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Strongman competitions are serious tests of strength and fortitude where athletes lift kegs, pull trucks, and—for the Viking press—press platforms loaded with rocks or other objects above their heads.
Unlike the traditional overhead press, the Viking press is a combination of a free-weight movement and a machine, says Matt Mills, C.S.C.S., a pro strongman and the owner of Lightning Fitness in Windsor, CT. He says the fact that it can’t fall forward or backward makes the lift easier and safer for people, but the side-to-side movement still challenges your core as you work to keep the motion in a straight line.
Because the bar is attached to an endpoint, it moves on an arc. If you press straight up without leaning forward, the handles will be out in front of you, limiting how much weight you can lift. “This is why it’s so important to get your head through your arms at the top,” Mills says. “You are strongest when your joints are stacked on top of each other. So, at the locked-out position, the bar, wrist, elbow, and shoulder are in line.”
For non-strongmen, Mills also likes the move because of the neutral-grip position, which is easier on your connective tissue and therefore takes some of the pressure off your shoulders.
Mills says that many people who have rotator cuff issues aren’t able to press a bar pain-free, but they can do a neutral-grip Viking press or a Swiss bar bench press without feeling pain. “I also find the lats can be tighter with a neutral grip, which helps to protect and stabilize the shoulders,” he adds.
If you don’t have access to a Viking press, you can gimmick it. Place two barbells across the safety bars of a power rack. The side you press from should be one notch lower than the stationary side—you want your barbells at a slight angle. Mills also places 10-pound plates on the far end against the inside of the safety rack to lock the bars in place. Now take a barbell in each hand and press. To increase the load, add weight to the side you press.
Companies like Titan Fitness also make a Viking press attachment that fits onto the end of a barbell for around $50. In that case, just set one barbell across the rack, grasp the handles, and press. However, Mills notes that using two individual bars gives you the added option of doing single-arm work.