19 Feb Bench Press Mobility
When most fitness athletes think of improving their mobility for squats and overhead presses, few consider the mobility needs of the bench. While it doesn’t usually require as much mobility attention as those lifts, I often find mobility limitations in athletes that impact their ability to bench with optimal form.
As with any movement, when wanting to improve mobility of a complex exercise, we must take a look at the individual muscles and joints involved to find which are limited rather than simply choosing random mobility moves from Instagram or YouTube and hoping they work.
So what do we need from a movement and mobility control perspective with the bench press?
- Shoulder extension (and often I’ll see a lack of shoulder internal rotation making for stiff bench shoulders)
- Scapular retraction and depression
- Thoracic spine extension
- Hip extension
Let’s break out assessments for each of these.
Without full shoulder extension, as the athlete brings the bar down to the chest, the glenohumeral joint will run out of mobility. Then to touch the bar to the chest, the scapula will have to anteriorly tilt and move out of the ideal retracted and depressed position we would ideally want it locked in during the bench press.
To test extension, I have the athlete lie on his or her stomach and I hold the shoulder blade into this retracted and depressed position. Then slowly raise his or her arm into straight extension and look to see if they reach about a 50 degree angle.
Although not as important, I also find shoulder internal rotation to often be limited and needing to be addressed.
When shoulder extension is limited, one of my go-to drills is the Bear Roll which combines shoulder extension with scapular retraction and thoracic extension.
Here’s another drill I’ll use in athletes needing mobility and also focus on keeping the shoulder blade from anteriorly tilting.
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Exercise I used this week to help a great CrossFit athlete control shoulder extension. After we improved her extension range of motion, Ann Marie was still dumping into excessive anterior tilting of her scapula. With this exercise we eccentrically loaded the biceps into extension and had her focus on keeping her shoulder blade locked down.
Can the shoulder blade (scapula) retract (pull back) without compensations in the spine? Use this test to assess.
Having great thoracic extension will set the athlete’s upper back into a good position to press out of. To test thoracic spine rotation/extension mobility, begin sitting on knees with your butt on your heels. Place one forearm on the ground and the other behind your back. Rotate towards the up hand. 50 degrees of rotation should be available each direction (shoulders relative to the ground).
The Bear Roll exercise shown above is a great way to stretch this prior to bench pressing. But if your thoracic spine is stiff as a brick wall, I’d suggest checking out my THORACIC MOBILITY OVERHAUL program for a month long, guided plan to get that upper back moving!
Probably the least considered area of mobility for the bench press is hip extension. But being able to get your feet properly set for the bench press is crucial to success (see this great video).
To test hip extension, we use the Thomas Test described in this post.
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TIGHT HIP FLEXORS? Assess don’t guess! . Athletes frequently come to me complaining about tight hip flexors. I always use to Thomas test to determine if they are truly tight (because often they aren’t tight and athletes just need stronger core and psoas). . ➡️➡️➡️ The athlete begins sitting on the very edge of a box or treatment table. Next, they lie back holding their knees towards their chest (but not pulled all the way to their chest). . The partner then holds and lowers on of the two legs down. . 💥The partner should look for three things: . 1️⃣Does the thigh reach full extension (the thigh parallel to the ground). . 2️⃣Is the knee able to bend to 90 degrees of flexion without the thigh raising? If the knee does not make it to 90 degrees without the rising, tightness of the rectus femoris is to blame. If the knee can flex to 90 degrees without the thigh rising but the thigh is unable to reach full extension, illiopsoas tightness is present. . 3️⃣Does the thigh migrate laterally? If so, TFL tightness is present. . Performing this test will save a lot of athletes from wasting time stretching when they need to work on other areas. . 💥💥💥 FAIL THE THOMAS TEST? I’ve written several articles on tight hip flexor Fixes that you can find on my website! 💥💥💥
Other Mobility Considerations
Another area that must be addressed when discussing shoulder health and the bench press is actually the squat. Many athletes irritate their shoulders due to poor positioning in the squat that then shows up in bench pressing. To assess your upper body mobility specific to this squat check out this post: