Every high school athlete should have both horizontal and vertical pushing strength. Horizontal pushing strength is built through exercises like push-ups and dumbbells or barbell bench press—vertical pushing strength by any exercise where you push weight overhead.
Whether an athlete’s sport involves overhead movement or not, developing vertical pushing strength is necessary. Exercises like this create stability and resiliency in the shoulder joint, shoulder blades, and the surrounding muscles.
Pressing Overhead Demands
Sometimes it’s not the best idea for youth athletes, who are still growing and developing, to press a loaded barbell directly overhead. Athletes in throwing sports need to be especially careful. Baseball or softball pitchers, for example, need to work on the stability of their shoulders but have to be very careful about how they do it.
Pressing weights directly overhead can put a demand on the shoulder that causes more harm than good to someone who repetitively executes the same motion day in and day out.
An essential landmine press is often a better alternative for developing athletes in these sports. Pressing a bar at a 45-degree angle with the shoulder in a neutral position (thumb-up) builds strength and stability in the shoulder, very similar to pressing directly overhead. The difference – the landmine press keeps the head of the shoulder and the shoulder blade moving collectively through a path of motion that’s less likely to aggravate the joint.
Adding Leg Drive
Using the legs to make this a push-press movement can be even more effective in creating specific strength and stability for young athletes. The dynamic movement demands they learn to transfer force from their lower bodies to their upper bodies. Learning this skill increases general athletic coordination that can be harnessed for any sport you can think of.
The landmine push-press loads and strengthens the legs and trunk as the barbell is thrust upward and pushed in place. The trunk is really forced to work hard to create stability in the body and support the shoulder’s efforts to guide and hold the bar. To do this movement well, an athlete must create the ability first to move explosively and then stop suddenly with a rigid, stable body.
Because the legs are involved, the athlete can load the bar heavier and still do the movement well. With heavier weight, whether you choose the single or double arm variation, athletes can build greater levels of strength and challenge shoulder and total-body stability.
The Landmine Press Set-Up:
Place the bar against a corner of a wall or squat rack if you don’t have a landmine press holder.
Hold the bar by the head of the sleeve (cup your hands if you’re using two arms or place the head of the bar at the middle of one of your shoulders if you’re using one arm)
- Bend the knees and descend into a quarter squat keeping your torso upright.
- Push against the ground hard as if you were jumping (let your heels come off the ground from the explosive movement but keep the balls of your feet in contact with the ground)
- Guide the bar at a 45-degree angle as your shoulder fixes in place ( the bar should be over the crown of your head when you lockout)
- Try to time the lockout of your elbows to happen the same time as your heels touch back to the ground.
Keeping It Safe
The position the athlete pushes from and the angle the bar is pressed at makes it a self-correcting exercise. This means it reduces the chance of injury. Especially competitive athletes can sometimes push too hard in the weight room. You often see these athletes grinding out reps on a bench press or other upper-body lifts in questionable positions.
The landmine push-press, the bar almost needs to be driven up fluidly and locked in the correct position, or it can’t be done. It’s tough to force a rep in a potentially dangerous position as you could with other lifts. If the athlete can’t complete the rep, the bar floats back down to the starting position without much jarring to the shoulder. Athletes can also step out of the way of the bar if they can’t lock it out or control it down and let it drop to the floor, especially if they have access to bumper plates.
A couple of main keys to performing the movement well and building strength without injury include first to keep the elbow facing in with the thumb pointing up throughout the entire movement fighting any urge to turn the elbow out. This guarantees the shoulder stays in a neutral position, one that’s both very strong and very resilient to injury.
The second key is to keep the trunk engaged to keep the low back from excessively arching during the dip and drive so the legs can drive the bar up with enough force.
Strength training for sports needs to be calculated and take into account every variable. Young athletes need strength training not only to build strength and power but also to prevent injury. But the tools that they use need to take into account what compliments their sport, not what gives them more of the same type of repetitive stress.