The fitness field has created many wonderful exercises, but few as demanding, rewarding, and effective as the devil press. While it is a must-have for any crossfit or circuit workout, this form of press is definitely on the complicated side. But don’t worry, in this article we’ll go over all the essentials; what it is, how to perform it, and a few alternatives so that when you’re ready- you’ll be able to tackle the devil press easily.
What Is A Devil Press?
The devil press is very interesting because there’s a lot happening in a short period of time. In a nutshell it’s a burpee into a hip hinge into a double dumbbell snatch all in one fluid motion. All in all it lives up to it’s hellish-name and reputation. It’s such a powerful move because it takes a moderate amount of weight a very long distance. You could only count on half a hand exercises that recruit more muscles up and down the kinetic chain all while taking your heart rate on a roller coaster.
How To Do A Devil Press
1. Burpee Phase
First I would recommend using hex dumbbells so they don’t slide around. With the dumbbells set shoulder width apart directly in front of your feet, drop down into a burpee. To do this you’ll reach down for the dumbbells and kick your feet back. From there you’ll lower yourself into what is essentially a push up position, except your chest and thighs will contact the floor
2. Hip Hinge Phase
From the ground the next step is to jump back on your feet into a deadlift position with your hips back and your knees bent. To get there push off from the floor and drive your legs back underneath your body in a standing crouch. Your feet should land wider than a traditional burpee so that they are positioned outside of the dumbbells. Make sure your hands remain holding the dumbbells at all times, even when you’re in the crouching position.
3. Driving Phase
From this sumo deadlift the goal is to get the body into a standing position. To do this you’ll simply want to drive the hips forward until your torso is upright and your knees are straight. Squeeze your glutes at the top use your lats to keep your arms aligned with your torso.
4. Snatch Phase
Now with the momentum from the the deadlift phase, the dumbbells should naturally travel to about the height of your hips. Complete this swinging motion by snatching the dumbbells past your shoulders (with a shrug) and overhead in one fluid motion. If completing the snatch is too difficult, break it down into two motions; bring the dumbbells to shoulder height, then press them overhead.
When the dumbbells are traveling up your body, try to keep your arms as close to the torso as possible to maintain control. Don’t think of it so much like a kettlebell swing but more like a shrug into an overhead press.
5. Lowering Phase
Once the dumbbell is secure above your head, lower the dumbbells down to shoulder height, and from your shoulders down to your hips. From there drop each dumbbell back to the floor in the starting position. When bringing the weight down, keep your back straight as you would during a standard sumo squat. Repeat each step for as many reps as you see fit. Adjust the weight if necessary.
Tips For Performing This Exercise
There are so many little details that can help you perform the DP better, but here are a few big ones to keep in mind:
Refrain From Rounding Out Your Back
Just like performing any other exercise doing it with proper form is essential. With so many phases to the devil press, one of the most important aspect you’ll want to get right is keeping your back straight throughout the exercise. Whenever we lift weights (especially during explosive compound movements) we open ourselves up to the possibility of lower back pain or injury.
The devil press in both the lowering and lifting phase use the deadlift or hip hinge. Rounding the spine during the deadlift can stress the erector muscles of the lumbar spine, creating a cycle of lower back pain. Other factors could be the root cause like weak hamstrings or lifting too much weight. However the best way to protect your back is to keep it as straight as possible- making sure that your butt, lower/upper back, and neck are all in alignment.
Lock Out The Dumbbells Overhead
It’s important to follow through at all stages of the devil press, including locking the dumbbells overhead. Locking your arms out at the top ensures that you have full control over the dumbbells- control over where they are above your head and their return to the starting position.
Nobody wants to drop weight on top of their heads. Locking out is the safest way to signal to the body that it can and will complete the rep successfully. If you find that after a few reps you start cutting corners during the overhead press, consider lowering the weight between sets.
Use The Hip’s Momentum To Propel The Weight
As stated before, the devil press utilizes the deadlift or hip hinge throughout. Now at first glance it may seem that the key to getting the weight overhead is using your upper body strength to press the dumbbells. While it’s true that you need some measure of upper body strength, the real key to getting to the pressing position is the deadlift.
Just like other CrossFit exercises such as the kettlebell swing, the deadlift creates the necessary momentum, not the arms. When the hips are back at their furthest point, that’s when you drive them forward. The energy this motion creates will propel the dumbbells from between your legs to well past your waist. You might be surprised by how much energy this saves you, opposed to simply focusing on swinging your arms.
Devil Press Benefits
Bundles Multiple Compound Exercises Into One
If you had to guess why it’s called the devil press, I bet one answer in particular comes to mind. Somewhere, some sick, sadistic soul came up with the bright idea of combining most peoples’ least favorite exercises (burpees, deadlifts, and presses) together.
All three are some of the best exercises for developing explosive power (burpees), and the development of both lower and upper body strength an hypertrophy (deadlifts/ overhead press). Combining all three exercises also helps develop numerous movement patterns that improve other exercises and activities of daily living.
Healthier And More Effective Form Of Exercise
The devil press and moves like it are very effective exercises that make up the spectrum of high intensity circuit training (HICT). While most often adopted by those in the crossfit community, exercises that fall into the category of HICT combine aerobic and resistance training with short rest intervals. This mode of training provides great health benefits in a short period of time (as little as 10 minutes) compared to traditional training. In fact researchers found that high intensity exercises performed for both less and more than 10 minutes decreased the body mass index and lowered the risk of obesity.
Ultimately vigorous exercises like the devil press are more effective than moderate ones at shifting health markers like cardiovascular fitness and functional capacity. These improvements extends to oxygen consumption, blood pressure, and the ability to fend off chronic illnesses.
Most people wouldn’t consider something being challenging as a benefit, but it’s definitely a positive for devil presses. The body needs exercises that will push it to extremes in order to trigger adaptation. Pushing the benchmark of difficulty is how we grow, so incorporating the devil press will only help to make the body stronger and more capable.
Press Variation: Single-Arm Devil Press
For those who are new to CrossFit or unfamiliar with this movement, standard db devil presses can be hard. If you’re a beginners, the single arm alternating devil press may be a great place to start. Everything is virtually the same except for a details;
1.instead of going down into a burpee with both hands on two dumbbells, obviously you’ll do it with only one and the other hand on the floor.
2.As you return the dumbbell to your shoulder, pass it off to the other hand and continue to alternate until the round is complete.
Press Variation: Kettlebell Devil Press
Though the kettlebell version is essentially the same movement, I would honestly consider the kettlebell devil press the most advanced variation of them all. It takes a considerable amount of time to master the small details like rotation of the wrists, flipping the kettlebell over your palm, etc. However if you work up to it and practice the movement thoroughly, the results can be quite rewarding.
As the kettlebells swing to the furthest point between your legs, rotate your palms outward so that the inside of your clenched fist is facing the inside of your thigh.
When the kettlebells pass your shoulders as you press them overhead, flip the body of the kettlebell to the backside of your hand. It may seem confusing in written form, but if you check out the video and watch how he presses the kettlebell overhead- it’ll make more sense.
The purpose of this sample workout like the devil press itself is to focus on intense cardio and resistance training through the use of dynamic compound exercises. Like many CrossFit workouts or high intensity circuit training, this program is not long, but it is grueling. If you’re not an advanced lifter I highly suggest either removing a few exercises or regressing them to a much easier version.
Buy-In: 20 Burpees
EMOM for 10 minutes
- 1st Minute: 300m Row
- 2nd Minute: 30 Weighted Squats (24/20 kg)
- 3rd Minute: 20 Kettlebell Drag Throughs (24/20 kg)
- 4th Minute: 20 Devil Presses (2 x 16/12 kg)
- 5th Minute: Rest
Repeat x 2
EMOM for 10 minutes
- 1st Minute: Kettlebell swings AMRAP (24/20 kg)
- 2nd Minute: 50 Double-Unders
- 3rd Minute: 12 Alternating Dumbbell Snatches (24/20 kg)
- 4th Minute: 20 Devil Presses (2 x 16/12 kg)
- 5th Minute: 50 Single-Unders
Repeat x 2
Buy-out: 18 burpees