Want a Big and Strong Chest? Start Using the Svend Press In Your Training

The Svend Press is an underrated training tool for chest workouts.

Modern sports are all about specialization: rarely do you find athletes like the legendary Jim Thorpe who can excel in more than one. Strength sports are an exception: guys like Justin Harris, Larry Wheels and Dan Green — and hopefully myself — can look like bodybuilders and still lift really heavy weights.

To be fair, there’s a lot of overlap between training for strength and training for hypertrophy: learning to activate certain muscle groups, building symmetry, and adding muscle are all really important for maximum performance in powerlifting, for example.

This article, and a few to follow, will take a closer look at that connection, and suggest some bodybuilding movements that you can incorporate into your strength program. We’ll start with arguably the most popular day of the week for bodybuilders: chest day!

Training Chest & The Problem With Pressing

Regardless of whether you’re a powerlifter or bodybuilder, when you train your chest, you probably do a lot of pressing: you’re either trying to build a big bench or big pecs, right?  Unfortunately, cranking out rep after rep of pressing movement comes with some drawbacks:

  • Rotator Cuff Strain: This is a big one. The small muscles of the rotator cuff, which support the shoulder girdle, often fatigue far before the pecs, shoulders, and triceps — even when you’re using good form. A strained rotator cuff can derail your progress in the short term, and — in serious cases — even lead to major injury. While proper pre-hab movements can help to keep your rotator cuff healthy, an overabundance of pressing movements can undermine even the best mobility routines.
  • Tricep Fatigue: Gosh, this one is frustrating. There’s nothing worse than cranking out an awesome set of bench only to hit the “tricep wall,” where your pecs and shoulders barely feel fatigued but you just can’t lock out that next rep. You can work around this using specialized movements (the reverse-band incline press is one of my favorites), but ultimately, the smaller tricep muscles will often be a limiting factor in pressing-heavy routines.
  • Lack of proper muscle recruitment: This is more relevant to bodybuilders than powerlifters, but it’s important when considering a strength routine, as well. If you’re like me, you rely on a lot of shoulder and lat involvement in your pressing movements. Not only can this lead to an under-developed chest, but it can also lead to weakness in the bench press off the chest if not addressed with isolation movements.

Performing the Svend Press

Those issues should make it obvious that any balanced training program — no matter what the goal — cannot rely on pressing movements alone. You also need to incorporate other movements that work the pecs in isolation. Various types of flyes can fit that purpose, but they can also put a good amount of strain on the rotator cuff. 

That’s where the Svend Press comes in…

On its surface, the Svend Press looks like a pressing movement, but if you give it a try, you’ll quickly find that the movement makes it nearly impossible to rely heavily on muscle groups other than the pecs. Unfortunately, it’s not perfect: it’s very difficult to use heavy loads. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that you use perfect technique!

Here are some tips to help you do exactly that.

  • Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze: This is the most important aspect of the Svend press: you’re keeping constant tension on the pecs throughout the entire range of motion. To do that, you need to squeeze the weight as hard as you possibly can for the entire duration of the set.
  • Use dumbbells: You’ll commonly see the Svend press performed with two weight plates, but this method limits the amount of weight you can use. By using dumbbells (or kettlebells), you can use heavy enough of a load to stimulate growth.
  • Focus on full extension: You’ll probably find that you get the strongest contraction at the very end of the range of motion, so don’t sell yourself short by performing half-reps.

One more tip: I find that having a tight serratus anterior (the muscle along your rib cage) can really limit your ability to perform the Svend press. Relaxing your abs, rather than bracing, and slightly arching your back, can help to stretch out the serratus and help you to perform the movement more comfortably. Give it a shot and see if it works for you.

A Sample Chest-Training Program

Remember: this is just an example! Any proper strength training program needs to incorporate a method of progression, address individual weaknesses, and fit your long-term goals. (My UYP program can teach you to do exactly that if you’re struggling.)

  1. Dumbbell Flye: I always like to start out with a lighter isolation movement for longevity purposes. Crank out two easy sets of 20 reps just to get some blood flowing through the pecs and loosen up the shoulders.
  2. Bench Press: 5×5 with 80% 1RM is a tried-and-true method of building volume and getting in some solid bench work.
  3. Superset (3 rounds):
    1. Svend Press: 12-15 reps using a weight that makes you push darned hard.
    2. Machine Press: 6-8 reps using a weight you could do for 10. Remember, you’ll probably need to drop the weight a bit because you’ll be fatigued at this point.
  4. Dip: Two sets of max reps with bodyweight. Don’t rush this one, just really accentuate the stretch!

Have your own underrated movement for the pecs or to improve your bench?  Share it in the comments below!

Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page. 

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack is a professional powerlifter and holds the all-time world record raw total of 2039 in the 198-pound class. He has won best overall lifter at the largest raw meets in the world, including the US Open, Boss of Bosses, and Reebok Record Breakers.

Ben earned his Ph.D. in the history and management of strength and fitness from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018, and has published articles in a number of scholarly publications, including The Journal of Sport History, The Journal of Sport Management, and Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture. He also coaches strength athletes of all skill levels, including several internationally-elite powerlifters and world record holders. You can contact Ben through his website (phdeadlift.com) or via email at [email protected]

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