“You need to feel the muscle work” is a saying that’s common in the fitness world. Feel a muscle contract and common sense says that it’s being targeted and taxed. However, an exercise that one person feels may not yield the same effect for another lifter.
One move that forces this contractile feeling better than most exercises around is the Svend press, the namesake exercise of 2001 World’s Strongest Man winner Svend Karlsen. That’s right, a man renowned for pressing logs overhead and loading Atlas stones invented a move that requires 20 pounds — tops.
Don’t be fooled. Despite its simple and admittedly unimpressive appearance, the Svend press is a small move that brings on big gains. Below, we’ll take a closer look at that connection, and discuss the Svend press, a bodybuilding movement that you can incorporate into your strength program to increase chest hypertrophy.
In this Svend press exercise guide, we will cover:
- How to Do the Svend Press
- Svend Press Sets and Reps
- Common Svend Press Mistakes
- Svend Press Variations
- Svend Press Alternatives
- Muscles Worked by the Svend Press
- Benefits of the Svend Press
- Who Should Do the Svend Press
- Frequently Asked Questions
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.
How to Do the Svend Press
The Svend Press looks like a pressing movement on its surface, 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. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to perform the Svend press.
Step 1 — Pinch the Plates
Take two 10-pound plates (or five-pound plates) and pinch them together tightly with both hands. Stand tall, keep your shoulder blades squeezed back, and hold the plates right against your chest. Be sure to press the plates together as hard as you can.
Form Tip: You should already feel your chest muscles working in the setup position.
Step 2 — Press Upwards and Inwards
Keeping the plates pressed firmly together, slowly extend your arms straight out and slightly up until your elbows are completely locked out. Make sure you’re contracting your chest as hard as possible.
Form Tip: Don’t rush these. Remember that you’re using at most 20 pounds, so slow and steady wins here.
Svend Press Sets and Reps
The Svend press is primarily a muscle-builder. But that doesn’t mean it only belongs in traditional hypertrophy sets. You can also use this move as a primer to get your chest ready to go before more complex movements. Alternatively, use it as a finisher when you’re looking to leave your chest session with a solid pump.
- For Muscle Growth: Perform three to four sets of 10 to 15 reps.
- For Warming Up: As a primer before your compound working sets, perform one to two sets of 15 reps.
- For a Finisher: After your other chest exercises, perform four to five sets of 15 to 20 reps, resting as little as possible in between.
Especially when you’re using this to warm up before compound chest moves, make sure you go extremely light. You want to activate your muscles and perhaps induce a bit of pre-exhaustion, but you don’t want to completely drain your reserves.
Common Svend Press Mistakes
It’s surprisingly easy to get it wrong when you’re lifting such light weight. Here are some typical training mistakes to avoid when you’re working with the Svend press.
Going Too Heavy
First and foremost, just because you can lift it doesn’t mean you should. Pretty much regardless of your strength or experience level, you likely want to avoid going any heavier than using two 10-pound plates, totalling 20 pounds. Why? Because the point of this exercise is muscle activation, not brute strength.
Going too heavy encourages your form to slip. You might overcompensate for too much weight with your shoulders, or by hunching your back. Anything less than excellent form negates the muscle-building task of this exercise.
Not Squeezing the Plates
Throughout this move, maintain focus on squeezing your hands together and therefore, activating your chest as much as possible. If you’re only doing the bare minimum to squeeze the plates together, you’ll only get the bare minimum of benefits. Concentrate on really forcing those plates into each other for best results.
Rushing the Reps
Going through the motions mindlessly won’t get you the gains you’re looking for here. Yes, you’re using light weight, but that doesn’t mean you want to rush through the move. Take your time and move as slowly as you can while maintaining a consistent tempo. This will maximize your time under tension, which is vital for quality muscle growth.
Svend Press Variations
Below are three Svend press variations that coaches and athletes can use to keep training varied and progressive.
Dumbbell Hex Press
This is a Svend press-dumbbell bench press hybrid. You lie back on a bench, press two dumbbells together (to elicit that same muscular contraction you get from the plates) and perform a dumbbell press.
This is a great alternative for those who want to try and lift heavier loads using the Svend press methodology. Just note that the heavier you go, the more stress you’ll feel on your shoulders.
Cable Svend Press
The cable Svend press can be done similarly to the standing plate Svend press, with a slight difference. Instead of pressing plates together, you can set the pulley of a cable machine to shoulder level and perform the Svend press so that as you press outwards, away from the body, the cables are pulling your hands apart.
This makes your chest continually work not only to press your hands away from you but also make sure they remind pressed together as you reach out away from your body.
Floor Svend Press
This variation takes all the benefits of the floor press (scapular stability, reinforces proper back tension) and combines it with the Svend press’s benefits.
This is a great move, too, for folks who don’t fully understand how to stabilize their back or keep their shoulders back as they lower the loads.
Svend Press Alternatives
Below are three Svend press alternatives coaches and athletes can use to increase chest strength and muscle hypertrophy.
The Spoto press is similar to both the floor press and the board press and is done by stopping an inch (or few) off your chest, slightly pausing, and pressing the barbell upwards towards the original position.
While stopping right above your chest is not a valid lift in powerlifting, this floor press variation can strengthen your triceps and help to address sticking points. It can also help improve your shoulder stability and pressing balance in the press.
Dumbbell Floor Press
The dumbbell floor press is a challenging chest press variation that you can use to address muscle imbalances and increase stabilization demands.
It also allows for more individualization of pressing angles if an athlete has discomfort using a more fixed barbell position.
Floor Press with Chains/Bands
The floor press can be done using chains and resistance bands, similar to most other barbell pressing movements. Simply adding resistance bands or chains securely to the sides of the barbell.
Try placing between 50 and 70 percent of your max on the bar. The accommodating resistance can help to increase overall strength and muscle, improve the rate of force development, and help you develop better bar path in the press.
Muscles Worked by the Svend Press
The Svend press is a pressing movement used to increase the muscle growth of the chest. Below are the primary muscles used in the Svend press movement:
The pectoral muscles (chest) are the primary muscle groups involved in the force production needed to perform the Svend press. While the Svend press is limited in the range of motion when compared to a standard chest press, the chest muscles are still used (just less than in a normal bench press) to perform the lift. You can get high degrees of muscle shortening and isometric tension at the top of the movement.
Benefits of the Svend Press
Below are some of the key benefits the Svend press offers those who embark on this chest training variation.
More Chest Muscle
There’s nothing worse than cranking out an awesome set of bench presses only to hit the “triceps 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 a great one), but ultimately, your smaller triceps muscles will often be a limiting factor in pressing-heavy routines. The Svend press is a good exercise option if you are looking to increase muscle growth without overloading your triceps or shoulders muscles.
The rotator cuff’s small muscles support your shoulder girdle, often fatigue far before your 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 a major injury.
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While proper prehab movements can help to keep your rotator cuffs healthy, an overabundance of pressing movements can undermine even the best mobility routines. The Svend press can be a great way to minimize strain on your shoulder joints and rotator cuff while still increasing muscle growth of the chest muscles.
Also, whenever you have the opportunity to elicit growth while using 20 pounds compared to 200, it’s safe to assert that the latter is safer overall.
More Chest Isolation
This is more relevant to bodybuilders than powerlifters, but it’s important when considering a strength routine, as well. If you rely on a lot of shoulder and lat involvement in your pressing movements, this leads to an under-developed chest and a weakness in the bench press off the chest if not addressed with isolation movements.
The Svend press can be used to increase muscle activation and prime your pectorals for more compound movements like the bench press.
Who Should Do the Svend Press
In the below section we discuss the various groups of strength, power, and functional fitness athletes who can benefit from integrating the Svend press within strength and accessory training programs.
Strength and Power Athletes
Strength and power athletes use the Svend press to increase chest growth while minimizing stress on the connective tissues and joints due to limited ranges of motion at the shoulder joint and lighter loading.
- Powerlifters and Strongman and Strongwoman Athletes: While bench pressing is a key movement in developing the chest and upper body strength, lifters also need to incorporate other movements that work the pecs in isolation. Various types of flies 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.
- Olympic Weightlifters: For most weightlifters, this has minimal carry over to the sport or any of the competition lifts. However, this can be a valuable accessory for weightlifters who want to strengthen their chest muscles without taxing their shoulders.
Fitness and General Population
The Svend press can isolate the chest muscles and add additional training volume to increase muscle gain. In situations where chest pressing creates shoulder pain, you may be able to use the Svend press to increase chest growth and strength while minimizing excessive shoulder staring.
This can be a good move to do for higher reps to increase chest activation prior to or following more compound chest pressing movements.
Press Those Plates
You might associate Mondays with slapping massive plates onto a barbell, but sometimes the smallest plates can make the biggest difference. If you’re looking to add an extra edge to your chest training, the Svend press can give you exactly that.
You won’t be hefting a lot of weight, but the more gains will come the more disciplined your movements are. Keep it light and stay focused on that contraction, and get ready to have the pecs of your dreams.
Can I do the Svend press with kettlebells?
Yes, you can do them with kettlebells. However, try them with dumbbells, cables, or plates first. Kettlebells may be more awkward therefore make it harder to lock in excellent form.
Is the Svend press better than bench presses for chest growth?
When it comes to increasing chest growth and strength, few things beat a good, heavy press. For most individuals, bench pressing is a more necessary component of a muscle growth and strength program for the chest than the Svend press.
You are more apt to have muscle growth doing the bench press and skipping Svend presses than the other way around.
What should you do if the Svend presses hurt my shoulders?
If an exercise is causing you pain, your best bet is generally to stop and consult a physician. Svend presses can be a tricky exercise to master, so you may also want to review the proper Svend press technique.
Featured Image: Photo Courtesy of Tiger Fitness on YouTube