How To Do A Bent Press

By Jen Sinkler

I’m gonna be honest with you: There really aren’t too many movements that I don’t like to do in the gym with any toy I have at my disposal (barbells, Valslides, kettlebells, dumbbells, you name it). It’s often reminiscent of an episode of Oprah’s favorite things around Movement Minneapolis: “You get a kettlebell swing!” “You get a barbell deadlift!” “You get a Valside hamstrings curl!”

But if I have to narrow it down, if you’re gonna make me, it’s the weirder lifts (Jefferson deadlift, anyone?) that really capture my heart. And that brings us to one of the most delightfully odd upper-body strength movements I’ve ever encountered: the bent press.

bentpress-jensinkler1-272x375Bent Over Backward

The bent press goes back, way back, to old-time strongman (and strongwomen) competitions. It was seen as a way to press—a bit of a misnomer, which I will explain in a moment—an enormous amount of weight overhead, perfect for the strongpeople performing in traveling circus shows. A pretty rad related story: A strongwoman named Kate Brumbach, otherwise known as The Great Sandwina, used to bent press her 165-pound husband overhead.

The bent press lives on today as a well-respected movement to grow upper-body strength, core strength, and even leg strength, plus improve thoracic mobility. I say well-respected because it’s lift that involves a reasonable degree of skill: Practice makes perfect with the bent press. You dig?

Get Bent

Okay, so here’s the fun part about the bent press: You don’t actually press the weight up, you get yourself down underneath it. It’s a rotational movement, a cousin of the windmill, and if you’re looking closely, you’ll notice the weight doesn’t move up much, if at all.

bentpress-jensinkler2-272x375Another fun fact: once you become well-versed at it, you’ll be able to bent press more weight than you can strict press overhead. Why? Because the leverages work to your advantage in the bent press. Here are a few cues I use:

  1. Starting with the kettlebell in a racked position, feet facing away from the kettlebell at approximately 45 degrees.
  2. Rotate at your thoracic spine and imagine placing the tip of your elbow on your sacrum, keeping your forearm perfectly vertical.
  3. Initiate the press portion by pushing your butt back, your shoulders down, and straightening your arm at the exact same rate. (If it helps, imaging that the Earth is a giant bottle of wine, and your body is the corkscrew.)
  4. Continue rotating your torso underneath the kettlebell, think of it as a very yucky thing that you need to get away from. Cue: “Eww, get it away, get it away.” Continue escaping under the kettlebell by pushing your shoulders down, your hips back, and straightening your arm until you’ve locked out the weight.
    Note: Some people’s bottom position of the bent press will look more like the bottom position of a windmill. Others’ will look more like a one-armed overhead squat. There is no right answer here, it depends on individual preference and flexibility.
  5. Stand up with it still locked out overhead.
  6. Return the weight to the racked position.

The movement goes like this:

How to Include It

The bent press is satisfying because you can work up to a tremendously heavy weight for a low number of reps. But that’s not the only way to include the bent press in your workouts: Once you’re super square on form, you can also include the bent press for higher reps with a lighter weight in your conditioning sessions, if you choose to. But before you do that, practice your arms off. Take as much time as you need to solidify your form and develop strength in that movement pattern.

Learning how to perform a wide variety of movements with safe, proper technique is one surefire way to ensure you get the most out of your training program, and stay injury-free. If you’re looking for a little more guidance with your workouts and want to beef up your exercise options, we can help!

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About the author:  Jen Sinkler

Jen Sinkler is a longtime fitness writer and personal trainer who talks about all things strength related at her website, She's a certified RKC 2 kettlebell instructor, and a powerlifting coach through USA Powerlifting. She also holds coaching certs through Kettlebell Athletics, Ground Force Method, Progressive Calisthenics, Onnit Academy, and DVRT (Ultimate Sandbag). Connect with Jen on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat (handle: jensinkler).

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