The Ultimate Glute Bridge Chest Press Exercise
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Want to crush your chest and glutes while taking stress off your neck and shoulders? Try these unique variations of the glute bridge chest press performed in a head-off fashion as demonstrated by my awesome clients Ben Lai and Leslie Petch, and moi.
The glute bridge chest press is an excellent exercise for engaging the hips and pectorals while simultaneously performing one powerful pressing movement. In fact I originally tried the traditional glute bridge chest press (typically performed in a floor press fashion) several years ago after reading a few articles by world-renown strength coaches Bret Contreras and Ben Bruno.
Unfortunately I’ve always had a very sensitive neck and shoulders due to scoliosis that stems back from my young teenage years and although I found much value in the traditional glute bridge chest press they were also quite aggravating to my upper neck and shoulders due to the compressive forces against the cervical spine. I’ve also seen similar trends with my other clients including NFL athletes who have various cervical issues and shoulder trauma from past injuries.
The head-off glute bridge chest press variations on the other hand eliminate this issue and actually feel very therapeutic on the shoulders and neck while still deriving the same glute and hip benefits as the traditional variations. That’s because the neck and cervical spine can elongate rather than being compressed into the floor.
When the head is compressed into another surface this promotes forward head tilt, cervical flexion, shoulder elevation, shoulder protraction, and 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.
In fact expert strength coach Nick Tumminello has also written about similar modifications in regards to glute bridge variations as well as chest presses. I’m advocating a similar approach for the glute bridge floor press.
Cervical spinal alignment is a critical aspect of postural control and shoulder health. When cervical spinal position is compromised it has a direct negative impact on shoulder function and upper body mechanics. In fact as many of you know this is why I’m such an advocate of head-off chest presses for traditional bench press variations (read more about Head-Off Chest Presses Here). However, with the glute bridge floor press the neck and cervical spine are compressed to a greater degree than traditional bench variations making it even more important that the head and neck not be jammed into a fixed surface.
There are two primary methods that can be used for this exercise.
First you can perform these on the floor by laying on an Olympic lifting platform or a thin step box/pad while having your head off the edge. The edge of the platform should be roughly in line with the top portion of the neck just below the skull. This allows optimal elongation of the cervical spine while still providing ample support for the remainder of the torso. Essentially you’re looking for a 2-4 inch elevated surface as any less will still result in the head running into the floor.
The second method involves the exact same protocol but instead of laying on the floor or platform you’ll perform them on a bench. In fact, if I had to choose one of the two methods this would be my go-to strategy not only because it’s easier to prop the weights up and lay on the bench (the floor press variations can be a bit tricky with heavier loads particularly dumbbells), but also because the edge of the bench is padded. It also ensures optimal alignment throughout the feet, hips, and torso, as the narrow bench provides little margin for error in terms of lateral deviations of the feet, hips and torso thereby ensuring strict mechanics.
The head-off glute bridge chest press also provides several additional benefits in terms of functional strength, hypertrophy, and performance.
First, driving with the hips and using the shoulders as an anchor point to push into actually helps depress and centrate the shoulders and scapula.
Second, this variation reinforces hip drive and full body activation when performing chest presses – something many lifters struggle with.
Lastly, this represents one of, if not the most functional and natural method for performing decline chest presses. In fact, this is my go-to strategy when attempting to target the chest with a decline angle. Here’s why:
Most decline benches involve anchoring the body by fixing the back of the knees onto a sit-up style bench which is not a natural or functional position. In addition, because the body is essentially hanging by the legs it’s also much more difficult to depress the shoulders as gravity wants to elevate the shoulders throughout the press. By pressing with the legs such as during the glute bridge press, it does the opposite to the shoulders, as previously mentioned, and promotes better lat activation and scapular depression.
On side note, decline chest presses have been shown to be incredibly effective for targeting the chest and pectoral fibers as the shoulders are less involved than other variations. So if you’re going to periodically incorporate decline presses ditch the standard decline press and replace it with this glute bridge press variation as it’s far superior in all regards.
The head-off glute bridge chest press is highly versatile and can be performed with dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells. In addition if further glute and posterior chain activation are desired these can also be performed in a single leg fashion.
For more info on targeting the glutes while performing chest presses check out the T-Bench Press Protocol Here.