The Cuban Press – also referred to as the Muscle Snatch – is often used as an advanced movement for training the external rotator muscles. It is employed to train the infraspinatus and teres minor ballistically to improve those muscles’ ability to contract at high speeds to stabilize the head of the humerus – the upper arm bone – during throwing movements such as javelin, shot put, pitching, etc. It is essentially the pathway that a barbell takes when performing the upper body portion of the power snatch.
The Cuban Press is a hard exercise, but it’s fun, and it happens to make your shoulders look awesome. It is also an outstanding introduction to performing overhead work, since the strength of the external rotators is usually the limiting factor in performing shoulder presses properly.
Overhead pressing strength is directly correlated with shoulder girdle health, and is responsible for 10% of vertical jump capability, as well as successful explosive starts from 3-point or 4-point stances, and starts from blocks. Lastly, from an endurance component, overhead strength potentiates the forward drive of arm swing in running when the legs become fatigued.
To learn to perform the Cuban Press, it is best to have a 15-lb Olympic barbell available. This bar is also referred to as a technique bar, or sometimes a ladies bar. I am a fan of the more sexist term when training men, as it is guaranteed to increase blood pressure as well as maximal effort.
If a technique bar is not available in your gym, I recommend using body bars until you build enough strength to use a full size Olympic barbell. I also recommend that you start with the pink one.
To perform the exercise, grasp the barbell with a snatch grip. For those who are neophytes, a snatch grip is a grip wide enough such that, when the bar is upright rowed, the forearms hang perpendicular to the floor:
Once you have determined what your grip width should be, practice a few sets of ballistic upright rows for 3-5 repetitions maximum. Keep the elbows facing outward during the movements.
The idea behind these initial pulls is to get your central nervous system (CNS) to recognize that you are going to move at full speed during this lift. This is the first time that you will have performed anything at full speed in this program, so it is important to prime your CNS to properly warm up. Take about 30 seconds rest in between sets. Once you feel that you have the bar moving well, put it down and rest another 30 seconds.
After the conclusion of the rest period, pick up the bar again with a snatch grip, elbows out. Inhale.
As you exhale, upright row the bar as high as you can, using acceleration during the lift to move the bar as as fast as possible.
When the bar reaches its apex – which should be about nipple-height if it is heavy enough, perform a hybrid movement of both external rotation and overhead press. The bar should now be directly overhead:
To descend, bend the elbows and lower the bar until the elbows are just below the shoulders, then internally rotate the shoulders until the forearms hang straight down. If you have an eccentric tempo assigned to the movement, this part of the movement is what matters.
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