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How To Take Your Kettlebell Military Press To The Next Level! You Will Press More Than Ever!

By Ken Blackburn

CSI – Miami

Since I competed in the chair press and got 52 reps at the World Kettlebell Championships in Miami earlier this month, there has been a lot of speculation/investigation as to how this happened. To be honest, I am not sure how it happened either – thus, the title of this article. The title is also reflective of the on-going investigation involving Steve Cotter and I breaking every traffic law in Miami. However, according to our friend Jay Armstrong, because it happened in a rental car, it didn’t happen. It may also reflect a certain magenta singlet being reported stolen by the Russian team but found later in Marty Farrell’s hotel room covered in tequila and lipstick…..I know, I know….disturbing.

Oh well, to back up, let me describe the event first. The chair press involves cleaning 2 x 32kg bells, sitting down on a bench and then having 10 minutes to press the bells as many times as possible. The only place to rest is in the rack position.

Anyway, this has generated a lot of questions for a couple reasons. First, I did not train specifically for this event at ALL. I viewed this as a fun event and even had a good time joking with everyone while it was happening. Second, outside of doing demo rep’s for new clients, I have done ZERO pressing over the last 2 years. My focus has been centered on the competition lifts and assistance exercises – jerk, snatch, swing, jump squats, etc.

Even when I was pressing, I would describe myself as a strong presser but lacking stamina. A typical workout would be the basic 5 x 5 with 2-3 min rest periods. Granted, I did these with the 40kg bells but it’s still a long ways from the type of conditioning needed to do 52 reps with the 32’s.

So, we are back to the question – “Where did it come from”? I have some ideas and am going to break them down into 3 areas: physical, mental and nutritional. No worries – I won’t go in some crazy direction and reference power crystals, supplementing with Grizzly saliva and/or linking it back to the “Bowflex”. However, after every workout, I do watch the movie “300” on my couch alongside a life-size cardboard cutout of Mike Maher to raise T-levels. Cmon, don’t act like you have never done it!

Physical – I have to credit Valery Fedorenko in this regard! Despite being a lifetime athlete/trainee, I did not see huge increases in my competition numbers until I trained with him and implemented his methods. Focusing on the competition lifts/assistance exercises, training for time, transitioning to a more fluid/relaxed style of lifting etc has resulted in HUGE improvements in my conditioning and technique.

As it relates to the chair press, I think all the over-head work done for time at such high volumes via the jerk and snatch carried over to this exercise. As an example, when doing a 10 minute set of jerks, you have nowhere to rest but in the rack position or over-head. Thus, my shoulders are under varying degrees of tension the whole time. As for the actual jerk, although it is predominantly a leg exercise, I’m confident the ballistic nature of the lift for high volumes creates quite a bit of neuromuscular activity in the shoulder area. All of this I believe has contributed to my shoulders being conditioned to fire at a descent strength level for extended periods of time.

In addition to the above, Valery also teaches what best can be described as a fluid style of lifting. This promotes efficiency and thus higher work capacity. As an example, some k-bell schools of thought suggest generating maximal force on each rep. This is analogous to someone telling a boxer to make every punch a knockout punch. The end result – he/she fatigues sooner. Valery suggests only being tense where you need to be. To relate this back to the chair press, I only used the minimum amount of energy needed to press the weight up and used almost no energy bringing the weight back down. This translated into more reps!

Furthermore, the subtle hand and shoulder positions taught in the AKC approach are congruent with better mechanical leverage and thus less muscular fatigue. Again, this was something I was mindful of during my event.

Although this describes how I indirectly improved my chair press through the core competition lifts, going forward I will train the chair press directly since it will be a continued event at competitions. The training method will remain the same though – timed sets at a designated pace with a focus on mechanical efficiency.

Mental – Once again, I have to credit Valery in this area as well. The AKC style of lifting promotes lifting at a designated pace. Pacing may not sound like a big deal to some, but is incredibly important factor in achieving big numbers. As an example, when I pace myself around 8 reps per min, I can do 85 reps in the jerk over a 10 minute time-frame. If I sprinted from the beginning of my set to the end, I would not get that number and probably wouldn’t last the 10 minutes either. As a result, this type of lifting, builds patience and a relaxed mind set. I carried this over to my chair press set – approx. 5 reps per min for 10 minutes. Had I rushed and chose to go 15 reps a minute, I know my number would have been much lower.

Additionally, long sets with no breaks build mental toughness – period! There is an immense difference between racking a set of bells and not setting them down for 10 minutes vs. doing a set, putting the bells down, doing another set etc.

Nutrition/Recovery – I view training in a holistic sense and thus feel success/progress requires a multi-dimensional approach. In addition to the actual training its how you eat, sleep, think, manage stress etc. An area I have really made some significant changes in is nutrition. I worked with the guys here at VIP Nutrition in Flint, MI to put together a nutritional/supplement plan that would fully support my training. In a nutshell, I ensure I eat 5-6 meals a day with quality protein/carbs and supplement with a good multi-vitamin, amino acids, desiccated liver tablets, EFA’s and glutamine (I like Beverly Nutrition’s products In addition, per Mike Mahler’s advice, I added zinc, L-Carnitine “good fats” and ZMA before bed to keep my t-levels in check. Did I notice a difference in my performance and recovery? – Absolutely!!! I also took Mike’s suggestion on adding a sports massage at least a couple times a month to speed recovery. For more information in this regard, check out Mike’s website at

About The Author

Ken Blackburn is an AKC Coach and member of Team America living in Fenton, MI who recently won the world championship in the Chair Press, along with setting an American record in the Jerk. He is available for personal training, group workshops and online consulting. Please visit his website for more information


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