You can lower more weight than you can lift. Here are 7 unique exercises that take advantage of that fact and shock your chest into growing.
The research is pretty conclusive. When it comes to maximizing muscle growth, eccentric overload using supra-maximal loads (heavier than 1 RM) is one of the most effective strength and hypertrophy techniques there is. Here are 7 of my favorite ways to accomplish this when training chest.
The “up with 2, down with 1” protocol, also known as bilateral-assisted negative accentuated training (BANA), produces incredible gains in functional strength and hypertrophy. You perform the concentric (lifting) phase of the lift with 2 limbs and the eccentric (lowering) phase with 1 limb, thereby providing greater eccentric overload during that negative movement.
Unfortunately, the use of this technique is often limited to variable resistance machines, thereby limiting the degree of stabilization and ultimately the level of motor unit recruitment. However, this same concept can be applied to dumbbell chest presses.
The most weight I typically handle on incline dumbbell presses is a pair of 100s, but by using this 2:1 BANA method, I’m able to handle a 110-pound dumbbell, thereby providing greater eccentric overload. Additionally, the level of core activation is inordinately high because the body struggles to control anti-rotation and maintain rotary stability.
The pivot press is a combination of the incline T-bench chest press I described in 3 New Ways to Bench Press and a strategically timed hip thrust. To do it, set up like a traditional T-bench chest press. Instead of keeping the hips tall throughout with 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 and your torso is at approximately a 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, and then drive the hips up explosively so that the torso is parallel to the floor (instead of at a 45-degree angle). Then press the weights back to the top.
The eccentric portion of the actual dumbbell press occurs in the bottom of the hip thrust 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 in a flat press position.
Besides providing a mix of flat and incline positions that equally target both the upper and middle regions of the chest, there’s a very specific reason why this pivot press is so effective.
It allows you to maximally overload both the eccentric and concentric portions of the lift simply by adjusting your body position between each phase of the press. In other words, the pivot press places the body into 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.
Select a dumbbell load you’d typically use for traditional flat dumbbell presses and set up in a T-bench position. Perform the eccentric phase of the movement with a slow and accentuated eccentric squeeze press while also pausing in the bottom position (i.e. eccentric isometric).
After pausing for 1-3 seconds in the bottom of the squeeze press, allow the dumbbells to gently collapse to your chest and then immediately shift the dumbbells to the sides of your torso so that your arms are supported by the bench (hence the reason for using the T-bench position).
At this stage you’ll be in a more traditional neutral-grip chest press position. Drive the weights up in a standard fashion, pause at the top, squeeze the dumbbells back together and then repeat this cycle by moving back into the eccentric squeeze press.
What makes this so effective is that it allows the lifter to truly overload the eccentric phase. For example, when performing dumbbell presses in a flat position, I typically use 100-110 pound dumbbells. When performing the dumbbell squeeze press, I typically use 75-85 pound dumbbells. But with the eccentric accentuated squeeze-and-spread press I can use 100-pound bells throughout the duration of the set by simply adjusting my body position to match the strength of each position to the corresponding eccentric and concentric difficulty levels.
A quick note on the transition phase: While the majority of the eccentric squeeze-and-spread chest press feels quite natural and self-explanatory, the transition from the bottom of the squeeze press into the traditional press (the spread phase) can be a bit tricky at first. Spend a session performing several sets using significantly lighter loads to familiarize yourself with the transition/spread phase.
Although the squeeze-and-spread dumbbell press is an incredibly effective mass builder, some individuals may find it a bit awkward. However, you can overload the eccentric phase of the squeeze press without having to alter the movement pattern. All you need is a good spotter.
I call this movement the “eccentric tabletop squeeze press” because the dumbbells, when pressed together, create a perfect platform on which to rest a weight plate. The video shows NFL running back Marquell Beckwith doing it with 100-pound dumbbells and a 45-pound plate, followed by my figure competitor Leslie using 50-pound dumbbells and a 25-pound bumper plate. (The proper dumbbell-to-plate ratio is 2:1.)
Simply have your training partner place a weight plate on top of the dumbbells while you perform the eccentric phase of the movement and then have them lift the load off immediately before transitioning into the concentric pressing phase.
Make sure the spotter keeps his hands close to the weight plate to ensure it doesn’t slide off.
Another effective method for applying eccentric overload is using the power rack eccentric potentiation method (PREP). The setup and application is simple. Set the safety pins in the power rack just slightly above chest height. Load the bar with 110-120% of your 1RM and perform the eccentric portion of the bench press in a controlled fashion while gently letting the weight settle to the safety pins.
Next, you can slide out of the rack and strip a plate off the bar (representing a 20-30% reduction in load), or have spotters do it. Then press the weight back up and rack it. Put the plate you removed back on, slide back into the bench, and again lower it. Repeat this sequence for the desired number of reps, as demonstrated by my NFL athlete Bryce Canady in the video.
Besides being one of the safest ways to eccentrically overload your bench press, this technique also creates a level of post activation potentiation on the concentric phase. That’s because the nervous system is hyper-activated from the supramaximal eccentric, causing the concentric phase to feel light and powerful. In fact, some athletes find they can handle heavier loads than normal on the concentric phase.
When combined with ample overload, push-ups are one of the most effective and safe functional mass builders. We can easily apply eccentric overload to further enhance this training stimulus. In the video, NFL Combine athlete Michael Montero performs an eccentric potentiation weighted push-up protocol using the ledge push-up technique.
The total weight on the eccentric phase (bodyweight included) is just over 500 pounds while the concentric phase is slightly over 400 pounds.
This technique is almost identical in theory to the PREP method for the bench press, but less complex. Simply have a partner place a dumbbell, kettlebell, or sandbag on your back during the negative phase of the push-up and then immediately have them lift the weight off to allow a powerful completion of the concentric phase.
Applying this concept to push-ups not only crushes the chest, shoulders, and triceps, but also the core and spinal stabilizers because you’re essentially holding an incredibly heavy plank.
Just get into a plank/push-up position and then lower yourself using one arm (alternate arms on subsequent reps, of course). While this might not sound that challenging, most lifters will probably experience something that resembles a semi-controlled face plant when first attempting these.
But after several weeks of consistent application, you’ll notice incredible functional strength and size gains. Plus, you’ll not only be able to easily control the eccentric phase of the exercise, but most likely be able to actually push yourself back up for a rep or two.