Blast Your Chest, Core, and Shoulder Stabilizers With This Eccentric Isometric Press
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Here’s one of my awesome clients Elizabeth Yates, performing a very difficult and advanced chest pressing variation. There are 5 unique components here including the hollow body leg raise position, eccentric isometric alternating pressing protocol, eyes-closed technique, head-off position, and ankle dorsiflexion.
Here’s a breakdown of each of these elements.
Leg Raise Protocol
The hollow body leg raise hold is a unique but highly effective technique for implementing on chest presses. In fact it provides several benefits.
1. It activates the core musculature resulting in increased spinal rigidity and full body stability. As a result it teaches the lifter how to stay tight when pressing which can do wonders for strength and size as well as muscle function and joint health.
2. By lifting the legs approximately a foot above torso height or higher helps to hollow the core. As a result this eliminates excessive low back arch often witnessed in many lifters when performing bench press.
3. It isolates the upper body musculature more so particularly the chest, shoulders and triceps as the legs and hips are eliminated from the equation. As a result the mechanical tension and metabolic stress to the upper body is through the roof resulting in significant strength and hypertrophy gains.
4. It teaches the lifter to stay tight and dial in their pressing mechanics as even the slightest levels of asymmetrical pressing, wiggling, shifting, or use of momentum will disrupt the lifter’s balance and stability.
5. It teaches the lifter to focus their mind like a Jedi knight as even the slightest lapse in concentration can make the movement feel utterly impossible to control and balance.
Eccentric Isometric Alternating Chest Press Protocol
The eccentric isometric alternating chest press protocol is an incredibly effective variation not only for increasing functional strength and hypertrophy in the chest, shoulders, and triceps but also for working the core and spinal stabilizers. Essentially the non-moving arm is holding the 90-degree eccentric isometric bottom position. This takes advantage of all 3 mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy including: muscle damage (resulting from holding an eccentric or stretched position), mechanical tension (resulting from increased motor unit recruitment needed to keep the weight held in this ultra high-tension isometric), and metabolic stress (the muscles are held under constant tension in an occluded and stretched position resulting in metabolite accumulation and buildup of hydrogen ions/lactic acid). As a result the accompanying hypertrophy stimulus is quite significant.
Alternating from the bottom position also places significant tension on the core as the body must resist sway, rotation, and lateral flexion with each repetition. When combined with a leg raise position the degree of core stabilization needed to keep the body locked into position is exponentially greater as the feet and hips can’t assist to keep the body fixed into position. If you’re looking for a chest press variations that not only taxes the upper body but absolutely crushes the core then you’ll want to give these a go.
Eyes-closed training is something I frequently incorporate with all of my clients and athletes. That’s because it improves movement mechanics and muscle function. In fact I’ve seen it do wonders for my clients and athletes almost immediately. The reason for this is that closing your eyes on any exercise forces your muscle spindles and other proprioceptive mechanisms to work overtime in order to stabilize the movement and control the load. In other words it teaches the lifter to rely more on kinesthetic awareness rather than sight. Instead of watching your way through the movement, feel your way through the movement.
In addition, many athletes lack appropriate motor control during upper body pressing exercises. They often times rely more on pure brute force and aberrant movement patterns rather than sound technique and proper body alignment. One of the single most effective techniques I’ve found for cleaning up these issues is to incorporate eyes closed variations on bench press variations. Wasted body motion, faulty alignment, elbow flare, lack of tightness, and dysfunctional pressing mechanics are immediately punished as it disrupts the athlete’s equilibrium and stability. In other words they’re required to control their force production as anything less will result in the athlete feeling semi-disoriented, unstable, and out of control.
Combined with eccentric isometrics this kicks up the level of somatosensory feedback and kinesthetic awareness several notches. In fact having an athlete close their eyes on bench press variations is one of the most effective protocols for teaching them to tuck their elbows and centrate their shoulders into the most packed position. Neglecting to activate the lats and tuck the elbows will make the lift feel almost impossible to dial-in due to lack of shoulder stability.
And yes all of these factors are magnified exponentially when performing this variation as the alternating pressing technique combined with the leg raise position greatly increases destabilizing forces on the body. Just be prepared physically and mentally, as this is one of the most challenging yet effective variations you’ll ever attempt.
Head Off Protocol
The head-off chest press promotes heightened spinal rigidity and optimal levels of t-spine extension as the head is not fighting against the bench or floor as is typically the case when the base of the skull is pressed into another surface. As a result optimal spinal alignment can be achieved without being forced into slight cervical and thoracic flexion as is typically produced from traditional chest presses (the bench pushes the head slightly forward).
The benefits this has on posture, spinal positioning, and shoulder mechanics is incredible as it’s much easier to retract, depress and medially rotate the scapula when the head and neck are unrestricted.
Dorsiflexion of the ankles and feet helps to produce greater concurrent activation potentiation and therefore increased neural drive up the kinetic chain (greater activation to all muscles including the working extremities). During a leg raise hold, the dorsiflexed ankle position also helps to contract the quads. This places a slight stretch on the hamstrings and glutes thereby promoting improved spinal rigidity, which contributes to improved thoracic positioning.
In essence, the straight-leg dorsiflexed foot position promotes better postural alignment and upper back activation. This helps to reinforce proper shoulder mechanics as the lifter will find it more natural to fire the lats and centrate the glenohumeral joint. So yes, dorsiflexing the ankles actually translates to improved shoulder function and upper body pressing mechanics. To ensure there isn’t excessive lumbar extension focus on keeping a tight core, which will almost automatically occur from the hollow body leg raise hold.
Due to the level of intensity involved during these chest presses, 2-3 sets of 5-7 repetitions per side (10-14 total presses) will suffice for triggering functional strength and hypertrophy in the upper body and core.
On a side note, you can also perform these alternating from the top position. Although the stimulus to the core is similar, the degree of tension to the upper body musculature is significantly less as the non-moving arm is essentially held in a resting position rather than a high-tension, eccentric isometric position. For beginners and intermediates it may be ideal to start with this variation (alternating from the top position) instead before progressing to the one shown in the video.