Secrets behind the Side Press

By Steven Gillespie, Regional Fitness Manager at Fitness First Middle East 


The side press is an old yet not forgotten movement making a comeback into popular & sensible fitness discourse. I say popular (*1) & sensible (*2) as not a lot of popular fitness discourse is sensible, and not a lot of sensible fitness discourse is popular (nor sexy for that matter). Strongmen of old (Circa 1850-1950) would use this press as the ‘money-move’ and was one of the benchmarks of strength measurement for the era. However nowadays in gyms you will not see hordes of people cueing up at the kettlebell rack (On a Monday) waiting for the ‘big-bertha’ to be free so they can do a rep max and start off their week. Conversely we focus predominantly on movements that produce aesthetics in lieu of functionality. Ok, lecture over we’ve heard this before; however if we continue to train muscles independently in spite of integrating muscle groups to work as one unit then don’t expect to be real world strong when it hits the fan.



*1 – The Popular Reason – Multiple Muscles Worked at Once and Pre-Habilitation

“Obviously” we should do this movement because it does look pretty cool and it makes us feel strong, however it will work your core area, back, arms and shoulders all at the same time. This is great if you are in a hurry and like to keep things metabolic for fat-burning purposes. It will also look after you in a functional and roundabout way. Being such an oblique movement pattern it will increase your margin for error when you move or bend to pick up or move something at a less than favorable angle. I say that as one of my personal training clients put her back out whilst routinely changing her bed sheets. Needless to say after some functional training utilising the side press amongst other integrated functional movements, she now confidently moors and operates her sailing yacht alongside her husband with ease (you know who you are and well done on the functional progression).1- copy

*2 – The Sensible Choice – Gateway to Gains

According to Pavel Tsatsouline, author of the renowned kettlebell training manual ‘Enter the Kettlebell’, this movement alongside other key kettlebell moves can significantly increase your standard deadlift and overhead squat. The fact is that the side press improves mobility & strength of the hamstring, shoulder and lower back areas at the same time and is a fantastic contrast in training when pursuing progression through a tricky plateau in strength gains.




For this movement we will predominantly be working the erector spinae, latissimus dorsi and the deltoids. However if done correctly it will yield more of an effect on the first two muscles with an additional emphasis on flexibility of the lower back, hips and the hamstring area.

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Start with a shoulder-width stance, toes pointing forwards. Clean the kettlebell up to the rack position and then retract the kettlebell held arm back until you have a raised awareness of your lats being worked; that is the key to working the back area here.

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Next rotate the opposite leg to the working arm 90 degrees so that your feet now represent an ‘L’ shape from a bird’s-eye perspective. Your non working arm should now rest on the front of the thigh you just turned.

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We now move the head to face the kettlebell for form and then slowly combine a sideward bend down the non-working side, alongside a slow extension of the arm holding the kettlebell. The trick with this part is to move your body under the extending arm, as opposed to actually ‘shoulder pressing’ whilst also gliding your hips diagonally backwards respective to the working arm side; if the left arm is holding the kettlebell up then we glide backwards diagonally left and vice versa for the right arm when it sports the kettlebell.

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Keep sliding down slowly with control until you reach extension of both arms or if you feel you have hit your comfortable limit. I personally like to shoot for the floor either starting with fingertips touching or palm flat on the floor, it is entirely up to your comfort and progression.


Once we’ve hit the comfortable limit, reverse the action slowly up until you are back to where you started. Needless to say we should maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement.


Tempo and Rep Range


This is always going to be a tricky choice as everyone will have their preference specific to goals, however I enjoy working beginners through a sub-maximal range and opt for time under tension, so we work for say 45 to 60 seconds and will just keep it light with a 4 or 6 kilo kettlebell and work slow and steady with an even tempo of 3 seconds eccentric (or down in this case) and 3 seconds concentric (up in this case) for two to three rounds each with ‘organic’ rest. If you would like to progress to something more challenging as you may be preparing for your next leotard/moustache shoot, then do a slow 6 rep max 3 times each side (Berger method) with some 1 second static holds at the top and bottom of each movement (3:1:3:1).