A popular exercise in many gyms is the push press (PP). At Industrial Strength we use barbells or kettlebells to execute the drill, but dumbbells, sandbags or other specialty equipment can be used as well. For those unfamiliar with the exercise, the cliff notes version is to hold a weight in the rack position (so the weight is near the collar bones), to dip at the knees and use some leg power to then help shove the weight overhead, and receive it with straight arms above the head. It is a fantastic builder of upper body strength, and also teaches the upper and lower bodies to work in a coordinated fashion.
One thing to keep in mind is that there are two different styles of push pressing, each with their own benefits. This article will outline the purpose of each version.
The lift can essentially be broken down into four parts: 1) Rack position; 2) Dip; 3) Drive; 4) Lockout. Positions 1, 2, and 4 should look the same regardless of which style is used. It is position #3, or more accurately the “drive phase” that will change depending on which style of the lift is performed. The big difference is whether the heels are kept firmly planted on the ground, or if the heels are allowed to lift off the floor during the drive.
Why would a lifter choose one versus the other? The heels down version will “feel” more like a standard military press. Spending some time training with a heels down PP can allow the lifter to gain confidence with a given weight, and eventually work towards a strict military press with it. This is a strategy often employed by those striving for a new PR on the kettlebell military press, since the jumps between sizes are large and this version allows the lifter to get a feel for the new, heavier weight. The heels down PP is also a solid choice when lifting odd objects or specialty bars that may be harder to stabilize, such as axles or logs.
The heels up PP typically allows the lifter to get more drive from the legs, thus get more weight overhead compared to the heels down PP. This version is typically used by weightlifters (“Olympic lifters”) and other barbell junkies who just want to get the most weight overhead. It definitely offers better carry-over to the jerk, which is why weightlifters will primarily use this version. One important note with this version is that even though the heels will come off the ground momentarily during the drive phase, they must return back to the floor immediately. A common error would be to stay up on the toes and try to press to lockout from there, which is not nearly as stable (or strong) as returning the heels back down and pressing from a flat foot.
To summarize, the heels down PP is a great option if the goal is to get confidence and carry over to military pressing that weight, or if the object being lifted is hard to stabilize such as a log or an axle. On the other hand, the heels up PP allows more weight to be lifted (especially with a barbell) and has better carry over to jerks.
Both versions of the lift are awesome, and the discussions should not be about which one is better. The important thing is to identify why the lift is being performed, and to select and use the appropriate variation based on the goals. – Tony Gracia // Co-Founder and Head Coach