Pullover and Push: Old School “Bench Pressing”

Pullover and Push as demonstrated by the great Arthur Saxon. He was a favorite of JWC "founding father" Dalton Jackson

by Thom Van Vleck

Those of you who know me know that I can’t make things simple.  I put a lot of thought into things and when I was thinking about lifts for the 2011 USAWA Nationals to be held June 25th in Kirksville, Missouri this process was in overdrive.  I wanted a pressing movement and I also wanted a lift that would honor my grandfather in some way.  Well, he was a big fan of Arthur Saxon and when I saw this photo in the USAWA photo archive it just sealed the deal for me that the Pullover and Push would be that “pressing” movement in the list of lifts for Nationals.

Let’s review the rules to make sure we know how to do the lifts!

A35.  Pullover and Push

The lifter will lie on his/her back on the platform with the bar placed on the platform above the lifter’s head.  Padding, such as a towel or mat, may be placed under the lifter’s body and elbows. The bar is gripped with the palms of the hands facing up and with the bar at arms’ length prior to the start of the lift.  Width of hand spacing and feet placement is optional. The lift begins at the lifter’s discretion. The lifter is allowed multiple rolls with the bar on the platform to gain momentum to the bar. Hands must remain on the bar throughout the lift. The lifter will then pull the bar over and onto the chest or upper abdomen resulting in the upper arms resting on the platform. The bar must not be rolled once on the chest. The bar or plates must not make contact with the platform once the bar leavesthe platform or it will result in disqualification. The lifter is allowed to move or lift the feet and hips during the pullover. Once the bar is on the chest or abdomen, the lifter may move the feet close to the hips, and raise the hipsto create a bridging or belly toss to propel the bar to arms’ length. This is done at the lifter’s discretion. The lifter is allowed feet and hip movement during the push. The lifter may press the bar instead of pushing the bar if desired.  Once the push has begun, the bar must not be lowered in any manner. Only one attempt at the push is allowed. The bar must lock out with even extension. Once the arms are straight, the lifter must lower the hips to the platform and straighten the legs to a flat position on the platform. The arms must remain straight during this time.   When the lifter and bar are motionless, an official will give a command to lower the bar. The lift ends when the bar is returned to the platform under control. It is acceptable to drop the bar behind the head in the return to the platform as long as the lifter maintains hand contact with the bar.

Now, you have to make sure you distinguish this lift from the Pullover and Press and the Pullover and Press with Wrestler’s Bridge.  They are often confused.  The last thing I will say is that if you have a big nose or a big head…..you may want to turn your head when you pull the weight over to the push position!  If you’ve ever done this lift, you know what I mean!  Now, come to the Nationals and try it first hand!

The Pullover and Push Part 3 – Technique and my Secret Tips

by Al Myers

Al Myers attempting a 475# Pullover and Push at the 2004 Dino Gym Challenge

Since Part 1 already covered the rules of the Pullover and Push, I am going to assume everyone knows what is expected regarding the rules of this lift.  I am going to cover things here that AREN’T in the rules – and hopefully give you suggestions that will help you improve upon this lift. First of all, the Pullover and Push is a violent exercise and not for the “faint of heart”.  It is no wonder the modern day Bench Press has replaced it.  It is very easy to get hurt doing this exercise, and just being off a little in position and  technique can result in injury.  I have incurred several injuries myself from this exercise, and I consider myself knowledgeable of the proper technique. At the 2007 Nationals I fractured a carpal bone in my wrist. I have suffered bruised ribs, lacerations to the elbows, bruises to the chest area, wrist injuries, and even a couple of times been knocked unconscious from failing to get my head turned adequately when pulling the bar over my head. Now with THAT being said, if you don’t want to take any of my advice I would completely understand, and maybe THIS LIFT is one you might not want anything to do with!  But All-Rounders are a hard-headed group of lifters (myself included), and for some reason like pain and punishment.

A lot of lifters have benched pressed over 500 pounds, with some even doing it without bench shirts and with long pause counts on the chest.  But NO ONE has done over 500 pounds in the Pullover and Push!  I do think this is possible some day, but it will take a unique lifter who wants to specialize in this lift.  One big problem with the Pullover and Push is that it is not a good lift for large lifters.  Large lifters with big chests have an obstacle that smaller lifters don’t have – that is first you have to get the bar pulled over your head and chest to even START the push.  I have seen many strong bench pressers fail in even getting 200 pounds in position on the chest.  It is humbling to be a 400 pound plus bencher and fail with 200 pounds in the Pullover and Push! However, it will take someone with good size to be able to “break” the 500 pound barrier.  I think the “ideal body size” for putting up big weight in the Pullover and Push is a lifter around 6 feet tall that weighs between 220 pounds and 240 pounds. The height is needed to enhance an arch (or bridge) and 240 pounds is about the top bodyweight a lifter can weigh before excessive resistance is reached in the Pullover.

I was fortunate to learn many of “my secret techniques” from the best Pullover and Push lifter of All-Time – Bob Burtzloff. Bob has  the best lift of All-Time (and the All-Time USAWA Record) at 473 pounds, done in 1987.  Bob did over 200 kgs several times in competition.  You have to have “NO FEAR” when doing the Pullover and Push.  The Pullover and Push has a 1-2 punch, which you must be prepared for and overcome, before you will get to the Push portion of the lift.  The first “Punch” is the bar slamming into your chest during the Pullover, and the second “Punch” is the bar impacting your abdomen. You must have your abs “tighten up” when this happens or it will knock the breath out of you. Much like a hard punch to the gut.  I like to roll the bar three times on the platform, with the last roll pulling with EVERYTHING I got. I do the first two rolls to get me mentally prepared, much like a basketball player who will bounce the ball a set number of times before a free throw.  It is called a Pullover, but THAT is far from how it should be executed, as a pullover implies that you are lifting the bar onto the chest.  Instead, the bar should be PROPELLED onto the chest by the momentum of the rolling bar. Some of these tips on the pullover don’t really apply to smaller lifters – as I have seen lightweight lifters literally roll the bar into position onto the chest/abdomen without the plates ever leaving the platform.  It is very important to turn your head to the side when the bar is coming over the face as to prevent that knockout blow to the jaw. Once the bar has passed over the face I like to quickly turn my head face up and RAISE my head up as I think it helps drop the chest slightly to help the bar reach its desired location on my upper abdomen. Make sure you wear a shirt that doesn’t have a sticky vinyl logo on the front of it. Do everything you can do to reduce friction on the chest.  I like to wear a tight white T-Shirt.   Another “trick” is to take a wide grip on the bar (snatch grip).  This will shorten the length of “stroke” needed in finishing the push. Even if you are against wrist wraps, this is one lift where you should wear them.  The wrists have to “turn over” hard and fast in the transition between the pullover and the push, and lots of stress is placed on them.  I also recommend wearing a weight belt.  The bridge places lots of pressure on the lower back and a belt helps support the back.  I will wear my belt slightly higher on my abdomen than when doing a deadlift, and after I buckle it I leave a loop of belt sticking up. I have on occasion over pulled the bar to the abdomen and if not for this loop of belt “blocking” the bar and causing it to stop, I would have not have been in position to do the push.  Two styles of Pushing are used. Smaller lifters tend to pull the bar to the abdomen, let it pause while pulling the feet under, and lift it as high as possible with the bridge before finishing it out with a slight press. Larger lifters (like myself at 6 foot and 250 pounds) like to rebound it quickly from the abdomen to arms’ length.  To do this the feet must already be in position by the hips because you will need to bridge quickly. My biggest weights lifted have happened with this technique as I feel I get a “rebound” effect from the abdomen going directly into the bridge. Much like the rebound effect in the Clean and Jerk. However, everything has to be timed perfectly, because if you are slightly out of position you will lose the  direct line of push and miss the lift.  I find it important to have a mat under my body during the lift. Most lifters do this to cushion the impact of the elbows, but I find I need it to help “stick” myself to the platform.  On a slick wood platform during the  pullover without a mat, I will pull myself towards the bar and slide on the platform. It is best to use a mat that is thin with a rubber backing.  Usually these are not available in competition, so I resort to using a towel which works adequately.

I consider someone who is very proficient in the Pullover and Push to be able to do 150% of bodyweight. A goal everyone should have is to be able to do bodyweight. You are also considered good at the Pullover and Push if you can outlift your best raw Bench Press. You should DEFINITELY be able to do more in the Pullover and Push than the Pullover and Press!  I hope I have given a few tips that will help you improve your training in the Pullover and Push.

The Pullover and Push Part 2 – History

by Al Myers

Arthur Saxon performing the Pullover and Push

Just like the stories of Milo Steinborn developing the Steinborn Lift because squat stands didn’t exist, Old Time great strongmen like Arthur Saxon and George Hackenschmidt were performing the Pullover and Press and the Pullover and Push on the floor before the bench press existed.  This was the only way at the time to do a supine press since benches for bench presses weren’t around yet. The Pullover and Press (where the lifter lies flat and performs a strict press unlike the Pullover and Push where the lifter can arch) was performed before it “evolved” into the Pullover and Push. I can just imagine the lifter’s comments at the time when the first lifter did “the Push” instead of “the Press”. Much like the comments I here now when you see big bench presses put up with an armored reinforced bench shirt on!!  Such comments as, “THAT’S not a real bench press!”, “If you wear a bench shirt, you’re a cheater!”.  And so on.  Back then I bet you would hear comments like, “THAT”S not a real pullover and press!”, and “If you got to bridge like that, you’re a cheater!”. So, really nothing has changed in over 100 years of arguments and debates involving supine pressing! My opinion is that the Pullover and Push is a different lift compared to the Pullover and Press (just as benching with a shirt on is compared to without) and everyone should treat it that way.  Arthur Saxon even made this comment regarding the Pullover and Push in his book The Development of Physical Power “A more genuine test, perhaps, is to lay perfectly flat, and slowly press the barbell overhead.” And this came from our hero Arthur Saxon who HELD the record in the Pullover and Push for some time with a lift of 175 kilograms in the early 1900’s.

The Pullover and Push was contested heavily between 1900 and 1930, at which time the more modern Bench Press gained popularity. The Pullover and Push pretty much disappeared as a competitive lift after that, and most weightlifters at the time didn’t even know how to perform it. However, the Pullover and Push made a resurgence in the mid 1980’s with the organization of modern-day All-Round Weightlifting.  It is now one of the most popular lifts in All-Round competitions.  Of the over 200 official All-Round lifts, I can count on at least one meet per year will have the Pullover and Push in it.

Some of the best Pullover and Push lifters among Old Time Strongmen include Arthur Saxon (175 kg), Harold Wood (175.2 kg), and George Lurich (201.5 kg).  Lurich set this World Record in 1902 in Leipzig, Germany, but since he was wrestling professionally at the time, this was considered “the Professional Record”. Modern day All-Rounders have posted significantly higher records, possibly due to modern day bars and plates that allow the bar to reach the chest/abdomen easier.  These are the modern day best Pullover and Push records – all of which were done in official competitions.

Adrian Blindt (70 kg BWT) – 177.5 kg
Rick Meldon (80 kg BWT) – 190 kg
Phil Anderson (90 kg BWT) – 202.5 kg
Steve Angell (100 kg BWT) – 180 kg
Bob Burtzloff (110 kg BWT) – 215 kg
Al Myers (120 kg BWT) – 204.1 kg

The research for these modern day record holders was done by Roger Davis, who wrote a splendid article about the Pullover and Press and the Pullover and Push in the March 2009 issue of MILO.  Roger’s article is the best article covering these lifts that has ever been written, and if you get a chance and want to read about the Pullover and Push in more detail than what I have done here, I recommend you get that copy of MILO and read it.

Tomorrow I am going to cover techniques used in the Pullover and Push, and even give away some of “my secrets” that I have learned about this lift over the years.

The Pullover and Push Part 1 – The Rules

USAWA President and the 2010 National Meet Director Denny Habecker likes the Pullover and Push, and he is including it in this year's National Championship.

by Al Myers

The Pullover and Push is one of my favorite All-Round exercises and it is going to be contested at this year’s USAWA National Championships. I thought it would be a good idea to cover some of the basics of this exercise, starting with the rules.

Rules for the Pullover and Push

The lifter will lie on his/her back on the platform with the bar placed on the platform above the lifter’s head.  Padding, such as a towel or mat, may be placed under the lifter’s body and elbows. The bar is gripped with the palms of the hands facing up and with the bar at arms’ length prior to the start of the lift.  Width of hand spacing and feet placement is optional. The lift begins at the lifter’s discretion. The lifter is allowed multiple rolls with the bar on the platform to gain momentum to the bar. Hands must remain on the bar throughout the lift. The lifter will then pull the bar over and onto the chest or upper abdomen resulting in the upper arms resting on the platform. The bar must not be rolled once on the chest. The bar or plates must not make contact with the platform once the bar leaves the platform or it will result in disqualification. The lifter is allowed to move or lift the feet and hips during the pullover. Once the bar is on the chest or abdomen, the lifter may move the feet close to the hips, and raise the hips to create a bridging or belly toss to propel the bar to arms’ length. This is done at the lifter’s discretion. The lifter is allowed feet and hip movement during the push. The lifter may press the bar instead of pushing the bar if desired.  Once the push has begun, the bar must not be lowered in any manner. Only one attempt at the push is allowed. The bar must lock out with even extension. Once the arms are straight, the lifter must lower the hips to the platform and straighten the legs to a flat position on the platform. The arms must remain straight during this time.   When the lifter and bar are motionless, an official will give a command to lower the bar. The lift ends when the bar is returned to the platform under control. It is acceptable to drop the bar behind the head in the return to the platform as long as the lifter maintains hand contact with the bar.