There are so many movements and skills to be learned in the gym. Today I am going to talk about one that I think gets overlooked way too often. Learning this skill will instantly increase your multiple-rep maxes for press, push press, and jerks, as well as make your thrusters way less sucky (but they will still suck. There’s no way around that). We are talking about reracking the bar.
If you are doing presses, you are lifting the bar from your shoulders (front rack position) to overhead. Unless you are dropping the bar to the ground after each rep, the bar needs to return to your shoulders. This is what I am talking about when I say “reracking.” The bar is going from overhead to the front rack position.
Why Do I Care?
Have you ever done pullup negatives, where you start with your chin above the bar and lower yourself down? This is called an eccentric movement. The muscles that are working are getting longer during the movement instead of shorter. This type of movement fatigues muscles much faster, can cause more muscle tearing, and can bring on severe soreness much more quickly than if the muscles are shortening under load. If you have crappy technique when reracking a bar from overhead, you are doing an eccentric movement with your shoulders, which means your shoulders burn out way faster, limiting the amount you can lift, which limits how swole you can get, which limits the amount of chicks you can get. Or whatever the female equivalent of that is. Besides, it gets really old doing one jerk, dropping the bar, unloading the bar, cleaning the bar, racking the bar, reloading the bar, and repeat. Believe me. So, yeah. That’s why you care.
Imagine a video of yourself doing a perfect push press. The bar is in the front rack with elbows high. Your torso stays vertical as you dip straight down, extend your legs, press the bar past your face, and finish with the bar locked out overhead. Now picture that video playing in reverse. The bar drops straight down to your shoulders, and, just as the bar makes contact with your shoulders, your legs bend to lower you into the dip. This is how you should be reracking the bar from overhead.
Most people who are new to this have two hurdles to jump. One hurdle is fear. If you have never done this before, it will seem like the bar is going to shatter your collar bones. If this is a fear of yours, I can tell you with confidence that you aren’t lifting anywhere near enough for this to really hurt. Once you clear this hurdle, you can attack the second hurdle: timing. As the bar drops, you need your knees to cushion the impact of the bar connecting with your shoulders. The timing needs to be just right. If you bend too soon, you give the bar too far to fall. When you stop dipping the bar will catch up. Ouch. If you bend too late, the bar will have already crashed on you. Ouch again. Is that first hurdle in front of you again? Don’t worry. There are ways to practice this with minimal ouch.
Begin with an empty bar. PVC is too light for this drill, so use an actual bar. Begin with the bar in the front rack position. Dip straight down and stand so the bar pops a few inches up off of your shoulders. Let the bar fall freely to your shoulders and cushion the landing with your legs. The goal here is to nail the timing, so that the ouch factor on your shoulders is zero. Your legs should absorb the impact. Practice this until the bar transitions smoothly from shoulders to the air and back. NOTE: Watch your face. The bar has a tendency to bust you in the chin and/or nose. Practice keeping your face out of the way. If you need to for this drill, tilt your head back PEZ dispenser style.
As you get the timing down, start to add some weight. If you can do this drill with 50% of your pressing weight, it is time to try it from overhead. Drop back down to the empty bar. Begin with the bar overhead. Let the bar drop down to your shoulders, cushioning the blow just as you did in the first drill. Again, the key is to perfect the timing. If the bar is making a smooth transition back onto your shoulders, start adding weight.
Tips to Remember
Vertical Torso – You should not be tilting forward at all during this drill. If you want to practice this, stand with your heels, butt, and shoulders all touching a wall. Now practice dipping straight down and standing while keeping all three points of contact.
High Elbows – As the bar comes down onto your shoulders, receive it with your elbows high. This will help to keep the bar moving in a straight line down, as well as keep your torso vertical.
Tight Core – You may feel pressure on your lower back as the weight comes down on your shoulders. This means that you are loose in your middle, allowing your back to arch. This is REALLY BAD! You MUST keep your core tight to keep your back from arching as the bar returns to your shoulders. Otherwise, all of the force of the bar gets transferred to your low back. More ouch. Don’t do it.
These drills assume that you know how to do a proper press, push press, jerk, and/or thruster. If you don’t know what those are, find a coach and learn. If you know these movements and want to get better at them, start perfecting this technique. The difference between good and great is the attention to detail. Put in the time to focus on this one technique, and watch your numbers go up and times go down (since this technique is key for cycling shoulder to overhead movements in a metcon). We should all be in pursuit of virtuosity, doing the common uncommonly well. This will bring you one step closer.