Getting strong takes time. Unfortunately, not all of us have lots to go around. It’s important, then, not to waste any of the time we do have on tedious weightlifting tasks. One of the more common ones that comes to mind is having to constantly clean the bar back up off of the ground during shoulder press, push press, and push/split jerk sessions. If you do not know how to bring the bar back down to your shoulders from an overhead position, properly, shoulder-to-overhead sessions aren’t going to consist of very much shoulder-to-overhead. And, quite frankly, ain’t nobody go time for that. Let’s not forget about the beating your collar bone usually takes when you do manage to lower the bar to your shoulders in your own unique, awkward sort of way. Knowing how to bring even the heaviest of weights back down to your shoulders properly will save you a ton of time, energy, and pain. As a special side bonus it will also, much like knowing how to bail a back squat, give you the confidence to try weights you wouldn’t normally think to try, and, it should go without saying, heavier weights mean a stronger/better you.
I like to refer to bringing the bar down from the top of a press/jerk as “cushioning” the bar. When performed correctly it is virtually pain free. As mentioned previously, it will also keep shoulder-to-overhead weightlifting sessions just that. It is a tad scary at first but if you’ve got a decent rack position you have nothing to worry about. Notice how Melody guides the bar down for the first quarter of the descent, but then let’s the bar free fall onto her shoulders. The freefall is inevitable and necessary mostly because the weight is too heavy to lower under control. Don’t believe me? Try lowing your 1RM push jerk back down to your shoulders while under complete control. Go slow. Let me know how that goes ((smirk)).
The only reason Melody isn’t writhing in pain in the video is because she dips immediately upon barbell contact with her shoulders. Not before contact. Not after contact. Timing is absolutely key and it takes a lot of practice. As an example, think about how you’d catch a raw egg that has been tossed to you. You wouldn’t just hold your hands out and let the egg hit you (I hope). Instead, you’d hold your hands out and pull them back immediately, in the same direction as the egg, as the egg entered your hands. The shoulder cushion is the same exact idea.
The cushion is simply a knee bend. In fact, it’s very similar to the dip during a pushpress/push jerk; the knees go out and the knees bend to about a quarter squat. Nearly all of the force of the barbell will be absorbed by the dip, hence the term “cushion”.
It all comes back to that pesky rack position. Let the bar roll into the backs of the fingers and get the elbows up as high as possible. This is the same rack position used during a front squat. It is the position you will begin and end the push press/jerk with. You won’t be able to cushion the bar unless you have a decent rack position. This means proper shoulder and wrist mobility (see below for stretching ideas). High elbows are important because it enables the bar to land on the shoulders during the cushion. The shoulders have a lot more muscle sitting atop them than the collar bone. If the bar is going to crash onto something you’re going to want it to be the shoulders. Take a look at Melody’s rack position. The height of the elbows raises the shoulders up so that the bar sits over the collar bone, not on top of it.
Begin the descent from the top by leading with the elbows. This is the single, biggest determinant of whether or not you will be able to successfully cushion the bar. Push the elbows directly away from you. The bar will lower naturally. By the time the bar reaches your shoulders your elbows will already be in the high position required of them. Notice in the video above how Melody pushes her elbows out and away from her face first as she begins to lower the bar.
If you can’t get your elbows high enough, bringing the bar back down from an overhead position is going to be an annoying, and painful, experience. The answer? Mobility, and lots of it. Below is one of my favorites.
I call it the nunchuk (a term the clever members of my Olympic Lifting class have affectionately coined). Ask a trainer for directions on how to perform it best.
Practicing The Cushion
Practicing cushioning the bar is absolutely necessary, but also very easy.
- Start with an empty barbell.
- Practice the rack position. This is the position you will start and end in, so it’s the most important thing you can do.
- Press the bar up to face height and lower slowly into an immediate, cushioned rack position.
- Press the bar up to face height and drop the bar into an immediate, cushioned rack position.
- Press the bar all the way up into an overhead position. Lower the bar slowly until mid face then drop quickly into an immediate, cushioned rack position.
- Press the bar all the way up into an overhead position. Lower the bar quickly from the top into an immediate, cushioned rack position.
- Repeat with heavier weight.
Cushioning In WODs
Properly cushioning the bar isn’t only the answer to going heavy overhead, it is also the answer to going really fast in WODs that have high rep, heavy to semi-heavy, shoulder-to-overhead requirements. Only those who know how to successfully cushion and, as a result, link together heavy shoulder-to-overheads will get the best times. That’s because cushioning allows for maximum efficiency. At the bottom of each rep the bar is resting on the shoulders. That means your wrists and hands get at least one second of rest from the heavy load every rep. It also for proper hip and leg recruitment during the dip and drive because you don’t have to worry about what in the world the bar is doing. You know what it’s doing. It’s sitting comfortably atop your shoulders waiting to be launched overhead again.