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:
- Lift heavy. I have found my 1-3RM was a great fit. Just remember, perfect form only!
- Lift often. Pepper your lifting throughout the day, every day. No days off here, comrade.
- Stay fresh. Manage fatigue. Keep reps fast so you can keep yourself from wearing down.
- 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.
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.
- 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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