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Danielle Vaji played softball at the University of Illinois, so she’s always been an athlete. But it takes a different kind of athleticism to hoist a 170-pound keg over your head or throw a 55-pound salmon for distance. Such were the challenges at the Strongest Woman in the World competition in August, which brought a bunch of really strong women to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, AK. Vaji handily won all five events and took home the title in the middleweight division. So, she’s exactly the person you go to for pointers on the keg press.
“I had never trained on the keg press until two or three months before the competition,” says Vaji, who works as a police officer in Dallas, TX. “I struggled at first because it seems similar to a log clean and press, but the keg is smaller and requires a different technique.” She notes that having a strong overhead press helps, but that the secret behind the keg press is to be explosive through the hips. “It’s a very dynamic movement that requires a lot of explosive power versus just raw strength.”
1. Tilt the keg sideways, squat down, and pick it up.
2. Bring the keg onto your lap lying sideways across your thighs.
3. Grab it with a “mixed grip,” with one hand on the edge closest to your body, and the other hand grabbing the edge farthest away.
4. Pull the keg close to your body as you begin to roll it up onto your chest, then explode through your hips and quickly press it up overhead in one swift motion. Alternatively, you can clean the keg up to your chest, hold it there for a beat, then drive through your legs to press it overhead.
“The key to getting it from your lap to overhead is how hard you can pull it into your body,” says Vaji. “This takes a lot of strength as you move it. Then you’ve really got to throw your hips out and up. If you can keep the momentum going and press the keg up in one motion, that’s easier than letting it sit on your chest.”
If your gym is keg-free and you don’t want to raid your nearest liquor store, you can try the next best thing: the log. This doesn’t simulate the move exactly, but the log press requires a similar motion. No log? In that case, Vaji suggests holding 45-pound plates on your lap and working on the explosive hip motion as you raise them overhead. “If you can’t get the hip explosion right, you can’t press it overhead,” she says.
Otherwise, she recommends regular overhead presses as well as big movements like the back squat and deadlift to build overall strength. From there, try power cleans, as the explosive movement translates well to kegs. “The keg is an awkward implement no matter what, but presses and cleans are a good start into developing the strength and movement required for the lift.”