by Thom Van Vleck
The Bent Press is a very unusual lift. It is difficult for just anyone to perform even with an empty bar, but with practice fantastic poundage’s can be lifted as evidenced by men such as Arthur Saxon (370lbs officially and 385 unofficially). In the USAWA I believe that Bob Burtzloff was the finest bent presser our organization has seen. Bob had the top Bent Press in the Missouri Valley All-Round Record List with an official competition lift of 209 pounds in 1985. In 1984 I saw Bob do a 225lb Bent Press at Sailor’s Gym in Wichita after an old odd lift meet and was told at that time he had done 253lbs. Al Myers has told me that Bob’s best training Bent Press was 275 pounds! Just recently at the Heavy Lift Championships in York, PA I witnessed the heaviest Bent Press that has been done officially in the USAWA. David Whitley joined the USAWA following the meet with the sole intent of doing a record Bent Press. He performed a 137 pound Bent Press with the bar using both arms. To me, it looked like he could have done much more but just settled for setting the All Time record on this day. Dennis Mitchell has been the most proficient Bent Presser in the history of the USAWA. At the age of over 60, Dennis performed a Bent Press of 88 pounds weighing only around 175 pounds. Dennis has the most USAWA Records in the Bent Press, totalling over 25 in number. He has told me that his best Bent Press when he was younger was 175 pounds, which was bodyweight. That is quite impressive and should be the goal of anyone wanting to achieve excellence in the Bent Press. The Bent Press has been criticized as a dangerous lift by some, and lauded as a great lift by others. If done properly, I feel it is not dangerous at all.
Here are the USAWA rules on the lift:
The lift begins at the lifter’s discretion. The bar may be taken from the platform to the shoulder in any manner. This may be done with a one arm clean, or with two hands, or stood on end and taken onto the shoulder using one or two hands. The bar will then be gripped in the center by one hand with the bar parallel to the platform. Once the lifter is in a standing position, with the bar held at the shoulder, the body is bent forward and sideways while the bar remains in a stationary position. This bending away is continued until the lifting arm becomes straight. The body will be in a bent over position at this point of the lift. The bar is allowed to rotate in any direction during the lift. The non-lifting arm may rest on the body or legs during the lift. Width of feet placement is optional. The lifting elbow may be brought into contact with the hip during the lift. Once the bar is locked out and the lifting arm straight, the lifter may stand when ready. The lifter may use the non-lifting arm as support on the knee or thigh. The lifting arm must remain straight once locked out. The lift will end on command from an official when the lifter is upright, the feet parallel and in line with the torso, the non-lifting hand free from the body, and the bar overhead and motionless.
Al reprinted a great story by Arthur Saxon in the USAWA news titled “What it feels like to lift 350 pounds with one hand” and I recommend going back and reading that one if you missed it or re-reading it if you have an interest in this lift. Personally, I believe the Bent Press is an exercise that if done properly (and getting flexible enough to do it properly) is very beneficial. But trying to just go to the gym and “do it” could lead you to real injury trouble. So, read the rules, watch some videos, try to find someone like Dennis, Bob, or David who are proficient at it to coach you and then “GET AFTER IT”!