30 May How To Do The SOTS Press: The Ultimate Guide.
Stealth shoulder exercise or is this a little bit crazy?
There’s an unconventional exercise that provides fantastic strength and mobility, if you learn how to perform it safely and progress it properly.
That exercise is the kettlebell SOTS press.
The SOTS press is an incredibly powerful exercise for the shoulders, as well as your entire body.
I’ll explain all about it.
First, you should realize this exercise is NOT for everyone.
But, if you’re interested in developing ridiculously strong, powerful, mobile shoulders and want to learn how to progress this exercise from scratch, please read through this entire article.
Strength, mobility, flexibility, and stability.
That’s exactly what you get with the SOTS press.
As you read this, carefully consider whether or not this exercise is for you.
I would NEVER advocate an exercise just for the sake of doing it.
Instead, have a clear reason why this could fit into your training program and if it’s a fit for your goals or not.
What exactly is the SOTS press?
That’s a question I’ve heard a lot.
The SOTS press is an exercise that can potentially fix some problems.
I said potentially.
Besides being very challenging for most of us to perform, it addresses many different aspects in the upper body and shoulder girdle complex.
However, you must have a pre-requisite baseline of:
That’s the challenge, but I’ll show you how to safely progress and perform the exercise to get the benefits I mention.
The SOTS is anything but traditional.
WHAT IS THE SOTS PRESS?
I think of the SOTS press as a Shoulder Optimization Training System (SOTS) because that’s really what it is.
It trains – and optimizes – the shoulder region very effectively.
I’ll explain why.
The SOTS press was developed and named after Viktor Sots, a Russian weightlifting champion.
I first heard about this exercise when Pavel Tsatsouline wrote about the SOTS press in the ground breaking book, Beyond Bodybuilding.
There are definitely things that are challenging about the SOTS.
The mobility is a huge limiting factor.
One of the other limitations is the pure lack of information available on this powerful shoulder press variation, which is one reason why I’m sharing this article with you.
For athletes, kettlebell enthusiasts, and even those who want to improve full body strength and mobility, the SOTS press could be a very powerful exercise to optimize shoulder health and performance.
Again, I said could be.
I believe it’s a strength exercise, as well as an advanced corrective, when progressed properly.
The SOTS press is essentially a shoulder press that you are doing from a rock bottom squat position.
Just to be clear, you press from the bottom of the squat (see picture above).
This is how you perform the SOTS press, step by step:
- Clean the bell(s) up to the “rack position.”
- Maintaining a strong rack position, squat down (all the way down to a rock bottom squat)
- Slowly press the bell(s) up and elevate the bell(s) overhead in a lock out position
- Lower the bell(s) back down slowly and safely to the rack position
- Stand up (racked kettlebell front squat)
- Safely lower the bell(s) back down on the ground
- You just performed a SOTS press.
Here’s what it looks like.
You can do this with a single kettlebell or double kettlebells.
A single kettlebell is a better way to begin, but I typically prefer double kettlebells and I’ll explain why in a bit.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE SOTS?
In my opinion, this is a phenomenal exercise for many of reasons.
It’s one of the best exercises for shoulder mobility and stability, as I’ve mentioned.
If you have shoulder and thoracic restrictions, this exercise will be extremely difficult to perform, so you wouldn’t start out doing this unless you clear some movements first.
However, if you have very mild restrictions, this can potentially help to improve the mobility in the glenohumoral joint (shoulder), as well as the thoracic spine.
And, when I say “very mild,” I mean very mild.
While it will definitely help to improve mobility, you first have to demonstrate sufficient mobility to do the exercise.
Here’s the complete list of benefits of the SOTS press:
- Stronger, more powerful shoulders
- Greatly improved shoulder mobility, primarily on the anterior aspect of the shoulder joint and shoulder girdle complex
- Improved thoracic mobility (promotes thoracic extension, many people are stuck in thoracic flexion)
- Greatly improved spinal stabilization and core strength
- Improves and maintains lower extremity mobility and flexibility
- Improves balance and stabilization of the lower extremities by stabilizing throughout the pressing motion
- Helps to correct and improve postural dysfunction (you can’t do this lift without correct posture)
- Teaches postural self correction cueing (you can self correct by aligning in neutral posture in the press position).
- Challenges the entire body throughout the pressing motion
- May potentially be used as a corrective exercise, as well as a superior strength exercise
- Teaches good breathing techniques
- May be considered the “pinnacle” of all shoulder presses
IS IT A DRILL – OR AN EXERCISE?
It’s an exercise that could, in some situations, be used as a strength/mobility drill.
Like I said, you must have a certain degree of shoulder and thoracic mobility, stability, and strength to perform this.
If you have anterior shoulder restrictions or tightness, you will not be able to perform this exercise.
If you have significant thoracic kyphosis, you will not be able to perform this exercise.
You need a combination of shoulder mobility and thoracic extension to successfully perform the SOTS.
You also need the ability to perform a full rock bottom squat and sufficient trunk strength.
I realize this is a lot of requirements.
The bottom line is that you need a high degree of mobility and stability in many joints just to perform this safely and effectively.
Again, I would not attempt the SOTS press until some movements are cleared first.
I’ll provide some mobility drills and progressions below.
IS THE SOTS SAFE?
If you don’t know me, let me just tell you that safety is my number one training priority, period.
Injury prevention is at the top of the list for training goals.
With that said, this is a safe exercise providing you learn how to perform it correctly and you have met certain “pre-requisites.”
It is considered an advanced lift, so you need to be able to perform and “own” a solid military press, a turkish get up, and an overhead squat before even attempting this.
The key is to assess mobility and stability by first practicing the motion before adding any type load to the movement.
In other words, make sure you have the available motion before you put any weight on top of it.
HOW DO I DETERMINE IF I HAVE THE PROPER MOBILITY?
The best way to get started is to begin with a dowel rod or stick to assess your ROM (range of motion) and ability to safely perform the movement.
Here’s what you do (see picture below):
- Grab the dowel rod with hands approximately shoulder width apart
- Press the dowel overhead in a lockout position
- Now, squat all the way down to a rock bottom position, maintaining a tall spine and head up position
- From this position, lower the dowel to your clavicle (collar bone) as if you were lowering a bar from a front press
- Now, press up overhead again
- If you can perform this MOTION, you may be ready to attempt a light SOTS press
IF I HAVE THE AVAILABLE MOBILITY, CAN I START TO LOAD IT?
Once you have the ability to perform the movement, you can start to load it.
I’d start with a single kettlebell.
But, I would definitely start very light and progress very slowly.
Grab an extremely light kettlebell and repeat the same sequence of progressions above to “test” under load.
Again, do not try anything heavy, grab the lightest kettlebell you can find and test the motion with one arm for a few reps, then the other (see below).
Do NOT rush this movement and there’s no need to.
As I mentioned, my preference is to perform the SOTS with double kettlebells to keep things symmetrical and improve the mobility and stability with an equal, bilateral load.
A single kettlebell SOTS is a little different and challenges the upper body asymmetrically, but it’s better to start there as the demand is much greater with double kettlebells.
IF I DON’T HAVE THE MOBILITY, WHAT SHOULD I DO?
This is the big question.
Here are some drills and mobility work to improve shoulder and thoracic mobility, if you aren’t ready to perform the sequence above.
- Foam Roller (for thoracic spine) performing isolated flexion and extension on the roller to improve mobility
- Foam Rolling for the shoulder girdle and lats
- Bird dog exercise to promote shoulder elevation, thoracic extension, and trunk strength
- Seated with your back against the wall, perform dowel presses, maintaining dowel against wall
- Scapular retraction exercises (bands, TRX, or lighter kettlebells or dumbells)
- Prone “supermans” or upper body extension exercises
- Cat/Camel exercise for thoracic mobility
- Seated thoracic extension exercises (working on thoracic flex/ext mobility).
- “Blocked” shoulder girdle elevation (using a racked barbell that rests on the clavicle, you would simply work on arm elevation to improve the overhead motion)
- Tubing or band exercises to work on shoulder flexion and thoracic extension
- Practice the dowel press drill, as above
- And, there are many more drills, progressions, and movements to progress with depending on the individual
The idea is simply to identify the limitation and work to improve it.
I would select one thing from above and then re-assess the movement.
Find the one or two things that offer the most benefit, in terms of mobility and movement.
Once you improve the movement and are able to perform the dowel rod drill (as above), then you may be ready to assess a light single kettlebell SOTS press.
Movement first, strength second.
Move well, then move strong.
HOW SHOULD I PROGRAM THE SOTS?
Because the SOTS is quite demanding and very taxing on the shoulders and body, I don’t do high volume reps.
Also, my primary goals with the exercise are strength, stabilization, and mobility, as I’ve mentioned.
With that said, I keep reps between 1 and 5 (5 at the most I’d ever do).
After just a few reps, you’ll find the challenge is pretty intense.
I’ll list some programming ideas below for strength training progressions.
Here’s a couple of progressions I’ll do, which could be done with a single kettlebell or doubles (*modify weight as appropriate, of course).
- 16kg x 5
- 20kg x 3
- 24kg x 1 (2-3 sets)
So, 4-5 sets in total.
Or something like this:
- 20 kg x 3-5 reps (3 sets)
- 16 kg x 1
- 20 kg x 1
- 24 kg x 1
- 28 kg x 1
- 28 kg x 1
There you have it, everything you need to know about the SOTS press.
Carefully consider whether this is something that’s a fit for you.
I believe the SOTS press is an outstanding exercise for shoulder and upper body mobility and strength, without question.
But, it’s not appropriate for everyone and it may not be the right fit for your individual goals.
I definitely think it’s a somewhat misunderstood exercise and there’s just not a lot of information on how to perform it.
Because of the unique qualities and demands, I hope you now understand the role and the benefits of the SOTS press.
If you got value from this, please share it with others.