Simple Tip To Crush Your Chest and Master Your Bench Press
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Looking for a protocol to improve your bench and chest press mechanics? Try incorporating horizontal band resistance to any of your favorite chest presses including barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, and bottoms up variations. Here are several variations as demonstrated by some of my awesome clients and athletes including Jullian Williams, Leslie Petch, Jake Banta, and myself.
The horizontal force vectors require the lifter to flex their lats and tuck their elbows otherwise the weight will be pulled straight back and they will lose control. Many lifters allow the weight to drift too far back towards their necks during bench press and chest press variations. This variation forces the lifter to position the weight slightly forward which represents ideal mechanics for the shoulder joint as it promotes optimal shoulder packing and centration of the glenohumeral joint. Besides improving strength and crushing the targeted musculature this greatly maximizes bench press technique and form. In fact once you go back to traditional chest presses your horizontal pressing technique will feel unusually dialed in.
In addition the core musculature is forced to work overtime to resist the extension forces the bands are placing on the lifter's body. As a result this minimizes low back arch while maximizing lat activation and t-spine extension. This represents an ideal scenario when it comes to horizontal pressing movements as many lifters compensate with excessive lumbar arch (rather than lat activation) to handle more weight than their bodies are safely capable of.
If you really want to fire the daylights out of your core and minimize lumbar extension try incorporating the hollow body leg raise with ankle dorsiflexion. This combination annihilates every muscle in the body particularly the core and upper torso.
On a side note, it’s important to highlight that the placement of the bands when performing the dumbbell variations makes a significant difference. For example placing the band around the wrists tends to feel the most natural however it does not provide as much tension. In contrast placing the bands on the palms of the hands, although this tends to a feel a bit unnatural (as the bands can get slightly in the way of the dumbbells), also provides significantly greater tension due to the force being applied higher on the lever arm. Thanks to my client Ben Lai for helping me experiment with the different setups to figure this out.
Generally speaking a moderate band resistance should be employed. You want enough tension to force the lifter to fire the lats and tuck the elbows but not so much that it makes the pressing movement feel impossible. In addition I recommend using 50-70% of the loads you would handle for traditional variations. Super-setting them with rowing variations that also incorporate horizontal band resistance (read more about rows with horizontal band resistance here) is also an efficient strategy for reinforcing proper mechanics and working antagonistic muscle groups in a similar plane.
On a side note this horizontal band technique tends to work better on flat presses, floor presses and decline presses. When using the protocol on incline presses the band tends to run into the person’s head and upper torso. The horizontal band resistance technique also works exceptionally well on pullovers and skull crushers.