Westside Arm Training for Bench Press
Over the years, Westside Barbell has produced some of the strongest bench pressers in the sport of powerlifting. We have had lifters press over 600lbs raw (George Halbert doing so at 235lbs bwt), along with some of the strongest geared bench pressers in the world, hitting 900-1000lbs+ in competition.
It's safe to say that Lou and Westside Barbell figured out the secret to building a strong bench press many years ago. One big part of the heavy bench press equation is arm strength.
To safely press massive amounts of weight without placing all of the demand onto your pecs and shoulders, you must have strong arms. Think about every strong bench presser you know; ever seen one with small arms? Sure, the 155lb bench press specialist doesn't possess the arm size of a 300lb individual, but regardless you would be able to tell their arms have been specifically trained for strength.
Nowadays, many powerlifters excel at the squat and deadlift. Every day on social media, you will see numerous 800lb squats and deadlifts; however, many of these individuals end up only benching in the high three's or low four's. Why is that?
The squat and deadlift are two movements that feed off of each other. Any time you do some squat training, your deadlift will benefit to some degree and vice versa. How much focus is placed on the bench press if you follow a linear training plan? While the squat and deadlift training work together to improve lower body strength, your upper body strength lags and is essentially undertrained.
This is why we utilize the Conjugate Method at Westside Barbell. The Conjugate Method allows us two upper body training days, including the main press exercise and a complete upper body accessory work schedule to build strength and bring up lagging muscle groups.
Arm training is always included regardless of whether it is a ME upper training day or a DE upper training day. Typically, we focus on incorporating two tricep exercises for every bicep exercise, considering the importance of the triceps when benching. However, this does not mean you should get lazy when training biceps.
Strong biceps influence your ability to squeeze and exert control over the barbell. While the triceps bring the power that makes the bar move, the biceps bring the strength and control that keeps the bar in line.
Below is an example of a few arm-focused upper body accessory exercises commonly used at Westside Barbell:
Close Grip Bench Press
If building tricep size and strength is the goal, few exercises compare to the close grip bench press. This exercise is commonly used as both a main and accessory exercise and is considered the main variation of the bench press.
When included in your accessory exercises, it is recommended to perform three to six sets of eight to ten reps. Sometimes, athletes may go a bit heavier with fewer reps or a bit lighter with high reps, but three to six sets of eight to ten reps is standard. As far as weight goes, the goal should always be to lift the heaviest amount of weight you can while completing all prescribed sets and reps with proper form and control.
This exercise can be performed using a variety of specialty bars. You can also opt to add in boards to control the range of motion and specifically target the triceps.
This lift combines a close grip bench press and a dumbbell rollback performed using a barbell or safety squat bar. Like the close grip bench press, the JM press is typically performed for three to six sets of eight to ten reps.
You can go heavier or lighter, but the three to six sets of eight to ten reps are always ideal for building tricep strength and size. Be careful to avoid defeating the purpose of the exercise by going too heavy.
Considering this exercise places the barbell close to your face, it is highly recommended that you use your best judgment when adding weight to the barbell. Poor technique or an overloaded barbell can quickly send you to the dentist.
Rolling Dumbbell Tricep Extension
An exercise that is a staple at Westside Barbell, the rolling dumbbell tricep extension is the best way to utilize dumbbells to target weakness in the triceps. The stretch this exercise provides results in powerful triceps and reinforced triceps tendons.
Typically, we will perform four to six sets of twelve to fifteen reps using the heaviest dumbbells possible while completing all sets and reps with proper form. However, we will sometimes perform this exercise for high rep sets of twenty, sometimes even fifty reps.
It all depends on the athlete's needs and what accessory exercises have been done recently. If we have been focusing on heavy accessory exercises for the past week, maybe it is time for some high reps. If the rep counts have been increased during accessory training, but the intensity has been low, it's time to throw in some heavier accessory work. Know where you're at to know what you need to do to get where you want to go.
There is nothing special about this exercise, just conventional dumbbell curls. We prefer to use dumbbells when performing a curl exercise, considering the lack of strain the dumbbells place on the elbows compared to a barbell.
Often, if a barbell is used to perform curls, athletes can develop some pain in the elbows and forearms that can negatively affect the bench press. It is good practice to do your bicep curls with dumbbells to ensure this doesn't become an issue.
As far as reps and sets go, three to five sets of twelve to fifteen reps, using the heaviest weight you can while completing all sets and reps with proper form and control. Dumbbell curl exercises can include hammer curls, seated alternating curls, or standing curls.
Strong Arms = Strong Bench
As we mentioned above, you would be challenged to find a lifter with a strong bench and small arms. If you want to press the heaviest weights possible, you have to maximize the size and strength of the muscle groups involved, so it's easy to understand that strong arms lead to a strong bench press.
When improving an exercise is the goal, constantly evaluate the muscle groups involved before assessing the technique. Ultimately, the strength of the involved muscle groups dictates the control you will be able to display when performing a movement. If you have a weak and shaky bench press, more bench press isn't going to solve the issue.
Visit our website for more information regarding exercise programming and strategies to continue the fight against muscular weakness.
Simmons, L. (2015) Special Strength Development for All Sports. Westside Barbell.
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.