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Pressing Progression 101 – Free Pressing Template


Article by Drew Spriggs – Head Coach of Valhalla Strength South Brisbane


The most common question I get regarding any lifts is how to progress with the various competition presses. Despite the simplicity of the question, it is something that’s very hard to answer in all but the most generic ways – the easiest answer I can give most people (but also the most frustrating) is simply to get better at pressing. I’ve decided to write this article to explain some of my thoughts behind progressing at pressing, while keeping your joints healthy and yourself injury free.

There are a couple of general approaches which most people seem to follow when they realise their pressing strength has stalled; these are the most common approaches which are suggested.

*Sheiko/Smolov/etc – the powerlifting favourite. Medium intensity pressing with massive volumes and high specificity seem work well for experienced lifters at the trade off of probable joint and connective tissue problems.

*Conjugate/Westside – continual low specificity and varying intensities. Tends to be on the low volume overall. Seems to be incredibly hit and miss for raw lifters, with many reporting they had zero progress or got weaker.

*5×5/Starting Strength/5-3-1 – relatively low volumes, sort of specific. Can be good for newer lifters, but plateauing following these programs is almost inevitable due to low volume and linear progression.

*Doug Young Bench Program – sometimes comes up with older lifters who are aware what an animal Doug was. While it follows the same sort of linear progression (with some element of autoregulation) as the above programs, the ridiculous volumes and intensities of accessory work can do wonders for newer lifters, however with a trade-off of a much higher chance of joint and soft tissue injuries happening.


Sorry ladies, just by witnessing this photo you're now pregnant. Probably applies to most guys too

Sorry ladies, just by witnessing this photo of Doug you’re now                             pregnant. Probably applies to most guys too

Now there are some great benefits to come from the above programs, such as the focus on getting strong at many variants in a conjugate approach, the high volumes of the Sheiko-ish approaches and the autoregulation of the Doug Young program, in my opinion there are issues with all of them such as the strict linear progression of your basic 5×5, the continual high specificity of Sheiko and the relatively low volumes in a standard conjugate approach.

The issues I have found all tie back to the concepts of specifity (how many varieties of pressing you’re doing), intensity (how heavy you’re pressing) or total volume (thought about in a weekly or monthly scale, as opposed to session by session). In terms of pressing work you can do a lot of intensity or a lot of volume, but rarely both without a high chance of causing problems. You can also generally do a lot of volume of pressing or accesory work, but not both at once. While a higher degree of specifity will be required for more advanced lifters, this will often come at the cost of movement weakness and dysfunction in newer lifters, and nothing will slow your progress more than getting hurt.

The overall plan I will describe below tries to address most of these issues:

*the low specifity allows you to work pressing at all angles, with whatever equipment you have available to you and avoid any pressing that causes issues. It also allows you to successfully train outside of your ‘home’ gym and use whatever equipment you can get your hands on.
*the very low intensity but high volumes of accessory work will help keep your joints and connective tissue healthy by promoting bloodflow and recovery after the heavy pressing is finished.
*the alternate bilateral and unilateral exercises after your main press for the day will help reduce the risk of developing left-right imbalances.
*the high volumes of your main pressing work will help you win that hyper trophy, with this being the main factor holding back lifters who have hit a plateau.

There are some points to note, as no general program can ever be perfect:

  • I’d always suggest a high-specificity and intensity block of your competition presses before you compete or test. While a low-specificity approach can definitely help lead to PB’s, if you want to maximise its effectiveness you need to spend some time focusing on exactly what you want to get better at. 2-4 weeks is enough for most people.
    *While this approach can help with soft tissue and joint issues due to ‘pump’ sets for accessory work, there is still a lot of volume. Focusing on prehabilitation methods such as activation of your scapula stabilisers, increasing thoracic mobility and also keeping a neutral wrist position at all times can go a long way to keeping you niggle free.
  • The sessions can take some time if you dawdle. Aim for 2-3 minutes break between main pressing movements, and superset all accessory work.
  • Try to do as many full-range presses as possible (ie. close grip instead of board presses if you want to focus on tricep work), however they’re fine to sub in occasionally if you want the variety. The same applies for accommodating resistance like bands and chains.
  • While a lot of people won’t focus on curls, alternating between pronated and supinated curls is a great way to balance bicep/brachialis/brachioradialis strength and keep your elbows feeling good. Plus, anybody who says they don’t want bigger arms is a liar.
  • If you know your maxes for the specific press you’re attempting, you can work to a percentage. However as a lot of variants won’t be something you will have ever tested a max on before, following the RPE system is better once you know how to use it.

Our #valhallavalkyries are taking over the world! All the way over in Ireland, Mae has been slaying her online coaching, and hit a pretty nice 55kg/121lbs OHP today – a 10kg/22lbs PB. Want to join a community of badass women of all shapes, sizes, ages and experience levels who are all working together to kick their strength goals out of the park? DM us to find out how you can become part of the Valkyries today #Repost @maeveie with @repostapp ・・・ #PB #klaxon I think the most I’ve ever gotten #overhead fully strict is 45kg. I had to use legs for anything heavier. Have done a whole lot more pressing, but not nearly as much as I could be doing recently. Worked away on this after #bench and #deadlift tonight and wahey #55kg. I almost lost it, but feckit I stuck with it and got it up! I’m still way behind where I should be but at least it’s moving, and pretty quickly in the right direction. @valhalla_strength_south_bris Knows his accessories! A little #accessory PB is a welcome thing when you’re just kinda figuring out what’s next. I also never forgot about soft knees @oakgrove.leisure.centre @grrrl_clothing #press #strict #military #gym #lifting #fun #benching #triceps #shoulders #muscle #progress #nophysio #powerbelly #grrrlclothing

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*Overhead pressing variant – press to 2-4 reps at around 8.5RPE ([email protected]%, [email protected]%, [email protected]% for example). Do as many sets as you can until you get to a 9.5-10RPE at the same weight.
*Unilateral incline press – find 10RM in a max of 4 sets, aim for around an 8RPE on your first set (or 70%).
*Unilateral flat press – find 15RM in a max of 3 sets, aim for around an 8RPE on your first set (or 60%).
*Curls – 4×10
*Triceps/delts superset – 100 reps total (minimum 20 reps per set)


*Flat press variant- press to 4-6 reps at around 8.5RPE ([email protected]%, [email protected]%, [email protected]% for example). Do as many sets as you can until you get to a 9.5-10RPE at the same weight.
*Bilateral incline press – find 8RM in a max of 4 sets, aim for around a 8RPE on your first set (or 75%)
*Unilateral overhead press – 12RM in a max of 3 sets, aim for around a 8RPE on your first set (or 65%)
*Reverse curls – 4×8
*Triceps/delts superset – 100 reps total (minimum 20 reps per set)

As you can see, no pressing variants are prescribed as that’s entirely up to you. The main point to note is all sets should be difficult, with the final set taken as close to failure as possible (but the aim is to not fail). If you’re at a loss for what specific movements to do, the following are a list of standard presses I use, however this is by far an exhaustive list.

Bilateral OHP Variants – push press, strict press, push jerk, log press from stands, swisse bar press, BTN press, Klokov press, Viking press, Z press, yoke press, keg press

Unilateral OHP Variants – standing DB press, seated DB press, neutral-grip DB press, DB clean and press, DB thrusters, Arnold press

Bilateral Incline Variants – incline log press, incline close-grip press, incline bench press, incline swisse bar press, incline California press

Unilateral Incline Variants – incline DB press, neutral-grip incline DB press, half-kneeling landmine press

Bilateral Flat Variants – bench press, close-grip bench press, floor press, pin press, swisse bar bench, Spoto press, reverse-grip bench, California press, buffalo bar bench press,

Unilateral Flat Variants – squeeze press, DB bench, neutral-grip DB press, alternating pause DB press

The above layout can generally be followed year around, with many people who have started following it reporting pressing plateaus initially being broken in only 4-6 weeks. This sort of progress won’t be sustainable, so I believe it’s important to incorporate a deload (such at 50% intensity for half the total reps) every 12 weeks to give your body a chance to recover if no peaking/deload is used in around the same time frame.

If you’ve hit a plateau, try the above but make it work for you – providing you’re working hard and effectively, you will inevitably see progress.

Drew Spriggs is a competitive powerlifter and strongman, who realized that strength training had a massive positive effect on other areas of his life. After realizing he was much better at teaching others how to be lift than lifting himself, he decided to step down off the platform and open his own facility, Valhalla Strength – South Brisbane. He is available for online coaching from  Starting Strongman.

You can follow Drew & Valhalla Strength – South Brisbane on Facebook & Instagram

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