Pin Press Bench

Pin Press Bench

The Westside Barbell Conjugate System provides a training template that allows a coach to build a complete athlete. A critical aspect of building a complete athlete is developing upper torso strength, specifically the pecs, shoulders, triceps, and upper back. By strengthening and developing these muscle groups, an athlete becomes more durable and capable of producing significant force with the arms, chest, and shoulders.

Whether an athlete is focused on strength sports or conventional sports, upper body strength must be developed and maintained to allow an athlete to remain at the top of their game. If you are a powerlifter, your upper body strength will determine how strong your bench press is, ultimately deciding whether or not your total will be competitive. As an athlete, your upper body strength greatly influences how fast you can swing a bat, suplex an opponent, or wrap up for a tackle.

At Westside, we use max effort and dynamic effort upper training days to develop world-class upper body strength for both our strength athletes and conventional sports athletes. This training allows the athlete to not only train at optimal levels of volume and intensity but also provides the athlete with optimal levels of exercise variation to allow for continuous gains in strength to be made without worrying about accommodation becoming an issue.

One variation that is frequently used is the pin press bench. This joint angle-specific exercise focuses on and develops anterior shoulder and tricep strength. As athletes perform and benefit from this exercise, they will notice an ability to lock out heavier weights in the bench and overhead press and produce greater force from 90 degrees to lock out as the arms extend during sports competition.

For the strength athlete, this means the ability to press more weight and attain a better total. For the conventional sports athlete, this means using the upper torso to exert your will on the field, mat, or court and the ability to be resistant to injury during violent collisions or falls involving the arms and shoulders during sports competition.

Benefits of Pin Press Bench

The pin press bench has been an exercise that has been used regularly at Westside Barbell for many years. We primarily implement this exercise to solve issues related to triceps strength, specifically when an athlete struggles to lock the weight out in the bench or overhead press. By training with the elbows near 90 degrees, the athlete can efficiently produce significant amounts of force in positions they formerly struggled in.

This is what is referred to as joint angle-specific training.

Joint angle-specific training features exercises that limit the range of motion, typically focusing on where the athlete is most weak. With the pin press bench, we can manipulate the starting position of the barbell to focus on triceps lockout strength or anterior shoulder and upper back strength, all by simply changing the height of the pins.

Not only does the pin press bench allow for the triceps and shoulders to become stronger, but the pin press bench can also be used to increase the training volume experienced by the shoulders and triceps. This allows athletes to improve their ability to exert force during the press and add significant muscle mass to the upper torso muscles.

Another benefit of the pin press is the lack of eccentric loading. While eccentric loading is an essential component of upper body strength development, it is good to have options that remove eccentric loading from the bench press to provide athletes a means to press safely if fatigue is an issue or if skill and ability to execute the lift is an issue.

It is clear why we include the pin press bench in our training program, whether the athlete is focused on pure strength or sports performance. This exercise provides a way to improve strength at specific joint angles, helps enhance the development of shoulder, triceps, and upper back muscle mass, and removes eccentric loading to provide a safer way to press heavy weights.

How to Perform the Pin Press Bench

If we want to ensure athletes attain optimal results from the pin press, it is paramount that proper exercise setup and execution are understood. Failure to properly set up or execute this lift could result in wasted time and energy or, worse, lead to an injury. Fortunately, the setup and execution of pin presses are relatively easy to understand.

The first step to the proper execution of the pin press is getting the exercise set up to bring about the correct training effect. As mentioned above, we can manipulate the starting position of the barbell to either focus strictly on the triceps or increase the focus on the anterior shoulders and upper back. Here are the two basic rules when setting up the pin press to focus on one or the other:

Triceps Focus - The bar should be set at a starting position that allows the athlete's arms to be around 90 degrees at the start, emphasizing the lockout portion of the lift.

Anterior Shoulder / Upper Back Focus - The bar should be set at a starting position that allows the athlete's arms to be slightly below 90 degrees, emphasizing developing tremendous reversal strength in the bench press.

Once you have determined the ideal setup to meet your training goals, it is time to focus on proper pin press execution. Fortunately, no matter the barbell's starting position, the execution of pin presses is essentially the same.

Much like the conventional bench press, an athlete first wants to make contact with the barbell using the hands and begin getting the torso set to start the lift. Ideal positioning will be similar to your regular bench press torso posture. Getting into the same arched position you would typically use for the bench press is vital to ensure no unnecessary stress, strain, or stretch is placed on the pecs and anterior shoulders.

Once the torso is set, the athlete should focus on getting the arms set in an optimal position to exert force and begin the press. To ensure this initial application of force is safely executed, the athlete needs to squeeze the bar tightly while bringing the elbows in towards the body while elevating the chest. This will place the triceps in an advantageous position to apply force and begin moving the barbell while lessening the stretch experienced at the pec and shoulder.

The most important aspect of proper pin press execution is ensuring an optimal torso arch is achieved to limit the stretch at the pec and shoulder. Regardless of the bar position, at 90 degrees or slightly lower, it is crucial to avoid flat back benching. Just because this exercise variation focuses explicitly on the anterior shoulders and triceps does not mean we eliminate strategies such as a bench arch, which only helps protect the athlete.

To begin moving the barbell, athletes will brace the trunk and torso while squeezing the barbell and using the triceps to break the barbell from the pins. While this initial application of focusing occurs, you will likely feel some strain in the shoulders and upper back. Be sure to know the difference between strain and pain. Strain is acceptable, but the pain is not. If you feel excessive shoulder, neck, or elbow pain, reevaluate your approach.

Once the barbell reaches lockout, it is time to rack the barbell. Typically, we will lower the barbell back to the pins as opposed to racking the barbell into hooks. This should be done in a controlled manner to protect both the athlete and the barbell and rack being used. Keep in mind that this eccentric lowering helps improve press strength as well, so avoid just going through the motions and lazily letting the barbell crash into the rack.

Programming the Pin Press Bench

The pin press bench is most often used as a max effort upper body exercise variation. This exercise is an excellent way for athletes to improve their reversal strength in the bench press while reducing the risk of injury by removing the eccentric lowering to the chest portion of the lift, which can cause excessive stress and strain on the shoulders and pecs.

This exercise is a great variation for those struggling with issues at the chest or lockout. By adjusting the barbell's starting position, we can quickly attack either problem. Typically, this exercise will be featured in a bench press max effort rotation and will be performed once every 4-6 weeks. When this exercise is performed, it is recommended to perform 1-3 reps using a bar weight that is 90% or more of the athlete's conventional bench press.

Using the pin press to develop explosive upper body power is also possible. At Westside, we have performed speed bench waves using the pin press against bands or chains. However, we can do this because the gym is a private training facility that allows such training to occur. It is unlikely that the gym you train at will allow you to perform an exercise that involves a barbell crashing into pins each rep.

We can also add some variation to max effort pin presses. This can be done by performing exercises such as the close grip pin press and barbell pin press against accommodating resistance or by adding a specialty barbell such as an axle or football bar.

Common Mistakes

Athletes may need to correct a few common mistakes when performing the pin press. The most common mistake is failing to brace appropriately before beginning the pin press. This is typically due to the positioning of the barbell affecting arm extension, making it difficult for an athlete to set their grip while bracing and arching the torso simultaneously.

Failing to achieve a proper brace and arch can result in excessive strain in the pecs and anterior shoulder, leading to injury.

The next common mistake is setting the barbell too low to the chest. Even if we want to achieve an anterior shoulder and upper back bias with our pin press setup, we still need to leave enough space between the chest and the barbell to alleviate the stretch and strain experienced by the pecs. This will also allow for the triceps to be in a more advantageous position to apply force to the barbell as the lift begins.

The final mistake many athletes make is failing to control the eccentric lowering of the barbell during multi-rep sets. When this occurs, the barbell will bounce in the rack, causing the athlete to have to reset the barbell before performing the next rep or press the barbell while being out of position, which could result in injury. When performing multiple reps, controlled eccentric lowering is critical.


Q: When should an athlete use the pin press?
A: The pin press can be included in a beginner lifter's programming to develop triceps strength and muscle mass or in an experienced lifter's programming to solve an issue in the bench press caused by weakness in the triceps.

Q: Can pin presses be used as an accessory exercise?
A: Yes. However, remember that a multiple rep set will require the barbell to make repeated contact with the pins, potentially damaging the barbell if things go wrong during a multiple rep set. It all depends on where you train. We recommend 3-5 sets of 5-8 reps if used as an accessory exercise.

Q: Are pin presses beneficial for conventional sports athletes?
A: Absolutely. The pin press allows athletes to develop high levels of upper body absolute strength without worrying about injury caused by excessive eccentric loading—a great way to press heavy weights at low risk.

Q: I am experiencing considerable shoulder pain during the pin press. What should I do?
A: First, ensure the barbell is placed at a starting position that makes sense for your arm's length and leverages. Next, ensure you properly grip the barbell and tuck the elbows to involve the triceps maximally. If the pain still occurs after these adjustments, avoid pin presses for a bit.

Q: Can the pin press be used as a dynamic effort variation?
A: Yes. However, the gym you train at will likely not agree with letting the barbell crash into pins to maintain the type of barbell velocity associated with dynamic effort bench pressing. It all depends on the gym.

Manipulate the Positioning, Improve the Lift

The pin press is another example of an exercise variation where we focus on training at specific joint angles to bring about a particular training effect. This is what makes the Conjugate Method the premier training method; we can always include ultra-specific exercises to focus on practically any aspect of a barbell lift.

No matter if you are a conventional sports athlete or a strength athlete, every athlete needs strong shoulders and triceps. The pin press exercise will deliver results, lead to stronger lifts during press exercises, and the ability to violently extend the arms and apply force on the field, mat, or court. Additionally, this exercise can help to increase the durability of the shoulders, pecs, tricep, and upper back.

Exercise variations allow coaches and athletes to focus on specific training effects to enhance sports performance and raise an athlete's overall level of preparedness. While the conventional barbell lifts help build tremendous strength, exercise variations focused on bringing about specific training effects help fill the gaps. This ultimately leads to a stronger and more resilient athlete.


Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.

Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.

Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics

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