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There's been a lot of talk lately about functional strength. It's become chic for strength coaches to lay out programs designed to improve athletic ability by working the body in a manner which
incorporates several muscle groups working in tandem. Even many of the newer exercise machines lay claim toward development of the stabilizer muscles. This high-tech approach is regarded as a
state-of-the-art technological breakthrough in the science of exercise form and function, yet its roots are based on the most primitive of concepts. The body works as a unit. Muscles are not
independent of one another, and real strength isn't so much a matter of good form as it is a matter of all the elements of power integrated into each movement. That means force, speed, contraction,
balance and momentum.
One such functional strength principle is "cheating," wherein you swing the weight in an effort to complete a rep. Cheating will help you get stronger, but experts discourage its practice because of several factors, the most important being the possibility of injury. Sloppy form and a loose lifting style have caused many a pulled back and torn tendon. Advanced bodybuilders commonly use "controlled cheating" - staying aware of the form while simultaneously using momentum to lift the weight. Obviously this technique takes some practice as well as a good understanding of lifting basics. For this very reason the following exercise isn't intended for beginners. A big difference between this approach and most cheating movements is that it places direct stress on several targeted muscle groups, whereas other cheating strategies remove direct stress via the use of momentum. Nevertheless, this exercise requires a solid foundation since it will prove challenging to even the most advanced bodybuilders because of its intricate changes in direction. Wimps need not read any further! This is serious.
The exercise to which I'm referring is the two-hand dumbell swing press. Never heard of it? I'm not surprised. Although it's a powerlifting move in nature, the dumbell press has never been recognized as a competitive lift in either Olympic events or powerlifting meets. It gained some popularity among British lifters in the '60s but has been all but discarded. Today Olympic lifters and powerlifters concentrate on the movements that are judged in competition. Bodybuilders rarely use it because most train in a way that isolates specific bodyparts. Working the body as a whole just doesn't fit into the plan. Be that as it may, few exercises are as difficult and as effective for building functional strength, muscularity and overall power as the two-hand dumbell swing press.
One of the reasons this exercise is such a tremendous strength-builder is that holding two dumbells overhead is much harder than holding a barbell of equal weight. Since the bar of a barbell is rigid, it allows even distribution of weight and stability between the supported plates. Dumbells, on the other hand, are free to move in any direction, so you have to support the weight and keep both the right and left sides under control. With a move like this the weight can drift backward, forward or out to the sides. Thus any lift involving dumbells builds greater strength and musculature than a comparably weighted barbell.
For those of you who aren't intimidated by these factors, here's how to correctly perform the two-hand dumbell swing press. Don't attempt this movement without properly stretching and warming up.
1 First of all make sure you have ample clearance. Since most gym-goers wouldn't expect you to be swinging a pair of dumbells, they may walk directly behind you, risking severe harm to both you and themselves. Work in an open area. Make sure you can safely drop the bells if necessary.
2 Place a dumbell along the outside of each foot pointing forward. Hunch over with your back flat. Your feet should be spaced not more than 12 inches apart. Grasp the handles toward the front plates of the dumbells so that your thumbs are pressed up against the plates. This detail may sound a little weird, but it helps in the balancing of the weights.
3 Grasp each weight, raise your torso, and lift the dumbells up and forward. At the same time lean back to counterbalance the swinging weights. Be careful not to overextend your back. The dumbells should swing high enough to reach almost overhead.
4 When you have reached the high point in the forward swing, let the dumbells swing down and back as far as possible, leaning well forward to maintain balance. Naturally you need to stay conscious of how far the bells are from your head and body. Allow ample clearance.
5 Now once again swing forward and upward, putting all your back and leg muscles into the effort.
6 This time, when you reach the high point of your forward and upward swing, split your legs. The right foot lunges forward and the left foot goes back. This is similar to a weightlifter's snatch stance.
7 While holding the weights overhead, switch foot positions, lunging the left foot forward and the right backward. By now you should see why this exercise is considered a very advanced movement.
8 Keep your hands close together throughout the movement. If you don't, the weights can get away from you. This is where shoulder strength comes in. If you don't have a pair of strong, massive deltoids, the two-hand swing will build them!
9 Let the dumbells swing all the way down and back before starting a second repetition just as you did the first. If you can manage 3 sets of 5 or 6 reps, you'll really have yourself a good workout.
The two-hand swing press uses nearly every muscle in your body. You've got to have strong shoulders and trapezius to start the swing; you need a strong back, particularly in the lumbar region; you have to employ the thighs for the thrust; and you must have agility to split under the dumbells. Even the triceps and upper pecs come into play. It also inflicts force upon every stabilizer throughout the torso, hips and legs. This baby does it all!
They say the only thing that's new is what's been forgotten. Maybe so, but you might want to remember the two-hand dumbell swing press from now on. It may have been out of circulation for a while, but once you start including it in your program, you'll soon be packing on rock-hard muscle. And that's never out of style.