The Svend press is a lesser known chest exercise. However, many bodybuilders and fitness professionals swear by it. They claim it aids in pumping up their chest, improving their mind muscle connection to their pecs, and- most importantly- eliciting hypertrophy and strength gains.
Hypertrophy is one of the most common goals cited by gym attendees: they go along three or four times each and every week in order to pack on good quality muscle. T-shirt muscles are particularly prized: your arms, shoulders and, most importantly, your chest all combine to give the v-taper and upper body swelling coveted by so many gym buffs.
A well-developed chest is one of the holy grails of weight training and forms the bedrock of many routines the world over. A strong chest brings many advantages: it has great carryover into many other athletic movements and endeavours, it helps you to fill out a shirt, and it helps you to exude confidence.
But many chest routines fall slightly short of the mark
If you’ve tried bench presses, dumbbell flyes, push ups, dips, and every permutation thereof, and you still haven’t got the chest you want… well, it may well be time to switch up your routine and bring in some lesser known, possibly very effective exercises.
You will always want to maintain a balance of compound and isolation work: this should be a given. There is a reason that the tried and tested formula is seen repeated so often. You begin with the big compounds: chest presses, dips and so on. Then you move onto your single joint work: pull-overs, flyes… you get the picture.
But what if you want to add something a little extra into this same-old routine?
Let’s go a little outside the box. Let’s look at what the Svend press can do for you.
The Svend Press
The Svend press uses a squeezing motion in an effort to really switch on the pectoral muscles in the chest. In performing it, you will be using an isometric force through the chest as you press weights from a standing position.
It’s quite a unique style of exercise.
You take two light plates, press them together with your hands, and perform the main movement (as detailed below) for usually quite high rep ranges. It works as an accessory on chest or bench press day and should be performed after the day’s main compound movements. Aim for burnout, really trying to pump the chest muscles, filling them with as much blood as possible.
The main technique that sets the Svend press apart from other chest movements is the act of self-imposed stress- an isometric contraction much like that elicited through your core during a plank. Your pecs will be at full flexion throughout the movement.
You will likely find quite a significant inner pec contraction. The separate components of the pectoral muscles can often be overlooked by main movers like chest presses and dips. The mind-muscle connection you will get to some of the oft-neglected segments will really teach you how to fully utilise every last fibre in your chest.
It is also a chest isolation movement that dispenses with some of the more unsafe elements of exercises like the pec-deck or chest flye. These exercises both put a lot of stress into both the shoulder joint itself and the anterior delts, presenting quite a high risk of injury and likely exacerbating any underlying issues in that area. The Svend press is safe and comfortable to perform in most situations.
There may be some great potential benefits to be gained from including the Svend press in your chest or bench press routines. These include:
- Isometric tension: The tension stays on your muscles throughout the exercise in a way the pectorals don’t usually experience. The increased blood flow and stimulation may lead to greater hypertrophy in the long run.
- Improved mind-muscle connection: This constant tension will also keep you engaged with all the smaller elements of your muscle fibre makeup across the chest in a way not normally experienced. You will feel parts of your chest previously unknown. Mind muscle connections are key in developing strength and enabling a lifter to utilise every last ounce of their lifting capability. For this reason, the Svend press may greatly benefit your pressing ability in the long-term.
- A great pump: Isometric work like the Svend press can flood the muscles with blood. This directs vital nutrients to your muscle tissue, which will increase energy and contractile strength and aid in recovery.
How To Perform The Svend Press
The Svend press should be used to zone in on the pectoralis major, with synergistic help from the anterior delts and triceps, and antagonistic and stabilising support coming from the full core, the latissimus dorsi and the rhomboids. This is quite a long list, but this is how compound movements like the Svend press work.
However, the Svend press should aim to switch off many of the synergistic and antagonistic elements, bringing as much of the pump and stimulation into the chest pecs as possible. When you perform it, double it up with a bit of a mindfulness exercise: focus everything on squeezing your chest muscles, trying to fade everything else to the background.
In this way, one of the main benefits of the Svend press will really come to the fore: the mind-muscle connection you can build with your pectoralis major.
With this in mind, to perform the Svend press:
- Find a small weight that is easy to hold in front of your body for a protracted period of time. A dumbbell or kettlebell can work, but plates are best. Two plates are better than one, so that you can really concentrate on keeping them together with that squeezing motion we are here to develop.
- Bring this weight up to your chest with your palms making contact and your fingers pointed out in front. Bring your scapulae together, brace your core and flare your chest. Raise your elbows, bringing your arms parallel with the ground.
- Exhale, squeeze the weight, ideally crushing those two plates together. Push the weight out from your chest to full extension, so that it is held out in front. Hold this position for a couple of seconds, squeezing the weight throughout. Really try to bring that contraction into your chest.
- Inhale as you bring the weight back in, trying to keep as much tension as possible in the chest and between your hands throughout.
- Repeat for your desired set and rep range, usually keeping to higher reps.
This whole movement should occur in the horizontal plane, so you will want to keep your arms parallel to the ground throughout the exercise. As we will see in the criticism section below, a lot of the fatigue actually occurs in the shoulders, not the chest: they may well get wobbly and want to give up on you. Fight the urge to drop your arms down as you fatigue, and feel free to decrease the weight as and when you need to.
There are a few places in your workout which might be relevant for performing the Svend press. Although it may not be the best mass builder- again, see criticisms below- it is great for mind-muscle connection as you keep your chest under continued tension. For this reason, it may be worth putting some very light sets in before some more major chest exercises: a couple of sets of 12-15 before your bench press may bring more fibre onboard through heavier sets.
Alternatively, as mentioned elsewhere, the Svend press could represent a good assistance or finisher movement. Put it in after your main chest workout as a way to increase blood flow through your upper body, to finish fatiguing your chest and shoulders, and to practice mind-muscle connection as an ongoing process.
Also feel free to perform the Svend press lying down, with a little more weight. This will put it in line with more traditional, arguably more effective chest exercises as you press the weight with increased resistance, against gravity (see below once more), for a more able hypertrophy set.
Common Criticisms of the Svend Press
We’ve looked at the potential benefits of using the Svend press in your chest routines. However, as hinted above, there are some quite major flaws with the Svend press that could do with looking at. It’s not an exercise that survives closer scrutiny particularly well, unfortunately.
The Svend press’ ability to build muscle is incredibly limited.
Although adherents usually do look the part- they are big, well-muscled and strong- the physique on display will not be down to the Svend press. Their hypertrophy will come from the larger exercises included in their routines, alongside solid nutrition and good-quality programming.
Muscles Used in the Svend Press
We’ve gone over the fact that it’s a chest exercise with potential benefits for your pectorals. This isn’t entirely true. Whilst it’s true that the Svend press is counted as a chest exercise, and most people who perform it use it as such, it actually has very little to do with your chest. If it works anything at all- and that’s an if– it is your deltoids and perhaps your arms taking the strain, with a minor core stabilising factor at work.
It is all minor, though.
The mechanics of the movement break down pretty simply. By holding the weights out in front of your body, you are engaging your deltoid muscles- specifically your anterior delts. This contraction enables you to hold it in place at shoulder height: this kind of action is a large part of what the anterior deltoid is for. In addition, you will be holding isometric tension through the elbow joint, the wrists to a small degree, and the biceps. Everything leading from the weight itself to your shoulder is tensed, maintaining the hold.
But your chest isn’t playing a part in this- it isn’t working.
Line of Resistance
Moving onto the press itself, we also see little to no effect going into the chest.
To stimulate any given muscle for growth, you need to move it through its full range of motion, under load. The only way to put it under load is to have that muscle pushing and/or supporting resistance (the plates, in this case, but usually a weight of some description) against gravity.
This is the only way. Without working them against gravity, you will not be working your muscles.
In the case of the Svend press, the line of force is downwards, not towards the chest. Gravity is pulling the weight down towards the earth without loading the chest- quite simply, because the chest is neither beneath the weight nor pushing against it. To resist the weights’ descent through this line of force requires little more than the deltoid and arm tension mentioned above.
Let’s compare this to a more traditional chest exercise- the dip. Dips are phenomenal strength and mass builders and will bring your pecs, anterior delts and triceps in as active movers, with biceps, lats and core working as stabilisers and antagonists. The reason they hit your chest so well is that your arms come across and inwards, bringing your hands to and from your chest, against gravity. The line of the force of resistance is working against you- the resistance is being applied directly into your chest to bring about fatigue and ultimately adaptation.
You don’t get this in the Svend press.
Of course, this criticism doesn’t particularly apply to the Svend press’ supine variation. The supine variation will work your chest- far more so than your delts. It isn’t the best exercise- heavier presses with a more complete range of motion will elicit more of a training response- but it is still working what you want it to be working. But for the standing Svend press, there is just no reasonable argument to say that it is fatiguing your chest at all. There is little to no evidence that it will benefit your chest in any way outside of building up your mind muscle connection.
Frequently Asked Questions
There is understandably a lot of confusion surrounding the Svend press. Though perhaps little known, it is nevertheless controversial. As we have seen, there is little need for it in anybody’s routines outside of building a mind-muscle connection, yet it still has a few die-hard fans.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Svend press. Let’s dive into some of these now, taking a look at some FAQs.
What is a pinch press?
The Svend press is a type of pinch press, though the two terms can be used interchangeably. Any press that involves pressing two weights together or directing force into a weight like a plate or medicine ball falls under the category of ‘pinch press.’
What does the Svend press work?
Ostensibly, the Svend press works your chest muscles, specifically the pectorals. However, in reality the majority of the workload from a standing position is taken in your shoulders and arms, with very little going into your chest.
The contractile effort will aid in building up a mind-muscle connection through your chest.
Does the Svend press work?
It works well for building up your ability to squeeze your pecs, and it is good for your pectoral mind-muscle connection. A small fatiguing effect will also go into your shoulders and biceps. However, the Svend press’ uses are limited beyond this: it will not elicit much by way of gains in your chest.
How do you do a Svend press?
As above, you press a weight out from either a standing or prone position. The key is to really engage your awareness of the chest as you do so in order to maximise the benefit to your mind-muscle connection.
This is one take on the Svend press, and it’s a mixed bag. Whilst it remains doubtful that the Svend press can benefit your chest, and whilst it looks like other accessory movements like dips, flyes and push ups will do a lot more for your chest growth and strength, there are some uses to be gained from the Svend press.
You may be able to work on your mind-muscle connection, really getting a feel for your chest and learning how to better activate your full array of muscle fibre. This may help to build strength in the long run. A prone Svend press will also put more of the pressure into the chest than the shoulders- though in reality it still won’t present much by way of stimulation.
You may have a different take on the Svend press, however. You may find that it does good things for you. Give it a go, but be prepared to ditch it. Don’t rely on it to change your world or turn you into a pro bench presser overnight.