T-Bench, Neck Bridge Chest Press for Technique & Size
Dr. Joel Seedman
I’ve recently been showcasing quite a few videos discussing the head off chest press position and why it’s so beneficial not only for postural alignment, shoulder health, and movement mechanics but also for increasing size in the upper body muscles. This specific T-Bench (laying widthwise on the bench) chest press exercise produces similar results, however, instead of going head off were going to be going head on using a neck bridge. In fact the head and lower neck will actually be the only portion of the body in contact with the bench.
This looks sadistic, masochistic, and unusually brutal but there are several reasons why this is such an awesome exercise and also why most advanced lifters should be incorporating it into their training routine.
1. Similar to the head off T-bench chest press variation (shown to the left) this allows the hips to be off the pad forcing the lifter to hold an isometric glute bridge throughout. However, tension to the glutes is exponentially higher on this variation due to the change in leverage. Simply put your upper body anchor point is now 6-12 inches higher (at the head instead of the shoulders) turning this into more of a long lever glute bridge position. For individuals who lack the ability to drive with their legs and hips on the bench press, here’s your fix as the athlete is forced to fully contract the glutes and drive with their legs with maximal effort.
2. Another feature that makes the T-bench neck-bridge bench press so effective is that the shoulders are completely free to move. In fact this is perhaps the only bench press variation there is where there is absolutely nothing encumbering the upper back and shoulders or gluing them into place. This allows the scapula to move freely without being fixed to the bench or floor. As a result this optimizes natural scapulohumeral rhythm and glenohumeral joint mechanics similar to how a pushup or landmine press allows optimal scapular movement. With that said this head on, t-bench, neck bridge, barbell bench press is incredibly shoulder friendly and greatly helps to reinforce proper horizontal pressing mechanics.
3. The final reason why this is such an effective exercise is a bit more complex but it’s also the most important. The neck bridge position while seemingly the exact opposite of the head off variations actually produces a very similar stimulus and represents a progression of the head off variation. With the head on T-Bench barbell chest press, the only thing that is keeping me from completely collapsing to the floor and injuring my neck is maximal cervical elongation and extension (not cervical hyper extension). In other words you’re continuously resisting cervical flexion forces attempting to drive your head into a forward or flexed position by maintaining a perfectly neutral head position. When it comes to fixing neck and postural alignment this may be the single most effective solution you’ll ever implement as there is absolutely no cheating this.
Cervical flexion or forward head tilt is one of the biggest issues I see not only in individuals who sit at desks all day but also in many so called expert trainers and coaches. The reason for this is over the last 5-7 years the fitness industry has perpetuated an overly flexed spinal position (as a means of avoiding lumbar extension) using excessive posterior pelvic tilt and extreme rib cage tuck (i.e. pull your rib cage down). This has led to shoulder rounding, spinal compression (instead of spinal elongation), loss of natural spinal curvature, forward head tilt and cervical compression. In fact the whole notion of packing the head has also been taken too far and falls into the exact same category of trying to over-correct cervical hyperextension. The goal should be cervical elongation with natural extension (not hyperextension and tilting back) but a lengthened cervical spine. An overly packed head leads to cervical compression, forward head tilt, cervical flexion, shoulder rounding, tight pectorals, tight glutes, low back pain, and poor hip hinge mechanics.
And yes, cervical elongation is critical for upper body mechanics as it allows the shoulders and scapula as well as the rest of the spine to set into its natural and proper position for pushing and pulling mechanics. Not only will this improve posture and body positioning but your strength, shoulder mobility, and shoulder stability will markedly improve on all upper body exercises.
So what am I getting at? Both the "head off" and "head on" neck bridge techniques help to fix this. The "head off" allows proper cervical elongation to occur whereas the "head on" as shown in the first video literally forces it to happen as anything less and the exercise simply won’t happen. Find out more about how to program this and other similar exercises into your routine HERE.