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Start Where You’re At

June 8, 2011 01:47 PM

Jeff Rush
Jeff with his son, Rush.
Starting where you’re at seems like a rather obvious and somewhat silly statement. Unfortunately, though, many of us try and start significantly farther down the course than we’re physically able to. Very few of us would try and squat 800 lbs before we had ever done 400. But for some reason most of us jump right into some lifts that require a lot of mobility and a high skill level like the Bent Press and Sots Press. I don’t want to discourage anyone from learning these lifts, but you do need to face the facts before attempting them. If you can’t stabilize your torso and keep your shoulder packed on a standing press, you’re not likely to be able to do it from the bottom of a squat for a Sots. Lacking the thoracic and hip mobility for a smooth and powerful Get Up is a guarantee that you haven’t developed the attributes necessary for a good Bent Press.
But once you have developed the requisite mobility, stability, and strength required for the more technical lifts, I encourage you to give them a try. However, jumping right in is seldom the right choice for most of us. The key is progressive steps from a place that you’re comfortable.
Let’s look at the Sots Press.
Of course, being a good overhead presser and squatter is the pre-requisite. A good overhead press isn’t just weight. Good means that you have good thoracic extension, scapular retraction, packing of the GH joint, and don’t anteriorly tilt the pelvis, which places unacceptable stress on the lumbar spine. A good squat is rock bottom with the knees tracking the toes. This means that the thighs are pointing in the same direction as the feet to avoid torque on the knee joint. It also requires the same torso stability as the overhead press. If you have to posteriorly tilt the pelvis and round the lower back to squat rock bottom, you’re not ready.
Unfortunately, most of us have more enthusiasm than skill. I’m pointing fingers at myself here. Being very strong and mobile, but not very stabile is a recipe for pain. I was the guy that pressed big weights with the lumbar hyperextension, and squatted big with the low back flexed. Like a lot of you reading this, I was VERY good at cheating my structural alignment with strength and false mobility. Somehow, I managed to pull off some decent weights with a Sots Press and a lot of other things. Eventually though, it ALL caught up with me. Like Brett says, if you keep driving full speed with the front end misaligned, bad things are likely to happen.
Think about that for a minute, I wasn’t stabilizing my hips and spine for presses and squats, but went ahead and pressed from the bottom of a squat and stood up with it. Not too bright, huh? I probably should have changed the name here to protect the guilty. But how many of YOU are doing the same sort of thing? Trust me on this one, glory is temporary, pain is forever. If you’re willing to take a risk with your body, make sure that the reward is equal to that risk. Unfortunately, youth keeps us from thinking about things like that. Old age keeps us from forgetting it.
So, assuming that you have developed a good squat and a good press, you’re ready for the Sots Press. But instead of jumping right in to a full Sots, let’s ease in. Try squatting with two bells, and only pressing one. It helps to treat the racked bell as an anchor by actively pulling the bell down with the lat. Then move to alternating and see-saw presses from the squat. When it’s comfortable and strong, press one bell and overhead squat. Re-rack and repeat on the other side. When your one arm Sots is good, you may progress to two bells. Try what I refer to as the wave press from the squat. Press the right bell. Press both. Press the left. Press Both. Repeat until you’re strong and mobile. When you’ve become solid in the bottom with two bells overhead, you may stand up.
We used a similar progression at the Summit of Strength last year and a large number of very experienced RKC’s actually performed their first real Sots Press. To see a condensed version of the progression, click on the link.
When moving to a new lift, especially a high skill one, take a minute to assess not just where you want to go, but where you’re starting from. A little honest self-assessment and realistic progressions will go a LONG way towards a long, healthy, and pain free quest for strength.

Jeff O’Connor is a Master RKC. Although he has a deep affection for picking up heavy things in odd ways, his primary focus is the development of young athletes. He can be reached at and see him live at the Summit of Strength in July for details.