The Most Effective Chest Press You’ve Never Done: The Pivot Press
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
When programming for my athletes I utilize a number of chest exercises and horizontal presses to build functional strength and hypertrophy in the upper body. In fact, over the years I’ve devised a number of unique chest movements not only for optimizing the growth stimulus to the targeted musculature but also for improving body mechanics and form. Some of these include the foam roller chest press, head off bench press, t-bench chest press, PREP bench press, leg raise bench press, pronated squeeze press, sandwich squeeze press, Chinese plank chest press, anti-fly press, and a variety of unique pushups. However, I recently developed a unique chest press that may in fact be one of the most effective chest presses I’ve ever used. I refer to this as the Pivot Press.
The pivot press is a combination of an incline T-bench chest press and a strategically timed hip thrust. To perform this movement set up like a traditional t-bench chest press. Instead of keeping the hips tall throughout and the glutes in the fully contracted position, you’ll lower your hips by performing the eccentric portion of a hip thrust all while holding the arms in the fully extended position. Once your hips have reached the bottom of the hip thrust position and your torso is at an approximately 45-degree angle, you’ll begin performing the eccentric portion of the chest press in a very slow and controlled fashion. Once you reach the bottom, pause, drive the hips up explosively so that the torso is now parallel to the floor (instead of at a 45 degree angle), then press the weights back to the starting position. In other words, the eccentric portion of the press occurs in the eccentric portion of the glute bridge with the torso at a 45 degree angle. In contrast, the concentric portion of the chest press occurs with the hips tall in the fully contracted position of the hip thrust and the body now in a flat press position.
Besides providing a mix of flat and incline positions that equally targets both the upper and middle regions of the chest there is a very specific reason why this pivot press is so effective.
It’s a commonly accepted fact that the incline position particularly a slightly higher 45-degree incline position is a biomechanically weaker position than a flat position. Simply put most individuals can’t handle as much weight at a 45 degree incline position as they can in a flat press position. However, we also know that muscles can produce approximately 20-30% more force in the eccentric phase of a movement compared to the concentric phase. Unfortunately this means that during any traditional chest press movement the concentric portion of the lift ends up being significantly more challenging than the eccentric phase. Simply put, we’re never taking full advantage of the added eccentric strength we have during traditional sets unless of course we use supramaximal loading with the aid of spotter.
However, the pivot press changes all of this as it allows us to maximally overload both the eccentric and concentric portions of the lift simply by adjusting our body position between each phase of the press. In other words, with the pivot press our body is placed in a more biomechanically difficult position during the stronger eccentric portion of the lift and in an easier position during the weaker concentric phase of the exercise. Simply put we can take advantage of both the biomechanical angular strength variances (strength differences between flat and incline positions) as well as the structural strength variances (force differences that exist between eccentric and concentric strength). In other words we’re essentially turning the movement into a biomechanical drop rep. Similar to a drop set where the lifter modifies the movement and makes it biomechanically easier as they fatigue, the same thing occurs during the pivot press only the lifter adjusts their position each and every rep rather than at a particular point during the set. Hence the term drop rep (shoutout to Leslie Petch for coming up with this perfect term).
For example, when performing dumbbell presses in a flat position I typically use 100-110 pound dumbbells. In contrast when performing dumbbell chest presses on a higher 45-degree incline I typically use 80-90 pound dumbbells. With the pivot press I can use 100 pounds dumbbells throughout the duration of the set by simply adjusting my body position to match the biomechanical leverage of each position with the corresponding eccentric and concentric strength levels. As a result, the eccentric phase of the lift represents supramaximal eccentric loading as I end up using approximately 10-20% more load on the eccentric incline portion of the lift than I would typically use for that angle. However, the weight also represents the optimal load for maximizing the intensity on the concentric phase as I would typically use approximately 100 pound dumbbells for my heaviest sets during a traditional flat dumbbell press.
Besides having ability to overload both portions of the lift there are quite a few additional benefits of the pivot press. This includes stimulation to the glutes and hamstrings, improved ability to drive with the lower body during chest presses, enhanced postural mechanics, and improved t-spine extension. The pivot press can be applied to a number of loading methods and training tools including dumbbells, barbells, accommodating resistance (bands and chains), single arm variations, single leg variations, bottoms up variations, and more.
The longitudinal t-bench setup can also be employe for the pivot press as shown here by my awesome bodybuilding athlete Ben Lai. The longitudinal bench setup is actually more challenging not only because of the narrower base of support but also because the lifter can’t use the sides of the bench as support for the arms in the bottom position.
Another great variation that really crushes the chest is combining the squeeze press with the pivot press method.
The Incline T-Bench Chest Press
Although it doesn’t involve a variable adjusting angle throughout the movement like the pivot press does, the incline T-bench chest press is an incredibly effective pressing movement in its own right. In this video, my awesome clients and I including Leslie Petch and Erin English are demonstrating several variations including the dumbbell, barbell, and single leg versions of the incline t-bench chest press.
There are 5 unique benefits of this movement many of which also apply to the pivot press.
1. You’re essentially creating your own 45-degree bench press only you’re using your body to help maintain a position that a traditional incline bench would provide. This results in incredible full body tension and concurrent activation potentiation. In addition it’s quite brutal on the chest particularly the upper regions as well as the shoulders.
2. The glutes and hamstrings get pummeled during these as you’re essentially holding the bottom eccentric isometric position of a hip thruster. With this in mind, the single leg version is quite brutal on the posterior chain.
3. Similar to the standard t-bench press position, the incline t-bench press is incredible for teaching proper t-spine extension and shoulder retraction. In fact, it’s even more pronounced during the incline version as the upper back and shoulders are pressed fiercely against the bench forcing the lifter into proper levels of t-spine extension and shoulder packing. As a result the stretch and elongation to the pectoral fibers is quite intense producing both incredible gains in functional mass as well as improvements to posture and spinal alignment.
4. The incline t-bench also involves one of my favorite horizontal pressing features, namely the head off position. Besides the fact that you’ll be required to use your own neck strength to keep your head in the proper position, this also allows more complete cervical elongation. In turn this optimizes shoulder positioning and t-spine extension as these are both related to cervical positioning. In contrast when the head is pressed against a pad, this compresses the cervical spine, which negatively impacts glenohumeral joint mechanics and t-spine positioning.
5. The abdominals and core get worked quite intensely during the incline t-bench position even more so than a standard t-bench chest press. That’s because the lifter will be required to engage their hip flexors in the bottom position to keep their hips from lifting up. In other words there is strong co-contraction of the hip flexors and hip extensors. Because the hip flexors and abdominal muscles oftentimes work together this creates enormous tension in the entire anterior portion of the core as it feels similar to performing a knee raise or reverse crunch throughout.
Eccentric Overload Floor Press with Glute Bridge
A similar concept can also be applied to the floor press as shown above with the pivot press. For this drill, simply perform the eccentric portion of the floor press with a supramaximal load (greater than your 1 RM) pause, then use a strategically timed glute bridge to help drive the weight up during the concentric phase. For instance Leslie typically handles 115-125 lbs on strict floor press. This variation allowed her to handle 135 lbs during her cutting phase only several weeks before last weeks competition where she came in 2nd place in a national level IFFB qualifier NPC Masters show in Pittsburgh.
On a side note, you’ll notice I have Leslie performing these with her head off the edge of a lifting platform. Here’s why.When performing a glute bridge chest press with the head pressed into the floor, this create strong levels of compressive forces against the neck while also pushing into a significant flexion. The head-off glute bridge chest press variations on the other hand eliminate this issue and actually feel very therapeutic on the shoulders & neck while still deriving the same glute and hip benefits as the traditional variations. That’s because the neck & cervical spine can elongate rather than being compressed into the floor. Learn more about the head-off chest press here.
When the head is compressed into another surface this promotes forward head tilt, cervical flexion, shoulder elevation, shoulder protraction, & internal rotation particularly during horizontal pressing. However, when the cervical spine is allowed to elongate it frees up the shoulders and scapula due to improved t-spine extension that ultimately leads to enhanced shoulder packing and centration of the glenohumeral joint. Learn more about proper mechanics in my book MOVEMENT REDEFINED.
Bonus: Eccentric Accentuated 2:1 BANA Method
Eccentric overload to the upper body pressing muscles can also be accomplished via the eccentric accentuated 2:1 protocol.
The 2:1 eccentric accentuated protocol also known as the bilateral assisted negative accentuated training protocol (BANA) is one of my favorite eccentric overload methods. Not only does it produce incredible gains in functional strength and hypertrophy but it’s also very effective for targeting each limb individually during the eccentric portion of the lift. Essentially what you’re doing is perform the concentric phase of the lift with 2 limbs and the eccentric phase with 1 limb thereby providing greater eccentric overload during that eccentric or negative movement.
Unfortunately, this technique is often limited to machines or cable systems such as seated machine rows, lat pulldowns, leg extensions, leg curls, chest press machines or other variable resistance pieces of equipment thereby limiting the degree of stabilization and motor control. However, this same concept can be applied to dumbbell chest presses as I show in the video using the incline press. The most weight I typically handle on incline dumbbell presses is 100’s. In addition, for the single arm variations (which tend to be a bit more difficult and demanding) that number is typically closer to 90 pounds.
By using this 2:1 BANA method I’m able to handle a 110 pound dumbbell thereby providing greater overload to the upper body. Additionally, the level of core activation is inordinately high as the degree of anti-rotation and rotary stability needed to control your body under such extreme unilateral offset positions is near maximal effort. In other words, during the eccentric phase it feels as though your body wants to rotate and flip off the side of the bench. And in case you were wondering, yes females can do this without chest discomfort as shown by my awesome athlete Leslie Petch in the second half of the video.