Fix Your Bench Press Technique With the Foam Roller
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Am I a big believer in foam rolling? No, not at all. Do I like the foam roller? Yes I love it, but not for the same purposes most individuals use it for. In fact the foam roller is one of my favorite tools not necessarily for soft tissue work but for teaching proper lifting mechanics on a variety of movements particularly chest presses, pullovers, and chest fly variations.
There are several benefits of using the foam roller for chest presses.
1. 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.
2. The foam roller forces the lifter to create heightened spinal rigidity and natural 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.
3. The foam roller provides significant instability thereby forcing the lifter to use strict form and eliminate momentum. The foam roller has a tendency to roll and move unless the lifter remains tight and locks their core in. This creates significant rotational forces that the lifter must resist to keep from falling off the foam roller. Any wiggling, cheating, asymmetrical pressing, or shifting will cause the lifter to lose their balance.
4. The foam roller requires the lifter to aggressively activate their feet and ankles to help grip into the floor. In fact, screwing your feet into the floor is almost a prerequisite when performing foam roller chest presses as anything less will result in loss of balance and extreme instability. In addition, the feet and ankles are forced to assume straight and proper alignment as misalignment will produce further deviations to the movement.
Most lifters fail to use proper alignment and activation of the foot and ankle complex during chest presses. Unfortunately this results in decreased neural drive up the kinetic chain including reduced signaling to the upper body pressing muscles. In contrast activating the feet and ankles increases neural drive, full body tension, and motor control via irradiation and concurrent activation potentiation. In other words you’ll increase force production and your 1RM. If you have trouble driving with your hips and legs during the bench press more than likely it’s related to poor foot and ankle activation. The foam roller press helps to resolve this subtle yet significant recruitment issue.
Single Arm and Dumbbell Variations
Although the foam roller can be used on a number of chest press variations, performing single arm variations creates incredible anti-rotation forces (literally) that the lifter must resist to keep from falling off the foam roller. In fact this ends up being a brutal rotary stability and anti-rotational exercise for the entire core. Here I have one of my NFL athletes Jarius Wynn performing it to prepare his upper torso and core for the demands of the upcoming season.
You’ll also notice the use of the head-off technique as is the case for every variation in this article. That’s because it helps to maximize t-spine extension and shoulder mechanics. Read more about the “Head Off Technique” Here
Barbell Bench Press Variations
The foam roller can also be placed inside a squat cage similar to a floor press setup. This allows the lifter to efficiently perform barbell presses on the foam roller resulting in significant improvements to bench press mechanics. Here’s another one of my collegiate athletes performing it as we prepare him for the NFL Combine bench test.
If you really want to improve your horizontal pressing mechanics and learn the most efficient bench press technique, you’ll want to give this exercise a try. Essentially it involves an eccentric isometric, head off position, bottoms-up, kettlebell chest press on the foam roller. And yes that means you’ll be required to clean the weights and lay down with them in a bottoms-up position. Besides requiring significant levels of strength, movement efficiency, and motor control, this will teach you all you need to know about your horizontal pressing technique.
Even the slightest deviation in form will result in dumping the kettlebells. In addition, implementing the bottoms up variation teaches the lifter to avoid collapsing at the bottom of the lift (a common pressing mistake made by even the most advanced lifter). That’s because any collapsing or use of excessive range of motion will disrupt optimal glenohumeral joint mechanics and degrade natural scapulohumeral rhythm making it nearly impossible to stabilize the load.
The combination of eccentric isometrics, bottoms-up pressing, and foam roller technique also makes this one of the best chest pressing variations you can do to maximize proprioceptive feedback and kinesthetic awareness. As a result this is one of the most effective methods I’ve seen for improving and eliminating shoulder injuries, neck inflammation, postural deviations, and pectoral strains.
Master this variation and not only will your bench press strength sky rocket but I’m pretty sure you’ll be eligible for your ninja pro card.
Incline Variations With The Foam Roller
The foam roller press and head-off protocol can also be applied to incline pressing variations as I show in this video.
This also helps ingrain the notion of driving with the legs and firing the glutes in order to avoid sliding down the foam roller. Just make sure to fire the daylights out of your anterior core and keep your stomach braced and pulled in throughout to avoid excessive lumbar arch (since the feet are well bellow the torso).