Cool Exercises for Martial Artists - Squeeze Press

One of my favorite exercises to program as assistance work on a push day, upper body day, or chest and tricep day is the Squeeze Press. It's a fantastic way to hammer the chest and triceps after a bigger pushing movement like pushups or bench press.

It's also one of my favorite exercises to program specifically for traditional martial artists. So, if you do karate, kung fu (particularly Wing Chun), or tai chi you should give this one a try.

How to do it.

First, how do you do the squeeze press? The squeeze press is a dumbbell press that can be done on a bench or on the floor, like a floor press.

As the name implies, you want to be actively squeezing the dumbbells together throughout the range of motion. It's not enough to simply keep them in contact. Rather, imagine they are made of play-doh and you can actually smoosh them together. This is the visual to keep in mind.

The squeezing comes from the chest muscles, so keep the elbows in tight as you slowly push upward. Don't let them fly out and turn it into more of a shoulder exercise. This will be important for the martial arts applications of this exercise. Actively pull the weights back down with similar tension to return to the start position. Keep forearms perpendicular to the floor the whole time.


Keep your fists tight on the handles, as if you could squeeze the handles themselves. This is part of the tension we want to create. Tight fist, just like a punch.

At the top position, resist the urge to lock out the elbows. Keep a slight bend in them, just like a punch. The top position should have tight fists, and tension all the way through the arms and chest to squeeze the dumbbells together.


Martial Arts Relevance

The concept of controlling the center line is fundamental to a lot of different traditional martial arts. We want to be strong in the area in front of our torso, and have the arms connected to the core and hips to drive force. The Squeeze Press develops this connection and tension.

It's the same kind of tension used in karate katas like Sanchin. And it's the same center line positioning that we want to be strong in in so many techniques like vertical punches or tai chi's Play the Lute. The Chudan stance in kendo requires similar strength in this position.

Coupled with a good, strong stance, this dumbbell press variation can help you become a battering ram, and will make your forms a lot more dynamic.

How do you program it?

Like I said above, I like to use this as assistance work if used in any kind of split. For general strength or aesthetics, I would program this with less priority than pushups or bench press. Again, assistance work. 8-12 challenging reps for a few sets should do it.

In a full body workout, it can serve as a primary pushing movement, provided that more foundational movements like pushups are also present somewhere in the program. Again 8-12 challenging reps is what we're going for here. If you can do a ton of reps, you're not squeezing hard enough, or the weight isn't heavy enough, or both. If your form breaks down, lower the weight rather than lessening up on your dynamic tension.

Here's a quick video for an example of the tension and alignment you should be going for.

Give it a shot and let me know what you think. Or if something isn't clear, pop a question in the comments. Happy Training!

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