A Quick And Effective Way To Fix Your Bench Press Technique
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
If you're looking for a quick and effective solution for fixing your bench press mechanics, try this unique bench press variation. Essentially you'll be performing an eccentric isometric bench press on the foam roller using the head off technique.
If you've been reading any of my articles and posts you'll immediately understand why eccentric isometrics are so effective for improving body mechanics. Essentially the slow eccentric and isometric hold in the bottom/stretched position maximizes sensory feedback from proprioceptive mechanisms such as muscle spindles (as muscles spindles respond to stretch). This allows the lifter to experience optimal kinesthetic awareness and make subtle adjustments to their body position as a means of fine-tuning their movement mechanics. Simply put it allows them to lift by feel and make the necessary corrections to their form based on inherent sensory feedback rather than external coaching and cuing. If your goal is is to master movement, enhance body mechanics, and optimize muscle function, then eccentric isometrics are the most powerful training technique you can use. (My book on eccentric isometrics will be available sometime this year so stay tuned for that.)
As for the use of the foam roller, there are several benefits of using it for the bench press. First off the foam roller forces the lifter to create heightened spinal rigidity and natural spinal curvature as anything but proper posture will literally feel miserable on the back. However with proper positioning it actually feels quite therapeutic on the spine.
Second, the foam roller provides significant instability thereby forcing the lifter to use strict form and eliminate momentum. The foam roller also has a tendency to roll and move unless the lifter remains tight and locks their core in. This creates significant anti-rotation forces (literally) that the lifter must resist to keep from falling off the foam roller. Any wiggling, cheating, or shifting will cause the lifter to lose their balance.
Lastly the foam roller allows the scapula to move freely without being encumbered or fixed to the bench. As a result this optimizes natural scapulohumeral rhythm and glenohumeral joint mechanics similar to how a pushup or landmine press allows optimal scapular movement.
In this particular variation I also have my head off so that the edge of the foam roller is at the base of my neck (tough to see from this view). This promotes heightened spinal rigidity and optimal levels of t-spine extension as the head is not fighting against the pad or roller as is typically the case when the base of the skull is pressed into another apparatus. As a result optimal spinal alignment can be achieved without being forced into slight cervical and thoracic flexion as is commonly seen with individuals when performing horizontal chest pressing variations. The benefits this has on posture, spinal positioning, and shoulder mechanics (much easier to retract, depress and medially rotate the scapula on this) is incredible.
Oddly enough, many of my athletes end up preferring head off presses once they become accustomed to the unique stimulus as head on variations tend to feel very constricting and unnatural compared to the head off variations. As an added bonus it's one of the best neck strengthening exercises there is which is a very underrated and oftentimes overlooked component of fitness. For individuals who sit at a desk and spend excessive time in cervical flexion this is of huge value.
If you have trouble with your bench press don't be surprised if this eccentric isometric foam roller bench press variation not only improves your bench press technique but also greatly enhances your strength as the rigid mechanics place intense intramuscular tension on the targeted musculature.
Because of the greater time under tension on each repetition as well as the heightened mental focus and concentration needed to maintain control of the movement, I typically recommend lower rep ranges of 4-6 reps. However, there is a fairly steep learning curve on this. Therefore I recommend a higher number of total sets to improve neuromuscular efficiency. With this in mind 4-5 total sets is ideal for maximizing performance without draining your nervous system or over-depleting the targeting musculature.