use the anterior shoulders and triceps to get the weight going. You will press the weight to lockout and begin the process again. Focusing on your resets and establishing a proper trunk brace for each rep is very important. This will provide your shoulders with optimal stability and will reduce the likelihood of strain or injury. 

This exercise is a max effort main exercise or a dynamic effort accessory exercise, typically performed for 3-5 repetitions. 

Pin Press

Implementing the pin press into your training is another excellent way to improve reversal strength in the bench press. For the beginner or intermediate lifter, pin presses allow you to manipulate your position off the chest and find what is optimal for you to generate the most significant amount of power. 

Additionally, if you set the pins higher to start the lifter at the point the arms are at 90 degrees, you can change the focus from building strength off of the chest to building strength near lockout. No matter where you find yourself struggling, pin presses allow you to spend time training that range of motion and joint angle specifically. 

This exercise is a max effort exercise, typically performed for 1-3 repetitions. 

Learn the Basics

Outside of the above-listed upper body exercises, the only other press exercises we implement for beginners are the basic competition bench press and close grip bench press. By initially limiting the number of press workouts we cycle through, we can judge which ones provide the most benefit and begin programming accordingly.

It is important to remember that not every variation will work the same for everyone. We all have different weaknesses and physical structures, so it is expected athletes will all respond differently to each exercise. Find what works best for you, and program accordingly.

The bench and overhead press are complicated exercises that place significant stress on the least stable joints in your body. Use the exercises above to improve your absolute strength, explosive power, and shoulder stability. The only answer to accommodation is variation.

 "Just when your body has the answers, that's when you have to change the questions."

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