Bench Press Builders
The bench press is a lift that frustrates many powerlifters. You see it often, lifters squat or deadlift world-class amounts of weight yet struggle to develop their bench press to similar levels. Some of these lifters are limited in their pressing strength due to biomechanical issues that benefit them in other lifts (deadlifters with long arms, for example); however, many are limited due to their exercise selection and programming choices.
Over the years, Westside Barbell has produced many world-class benchers. This includes multiple 600lbs raw benchers and geared benchers that pressed 800lbs, 900lbs, and even 1000lbs in competition. It is safe to say, Lou mastered the art of building the bench press.
How is Westside able to consistently produce results in the bench press? Through the use of special exercises in both our main and accessory exercise selections. The bench press is very technical and will feel a bit less natural to most lifters than a squat or deadlift would.
Bench Press Problems
Performing a squat or deadlift typically comes naturally to most. Once we learn to walk, we soon squat down and pick things off the ground. Are there some nuances to squatting and deadlifting heavy weights? Of course. However, the bench press presents more problems for an individual to figure out due to the unnatural nature of the lift.
You may say, “but the bench press is like a push-up,” but it isn’t. Gravity takes effect when you perform a push-up, and your hands and feet can quickly stabilize you. When performing a bench press, gravity takes effect, and you have to balance heavy weight, maintain posture, and keep balanced on a bench press pad that can vary in width. All this before you even worry about actually moving the weight.
Think of the bench press as the helicopter of the powerlifts, while the squat and deadlift are like flying a Cessna 182. Many things can go wrong during a bench press, while you only have to worry about a few things in the squat and deadlift.
Bench Press Solutions
Knowing that the bench press can present many problems, powerlifters must focus on building their absolute strength and durability through max effort training and increasing their muscle mass with intelligently selected accessory exercises.
Fortunately, the Conjugate Method allows us to easily select and program exercises that can quickly remedy any problem caused by a lack of upper body strength, size, or intramuscular coordination.
Here are a few main and accessory special exercises we recommend to build your bench press:
Axle Bar Floor Press - an exercise recommended for individuals struggling with lockouts due to a lack of tricep and upper back strength. This exercise is also great for acclimating to handling heavy weight in your hands.
Dead Press - this exercise is performed with the bar placed on the safety pins, allowing the lifter only enough space to fit under the bar and activate the triceps. Dead press is ideal for individuals who struggle off the chest or for any lifter who needs to rapidly develop brute strength in the press.
Incline Pin Press - typically used for strongman competitors developing their overhead press strength, the incline pin press can help a powerlifter increase the size and strength of their upper back, shoulders, and triceps. This exercise is an excellent option to improve shoulder stability under heavy weight.
Z Press - another exercise typically associated with strongman, the Z press is great for developing overall strength and size in the upper torso. At Westside, we have found that the Z press is not only great for overhead press development but also helps the bench press.
These exercises should be scheduled as max effort movements, working up to a top set of 1-3 reps.
JM Press - one of the common Westside tricep accessory exercises, the JM press is a great exercise to develop the triceps, upper back, and posterior shoulders. The key to this exercise is to load the bar appropriately (not too light or heavy) and perform each rep with precision.
Rolling DB Tricep Extensions - also commonly known as dumbbell rollbacks, this exercise is the most common way we perform tricep extensions at Westside Barbell. The focus of this exercise is the stretch during the eccentric portion of the movement; you want to allow the dumbbells to stretch the triceps as much as possible while maintaining control throughout the movement.
Spoto Press vs. Minibands - this exercise will build a great amount of upper body strength and size. The goal here is to perform as many reps as possible each set, focusing on bringing the weight as close to the chest as possible without making contact, before pressing the weight up. This exercise is ideal for anyone weak off of their chest.
DB Overhead Press - if you need to develop strength and stability in your shoulders, this is the exercise you need to do. DB overhead press is a great way to improve your ability to manage and balance heavy weight in the bench press while increasing your strength and size. This exercise can be performed seated or standing; we typically perform them standing.
These exercises can be scheduled as max effort or dynamic effort upper accessory movements and should be performed for 3-5 sets of 8-10 or 12–15 reps, depending on the exercise.
Specific Solutions for Specific Problems
As mentioned above, the bench press presents many more issues to a lifter than a squat or deadlift will. For this reason, it is imperative that a lifter know and understand which exercises to choose at the correct times.
If you can quickly identify your issues in training and know which exercises can quickly remedy these issues, you will always have success in training. The rate at which you improve will almost always trace back to your choices in exercise selection and your ability to identify weaknesses and technique issues accurately.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to bench press more frequently, or you need to decrease the bar weight and work on technique. You need specific exercises that directly target and improve the identified issues.