Chinese Food for Rapid Pressing Gains

As the saying goes: “To press a lot you must press a lot.”

It takes a lot of reps to build up to a respectable press. The challenge is that pressing is strong medicine and it can be pretty easy to fatigue your system. When that happens, instead of making daily pressing gains, you can actually move in the opposite direction — and that simply will not do.

The question is, therefore:

How can I put in the high reps required to develop strength (a.k.a. skill) in the press without overloading the nervous system?

The answer: American-style Chinese food.

Just hear me out.

What Chinese Food Has to Do With Rapid Pressing Gains

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to feel full when eating American-style Chinese food? You can keep eating, seemingly forever, and still have room for more. Eventually, though, it catches up to you, and you’re done. For the moment.

But just wait twenty minutes and you’re ready to eat again.

What if we could use the same principle to increase our press volume? Taking forever to get “full” and then, after a little break, being ready to start up again. Using rung-a-day programming, you can.

This approach helped me to raise my double military press using 70% of my bodyweight from a two-rep max to a five-rep max in ten days. Without breaking a sweat or burning out, I had 198 reps in a ten-day period shattering a long-standing plateau in record time. We accomplish this by combining two tools from Pavel’s arsenal: grease-the-groove (GTG) and ladders.

Grease the Groove

Unless you are new to Pavel’s work, you will be familiar with GTG (and if this is indeed new to you, then do yourself a favor and read The Naked Warrior). GTG is an amazing approach for getting a lot of work in while avoiding fatigue. I won’t go into the subtleties in this article, but let’s just review the key points:

  1. Lift heavy. I have found my 1-3RM was a great fit. Just remember, perfect form only!
  2. Lift often. Pepper your lifting throughout the day, every day. No days off here, comrade.
  3. Stay fresh. Manage fatigue. Keep reps fast so you can keep yourself from wearing down.
  4. Never, ever fail the lift or set. Failure is the enemy. Don’t flirt with the enemy.

All of these elements will be in place during rung-a-day. Now let’s whip up the secret sauce by combining the principles of GTG with ladders.

Wait, What’s a Ladder?

Ladders are a rep strategy used to get a lot of reps in. As Pavel discussed in Enter The Kettlebell, they are effective for getting all of that work done while controlling fatigue.

When performing ladders, you work your way from a single rep to your largest set adding a rep with each set. After that ladder is complete, you start again at 1. For example: for a 4 rung ladder, I do a set of 1, rest, set of 2, rest, set of 3, rest, set of 4. This gives me 1, 2, 3, 4, which equals ten reps in a pretty easy fashion. Ladders can have any number of reps, or rungs, depending on the goal.

Granville Mayers works on pressing gains
Granville Mayers, SFG II

GTG + Ladders = Rung-A-Day

Rung-a-day takes a different twist on ladders, though. Rather than working your way up the rungs in the course of a lifting session, you actually designate a number of reps for a particular day. In this way you work your way up from very small sets (singles) to large sets over the course of days. You stay fresh, your body has time to adapt to the increasing load, waviness is built in, and you get plenty of reps in to practice your press (as well as your clean and rack).

Your body has to get strong. It simply has no choice.

The plan gives rapid gains for pressing, so I’ve only ever used it as a short-term program for a two-week block or sometimes even less, depending on the goal. I’ve found it to be great to drive aggressive pressing goals, for a deload period or for a break, for both body and mind, from a current training approach.

Choose bells that are your 1-3RM but be sure you can press them with perfect technique. Never fail a rep and never fail to complete a set either. Junk reps will count as failure.

How to Do the Rung-a-Day Program for Presses

Start with a one-rung ladder. Practice often throughout the day doing one or more single reps anytime you are well-recovered. Keep all of the GTG principles in place.

Once you can do ten sets of your current “top rung” (or largest set) in a given day, you can add a rung to your ladder and start again with sets of 1 the next day. If you are not able to complete the ten sets with your top rung on the assigned day, you repeat the current sized ladder moving up through the rungs one day at a time until you get another shot at getting your 10 and moving up.

For example:

  • Mon: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 = 12 (More than 10 reps on top rung so add a rung for a total of 2)
  • Tue: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 = 18
  • Wed: 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2 = 16 (8 sets. Fewer than 10 sets means stay on the 2 rung ladder)
  • Thu: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 = 21
  • Fri: 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2 = 26 (More than 10 sets so add a rung for a total of 3)
  • Sat: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 = 16
  • Sun: 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2 = 34
  • Mon: 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3 = 30 (10 sets so add a rung for a total of 4)

Keep repeating ladders and adding rungs until you build to 10 sets of 5. At this point, you are well prepared to bump up to the next kettlebell size and the wheels keep on turning. Keep in mind we are staying fresh through GTG principles. You are not trying to max out every day. Listen to your body, and if you need to back off for a while, then do it. Maximize reps while minimizing fatigue.

I have found this plan very useful for rapidly putting in a lot of reps, dialing-in technique and improving skill with the press. Initial testing is also showing good response with squats and with chin-ups as well, but that is a discussion for another time. In the meantime, if you are looking for rapid gains in the pressing department, just remember — American-style Chinese food.

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Daniel Hanscom
SFG I
Daniel Hanscom (SFG) lives with his wife, Tara, in Grand Falls, New Brunswick, Canada. He holds a Doctorate in Natural Medicine specializing in acupuncture. Daniel performs acupuncture in their clinic and also teaches kettlebell technique with Tara in their training facility, HBI Kettlebell Club. He is a self-professed nerd, number cruncher, and research addict who is happiest when analyzing and calculating data trends for the improvement of strength and health.
Daniel Hanscom on Email

30 thoughts on “Chinese Food for Rapid Pressing Gains

  • Awesome!
    I’ve set myself a challenge to progress a bell size in six weeks and this is exactly the info I need.
    Big thanks.
    If you would like to see how I get on check out : Kettlebellpresschallenge.wordpress.com
    Benn

  • Does anyone know if Phil McDougal managd to press the Beast by following this programme? His post from 18 September says he was stuck on a 40kg press and had 5 weeks for an SFG event to press the Beast.

  • Just a follow up to my last post on the previous page. I completed the 2 week period outlined in my post although I didn’t always hit the total set goal. Some days, mostly on the 3rd or 4th rung I only got 10-15 sets in. This week I did a usual week of ROP with my 24kg and results are awesome. I finished up today with 5 x 5 rungs with relative “ease”, only taking one and a half minute breaks between each set. My last press was just as strong as my first.

    Also, received an unexpected small bonus from work last week so I went ahead and ordered up my 32kg. I received it in the mail on Wednesday after I had completed my medium ROP day, 5 x 4 rungs. I was able to press it once on each side with a little grind. Think I could have gotten 2, but didn’t wanna push it. Starting next week I will be sprinkling in the 32kg in my ROP ladders. I will definitely run this program again. Probably when I completely convert over to the 32kg on my ROP ladders.

    Thanks again Daniel! This was a perfect way to get back into it coming off some bruised ribs. I thought it would take me a couple months to get close to where I was previously, not 2 weeks.

    • Hey Erik,
      Fantastic results! Thank you for sharing. As I wrote, I typically do short cycles with Rung-A-Day programming. Why…? Because that’s all it takes. So great that you earned your strength back so quickly after your injury.

  • Hate to complain but I am confused as well. I started today with 10 sets of 3 24kg presses. If I understand right, I’m doing singles tomorrow and working up to 10 sets of 4 eventually, but how many singles should I aim to do?

    • You don’t want to start with sets of 3. With Rung-A-Day you ALWAYS start at sets of 1, even if you could do more. You have to earn the right to do bigger sets by hitting 10 sets of your current biggest rung (set). Also, you are not aiming for 10 all of the time. You will do more (or less) depending on if your body needs more work or more recovery. Just pepper the appropriate sized sets for that day throughout the day doing a set (or a few sets) whenever you are fresh.

      In a previous comment Chris clarified the program and example well:
      “Folks, I was a little confused at first but the key is that it is a rung per day so a 5-rung ladder takes five days:

      Day 1: Rung 1, 1 rep sets
      Day 2: Rung 2, 2 rep sets
      Day 3: Rung 3, 3 rep sets
      Day 4: Rung 4, 4 rep sets
      Day 5: Rung 5, 5 rep sets

      The other key is that Daniel says once you hit ten in your top set you start the ladder over from Rung 1 but add the next rung. So in his example he has

      Day 1, Rung 1 (hits 10+)

      Day 2, Starts ladder over at Rung 1
      Day 3, Rung 2 (fewer than 10)

      Day 4, Rung 1
      Day 5, Rung 2 (hits 10+)

      Day 6, Rung 1
      Day 7, Rung 2
      Day 8, Rung 3 etc …”

      The program is designed to evolve with you so there is no exact answer about how many sets… sets and reps will differ with each person depending on how well their body’s adapt. That is the nature of Grease The Groove… It is free rather than fixed. Just re-read that section and keep each of the principles in mind as you train.

  • Do you wait a day or two after the GTG ladders to peak for your next rep test? Or do you just go from your ladders (working up to a day of 5 reps in ten sets would take 15 days if all goes perfectly) and then on day 16 just test to see how many reps you can do?

    • Testing your reps to see if you can get 10 sets on your biggest set is just done day by day… It’s not so much a test as it is just another workday… As you said, if you didn’t have to redo any ladders and were able to hit the 10 each ‘test’ time you would work your way from singles to sets of 5 in 15 days. I would, however, take a couple of days to recover after working through the whole cycle in order to try a new PR. On the whole, though, if done properly, this program will leave you fresh throughout. If you aren’t feeling fresh you aren’t listening to when you need to back off a bit…

  • Is it possible to squeeze all this in for guys who work 8-5?

    This article is pretty timely for me. Bruised my ribs back in July and I am finally completely healed. Before the accident I was completing ROP ladders with the 24kg with 30 secs rest between each set. I was getting ready to jump to the 32kg. Since being healed I have done ROP ladders with 20kg and am now ready to start working with the 24kg again. Did some ladders yesterday up to the 3rd rung and felt a little shaky. I have lost a lot of strength. Hoping this program will regain my lost strength quickly.

    • That’s a great point Erik… Not every program fits every lifestyle or goal. That being said, I’ve used Rung-A-Day when I was working. Ideally, I was able to train at lunch to get a few sets in but this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes the day was too busy so it was a matter of doing some practice before leaving for work, upon getting home, and then peppered throughout the evening as well. Some days had 3 or 4 sets before breakfast. I found it pretty easy to get the volume in, even if it wasn’t ideal.

      I hope that this approach helps you to quickly reclaim the strength that you lost to injury. Good luck.

      • Thanks Daniel! The more I thought about it yesterday the more it made sense and I will be able to fit it in pretty easily. I am super excited to run this so I’ve begun right away. I counted Sunday as my first day since I did ladders 3 x (1,2,3) and yesterday I did 2 reps 10 times throughout the day. I am going to run this for 14 days using the following template.

        (reps/sets)

        Day 1: 1/15 Day 8: 3/15
        Day 2: 2/10 Day 9: 4/10
        Day 3: 1/20 Day 10: 1/30
        Day 4: 2/15 Day 11: 2/25
        Day 5: 3/10 Day 12: 3/20
        Day 6: 1/25 Day 13: 4/15
        Day 7: 2/20 Day 14: 5/10

        Using this pattern I will get over 500 reps in per side in 2 weeks. This about 200 or so more than running ROP 3 days a week for 2 weeks with way less stress on the body! Feels like cheating. After I run this I will test my strength with 1 week of ROP and see how close I am to my original level. I will report back with my results. Thanks again.

        • Lots of reps will help you get strong but only as long as you manage your fatigue… This program is quite different from most programs in that it doesn’t tell you exactly how many sets or reps to do. The program evolves and changes to suit the individual. Some days I would do 20-30 sets… other days I would only do 4 or 5. It just depended on where I was at the time. Just be careful to not be too rigid in plotting your course… If the work is adding up faster than your body can adapt you can burn out by forcing yourself to hit a certain number rather than just letting your body get what it needs.

  • After reading the explanation in the comments, I really like this plan. I think I’ll give this a try soon. Thanks for posting!

  • I haven’t tried it but when I saw it a light went off in my head. So simple. So logical. This is a must try.

  • No confusion here. Love the idea. I’ve been stuck at a mil press 1RM of 40kg for 10 weeks and can’t seem to cure my weakness. Need to press the beast in 5 weeks at SFG2 so will start banging out 36kg singles every 45-60 minutes throughout the day from tomorrow. Thanks Daniel. Strength & honour!

  • Daniel, very interesting program, thank you for sharing. Can’t wait to give it a try! Do you recommend doing no other training while doing this cycle or do you continue to condition and practice other skills, if de-emphasized?

    Folks, I was a little confused at first but the key is that it is a \rung per day so a 5-rung ladder takes five days:

    Day 1: Rung 1, 1 rep sets
    Day 2: Rung 2, 2 rep sets
    Day 3: Rung 3, 3 rep sets
    Day 4: Rung 4, 4 rep sets
    Day 5: Rung 5, 5 rep sets

    The other key is that Daniel says once you hit ten in your top set you start the ladder over from Rung 1 but add the next rung. So in his example he has

    Day 1, Rung 1 (hits 10+)

    Day 2, Starts ladder over at Rung 1
    Day 3, Rung 2 (fewer than 10)

    Day 4, Rung 1
    Day 5, Rung 2 (hits 10+)

    Day 6, Rung 1
    Day 7, Rung 2
    Day 8, Rung 3 etc . ..

    Daniel, is that right?

    Best,
    Chris

    • Excellent description, Chris. You are exactly right. Thank you for your input.

      When I do Rung-A-Day I typically put my attention on the pressing alone. The cycle is short and my biggest priority is to stay fresh and recover well for the double military press which is already such a demanding exercise for the body and the nervous system. I’ll be honest, though… Every once in a while I would bang out a few sets of swings just for the joy of it.

  • Thank you, very nice article.

    I would appreciate your help with one question. If I press heavy, I should warm-up, and warming up 20 times a day would take much longer than the pressing itself. What’s the catch?

    Best,
    Greg

    • I suppose it may depend on the individual but I never did any warm-up for my lifting while on this program except for swinging my arms a bit or a couple of shoulder rolls or head nods. The sets are very small and you only do a set if you are fresh… never approaching failure. Short sets keep concentration high and technique stays perfect. I never had any issues while keeping these things in mind and felt great throughout.

  • To me the “How to do it” section and the “For Example Section” don’t make sense. Why do you continue with singles on day 2 when you hit more than 10 sets on day1? Why do days 4 and 6 seem to contain random number of singles? Why does day 7 have sets of two when day 5 successfully hit more than 10 sets of doubles? I thought when you hit 10 sets you added a rung. Why am I the only one who doesn’t understand this post? 🙂

    • When performing ladders, after you perform your ‘top rung’ (largest set) you drop back down to 1 and build up to the new ‘top rung’ with the larger set. This is key when using ladders as it puts ‘waviness’ into the program. This is what keeps you fresh allowing for recovery. Normally ladders are done in the course of a session. With this program, however, the set sizes are stretched over the course of days. The number of reps on example day 4 and 6 seem random but simply have to do with managing fatigue. Do more if you feel fresh, less if you feel taxed. Exact rep numbers are not specified because fatigue depends on the person and the day.

      • Thanks Daniel. You cleared up what I didn’t see. So since the 8th day he hit 10 sets of three reps then adding the 4th rung would look like the following:

        Day 9: Starting the next rung (4th rung) back at sets of 1, more than 10 sets to comfortable stop

        Day 10: Sets of 2, more than 10 sets to a comfortable stop

        Day 11: Sets of 3, more than 10 sets (probably since did this already on day 8) to comfortable stop

        Day 12 Sets of 4. If you get 10 or more sets on to rung 5 on Day 13. If less than 10 sets then repeat 4th rung on Day 13 (basically repeat days 9 – 12).

        Thanks again for the explanation.

        • Yes, that is how the rungs (set sizes) would be assigned to each of the days. When you are covering rungs that you have already done, though, it’s not necessary to beat 10 sets every time. Pushing for 10 sets every day might end up being too much volume, especially once you get to the higher rungs.

          The only time you HAVE to hit 10 sets is on the top rung in order to add a rung to your next ladder. Other than that, you want to listen to your body and control for fatigue… sometimes it’ll be more than 10, other times it will be less.

    • You’re not alone… I’m a little confused, too. It seems to me if you can do 10 or more sets of your current rung, you jump up a rung the following day. That sounds pretty simple. However, the “Example” section doesn’t show that logic at all…

      • The program is simple to do… but challenging to explain sometimes. The confusion seems to come from resetting the reps down to 1. Yes, when you are able to do 10 reps of your largest ladder you add a rung to your NEXT ladder… The next ladder, though, starts on the following day with sets of 1. In the example, on day 1 (Mon) we get over 10 sets of 1. This means that our next ladder will have 2 rungs but with the new ladder we restart at sets of 1 for a day (day 2, Tues) then build up to sets of 2 the next day (day 3, Wed). From your top ‘rung’ (largest set) you always restart at 1 the next day and build up again. I hope this helps.

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