The Ultimate Bench Press Improver and Chest Enhancing Technique
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
If you’re looking for a unique but highly effective method to improve your chest press strength and technique try incorporating the T-bench protocol. This is something I routinely employ with my athletes and have seen it do wonders for bench press mechanics and pressing power.
Instead of laying lengthwise on the bench as you would typically do for traditional variations, the T bench position involves laying widthwise. This allows the hips, head, and neck to be off the bench and unsupported. As a result you're forced to support more of your body and contract your posterior chain from head to toe to a much greater degree.
In essence you’re holding an isometric glute bridge throughout. For individuals who lack the ability to drive with their legs and hips on bench press, here’s your fix as the lifter is forced to fully contract the glutes and drive with their legs.
In addition, the elbows and triceps end up touching the bench just at the right stopping point similar to a floor press. This keeps the athlete from collapsing and over-stretching in the bottom position as it helps to reinforce where their optimal stopping point is for horizontal chest pressing mechanics.
The T-bench chest press also provides similar benefits to the head-off chest press in terms of cervical elongation (read more about the Head-Off Technique Here). However the effects tend to be even more profound as the combination of hip drive and head-off coincide perfectly with each other. The more the hips drive up, the more the head and neck push back into cervical elongation. This promotes further improvements in t-spine extension and shoulder retraction. In other words you immediately feel the benefits of increased leg drive as you’re rewarded with improved pressing technique that ultimately transfers to greater force production and the ability to handle heavier loads.
Similar to the other variations, the T-bench chest press protocol can be applied to any and all chest press variations including barbell presses provided the lifter can reposition the bench widthwise in a squat cage.
Neck Bridge T-Bench
For this T-bench variation instead of going head off we're 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 unusually cruel and sadistic however 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 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 one of the few bench press variations 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 the lifter from completely collapsing to the floor and injuring their 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 allowed.
Single Leg T-Bench
If you’re looking for a way to increase glute activation as well as rotary stability on your chest presses try this single leg T-bench chest press variation as demonstrated by one of my awesome clients Erin English.
Essentially you’re holding a single leg hip bridge while simultaneously performing chest presses. Just be prepared to feel your glutes and hamstrings activate like never before on chest presses. Because you’ll be forced to use stricter pressing mechanics (due to a narrower base), don’t be surprised if you feel your chest getting scorched as well from the high levels of smooth and constant tension.
Half-Body-Off Single Arm T-Bench Chest Press
If you’re looking for a method to tax your core to a greater degree by implementing a significant rotary stability component you can also perform these unilaterally (one arm at a time) on the left or right edge of the bench by having half of your body hanging off as shown here by one of my bodybuilders Ben Lai.
If your core and hips aren’t firing with near maximal effort you’ll literally feel like you’re going to flip off the bench.
The Most Challenging Bench Press You've Never Done
If you really want to get crazy with the T-bench press protocol you can actually combine the single arm and single leg T-bench variations as well as the half-body off protocol into one incredibly challenging chest press variation as shown by NPC figure competitor Leslie Petch.
This is literally a full body pressing movement as you’ll be forced to activate nearly every muscle in your body from head to toe as you resist enormous amounts of rotational forces. In addition this is one of the more physically exhausting chest presses you’ll ever attempt due to the high levels of continuous intramuscular tension throughout each set. Besides devastating your glutes (maximus and medius), it’s also one of the most brutal core exercises you’ll ever perform as it absolutely crushes your obliques and transverse abs as well as your rectus abdominals.
Lastly, if you have poor foot and ankle activation you’ll be notified almost immediately as you’ll find it quite difficult to maintain your balance for more than a few seconds. In fact the only way you can reach equilibrium with your body on this movement and find a stable position is by producing perfect foot and ankle alignment. With that in mind this is an incredible foot and ankle exercise provided you’re able to lock your position in and stabilize your body. Oh and if you really want to increase the instability try throwing in a bottoms-up variation as shown in the video.
Band-Resisted T-Bench Press
The T-bench press is also very conducive for performing band-resisted or accommodating resistance variations including dumbbell and barbell band-resisted presses as shown by one of my NFL athletes Jarius Wynn.
The combination of leg drive, improved postural alignment, and accommodating resistance, makes these incredibly effective for boosting your pressing strength, power, technique and upper body hypertrophy.
Longitudinal T-Bench Variations
The T-bench technique is quite versatile and can be employed on a number of supine exercises including chest flyes, pullovers, skull crushers, and variations thereof. The key is maintaining proper spinal alignment and actived glutes throughout.
On that note the t-bench protocol can also be applied in a longitudinal fashion. as demonstrated here by MLB pro baseball player Austin Meadows. This has several benefits.
1. The lack of hip support forces the lifter to drive with the hips, legs, & glutes. Besides creating more full body tension this also does wonders for improving bench press technique as it truly represents the epitome of teaching someone how to engage their lower body during horizontal pressing movements.
2. When performed in a single leg fashion not only does this pulverize the glutes & hamstrings but it also produces intense instability & rotational forces the lifter must resist in order to lose his or her balance. This is more pronounced in the longitudinal T-bench position due to less lateral support. As a result the entire core musculature as well as just about every muscle from head to toe must be fully engaged to maintain balance without falling off the side.
3. Similar to the above point, most of my athletes have expressed how intensely their feet & ankles have to fire in order to balance their body during this drill. And yes foot & ankle activation is critical for all movements even upper body presses as it maximizes signaling up the kinetic chain and helps eliminate energy leaks.
4. While this variation has similar benefits to the other t-bench variations shown above in terms of glute activation there are also some subtle differences. Most notably the lifter can’t rely on the bench to stop their arms at the bottom. Instead the lifter must rely on their own muscle activation to terminate the end range of motion at approximately 90 degree without collapsing any deeper. The only downside is you can’t produce a head off position like you would with a traditional t-bench setup.
The single arm variations also blast the core and upper body pressing muscles particularly when using heavy loads as shown here by NFL athlete Marcellis Branch.
Sprinter Hip Thrust T-Bench Press
Here I have one of my awesome clients Ben Lai performing a SPRINTER HIP THRUST T-Bench Chest press.
The single leg hip thrust with contralateral knee drive takes it several notches further as the level of hip & glute activation is through the roof. Essentially the more you drive the elevated leg into 90 degree hip flexion, the more the glute of the planted leg fires ultimately giving the lifter a firmer base & greater pressing power. Besides improving bench press mechanics it also transfers to sprinting technique/activation patterns as this contralateral hip extension & hip flexion position is fundamental to stride mechanics during running. Additionally the single leg position requires intense levels of core & abs to help stabilize the lumbopelvic hip complex & resist rotational forces.
With that said, for a long time I’d primarily employed a straight leg position for the elevated foot during unilateral leg positions such as hip thrusts or single leg standing movements. However, as Ben has recently began working on his PhD in kinesiology he’s been examining the impact of 90 degree contralateral hip flexion for the elevated leg & emphasizing to me how important that is. So I began experimenting with this as it made perfect sense neuromuscularly & biomechanically and I’m totally sold. Got to love it when your clients start teaching you.
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