The Pause That Comes Before a Successful Press

I attended the SFG Level II Certification in Budapest last year for re-certification. As you know, the Level II has a military press requirement (for men, it’s half bodyweight). As my bodyweight had increased since my first Certification, so did my half bodyweight press test — from 40kg to 44kg.

But no problem — two weeks prior to the Level II, I pressed the target weight on two different occasions. And the morning of day one  of the SFG Level II Certification, I pressed 40kg for four repetitions.

A few hours later at the actual test, the 44kg didn’t budge.

Master SFG Fabio Zonin pointed out that I wasn’t pausing the kettlebell long enough before the lift, therefore even had I made the lift, he wouldn’t pass me. I brought his words and the half-bodyweight press issue back home and started to rethink my strategy.

Failed Press Test SFGII
The moment of my failed press test

A Re-Examination and a Re-Test

My training log on September 2nd shows I could not press 44kg with a one-count pause in the rack position. I came to realize that a suggested one-count pause with the kettlebell racked was not long enough. Linguistic issues may have caused this. A “one” is “ichi” in Japanese and sounds like “itch” and could be shorter than typical “one” count. So I decided to pause for two counts.

My training did not go beyond kettlebell basics, but I added some armbar and bent (crooked) armbar series. Ring pull ups and hanging leg raises complemented the training well. A month after the SFG Level II, three attempts of 44kg press went well and I submitted the one with longest pause to Master SFG Fabio Zonin.

What did I do differently? Two things. I stole one idea from an American military strategist and another from a Chinese martial arts book.


OODA Loop stands for observe, orient, decide, act. This model, created by Colonel John Boyd of the United States Air Force, became my training log format.

For example, in one pressing session:

  1. Observe – Stiff left shoulder
  2. Orient – In need of loose shoulder
  3. Decide – Armbar series and Windmill
  4. Act – 12 kg armbar 1 rep etc.

Then loops back to:

  1. Observe – Shoulder loose enough
  2. Orient – Well coordinated hip (from Windmill)
  3. Decide Military Press
  4. Act -36 kg 3 reps
  1. Observe – Stronger rack position
  2. Orient – Continue press?
  3. Decide – Yes
  4. Act – 36kg 3 reps for 2 sets
  1. Observe – Need to loose hip for next set of press
  2. Orient – Lower body stretch
  3. Decide – ASLR (Active Straight Leg Raise) from FMS
  4. Act – ASLR left/right
  1. Observe – Better press
  2. Orient – Raise weight to 40 kg?
  3. Decide – Sensing impingement in my left shoulder, empty handed bent press
  4. Act – Fist bent press for shoulder reliever 5 reps

The list goes on.

This strategy gave me the opportunity to review the effect after each set. Prior to this approach, weight/reps/sets were the subject of training. Since I incorporated this idea, I began to add various supplemental drills such as joint mobility works, pull-ups, and ab-related training.

Successful 44kg Kettlebell Press
My successful 44kg press

Finding My Mental Space Before Each Press

Not that I know anything about Chinese martial arts, but I do know a few quotes from Han Shi Yi Quan by Han Xing Qiao. “The more we stand still, more movement internally” and “Some physical movements are dead internally” were good tips for my momentary pause before press. It means even at a pausing moment, the body is active at cellular level getting ready for next action.

In the course of this momentary pause, I set an imagery of finding spaces in joints and unused muscles.  Suppose racking a 44kg kettlebell tenses 70% of all the body muscles and the other 30% are scattered through out the body. At the pause, my mindset is to recognize the unused 30% energy source as much as possible. This is not science, but mental imagery has its place when lifting gets heavy.

Currently, I feel like I owned my way to progress further. I recently pressed double 36kg using the same mental approach. Weight, reps and sets may be important, but what you depict in your mind is a huge factor.

Taikei Matsushita
Taikei Matsushita is and SFGII and is currently teaching kettlebell workshops, classes, and private sessions in Tokyo, Japan. He was certified by Pavel first in 2007 and has been active teaching and distributing the values of the kettlebell in Japan. He became a vice chairman of NPO Japan Association of Russian Kettlebell in February 2014.

5 thoughts on “The Pause That Comes Before a Successful Press

  • In hindsight do you think it was a mistake to press 40 for reps the day of the test? Usually one better rests before competition/test.

    • Yes, I was cocky for doing that.

      Last October when I assisted level 2 in Korea, I warmed up doing 2 sets of single reps with 40kg.
      Turned out well with 44kg press.


    Well done.

    The press is a cerebral lift at the more advanced levels of mastery.

    Certainly activating or accessing latent muscles, chi which is not fully focused are awesome points and even if you only access a small % of 30% it makes a huge difference.

    Stick with those heavy Double Presses – no better posture, flexability, abdominal, vertical power movement in my opinion.

    Many look at the press as a predominantly shoulder and arm movement, but when properly performed everything muscle from the toes to the nose are involved. Do it right and you will feel them the next day and watch them becoming denser/stronger.

    Thank you for your perseverance, once you lock on you don’t let go and I respect that.

    You know I respect you as I have told you as much.

    Merry Christmas ! and Happy Holidays !

    Russ Moon

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