Bench pressing never gets old. It’s the exercise that gym bros pride their existence on. It’s the lift that can make your powerlifting total either impressive or just plain average. Even though it’s one grandfather of an exercise, strength athletes still struggle to find ways to increase their bench press.
Many elite powerlifters can deadlift cows and squat over 3 times their bodyweight, but bench pressing is most commonly the biggest weakness of the big 3. Anyone who’s dropped down a weight class can tell you it’s fairly easy to maintain their deadlift or squat, but their bench press numbers sink faster than the Titanic.
It’s a cruel and unpleasant existence to live when your bench press just isn’t impressive. Ignoring your lagging bench press and hoping your other lifts will overcompensate is not the solution you should take. After all deadlifting truckloads is impressive, but if you want to actually look like you lift, a strong bench press must be in your lifting resume.
Fortunately there are many common weaknesses that can be fixed with other exercises to help that stubborn bar fly off your chest. Each of these lifts help with different areas of weaknesses with some overlap, so adding a couple of these to your program will help you smash through that dreaded bench press plateau.
The Floor Press
Its common to have powerlifters not be able to feel their chest to high degree. While adding dozens of high rep dumbbell flies could help, the floor press is superior. It allows you to use a load close to a traditional bench press with a movement pattern that’s exactly the same as the bench press.
The shorter range of motion will help your chest fire and tap into muscle fibers that were asleep during your last benching session.
It’s also a better and safer alternative for isolating only the upper body as opposed to the dorks who recommend bench pressing with your feet on the bench.
The floor press will take out the lower body from the equation, help you lockout, and finally get that valuable chest of yours to join in on the lifting party. The floor press fixes pretty much everything and one day I’m convinced it’ll even help us achieve world peace.
I recommend doing these in a moderate rep range (6-8). You can train them in lower rep range if you need more help locking out or increase the rep range if you’re looking to get a monster pec pump.
The bench press is a horizontal pressing movement which is great for competition because, well, it’s ⅓ of your main lifts. The problem with horizontal pressing movement is that many lifters do them forgetting about vertical pressing movement.
Vertical pressing movement helps pump up the other muscle many benchers have a hard time activating and that’s the shoulders. Your deltoids must be firing on all cylinders during a bench press. With poor shoulder involvement your PR’s will look amateur and your elbows will take unnecessary stress potentially leading to injury.
What better lift to do this than a vertical pressing movement that lets you use heavy weight? Enter the overhead press. It’s simple and will help isolate the shoulders in a multi joint movement that’ll transfer beautifully to the flat bench press.
In all of lifters I’ve trained, I’ve always noticed when their overhead press goes up, so does their bench press.
The overhead press also helps with these common areas of improvement:
- Allows your shoulder blades to move freely instead of being pinned to a bench
- Helps reinforce overhead mobility which makes your bench press smoother
- Helps your shoulders push through sticking points
These could either be done for high reps to get a wicked shoulder pump or done with low reps to teach the shoulders to handle heavy load.
Bottoms up Kettlebell Press
I get it, many hardcore strength athletes would never be caught associated with a kettlebell freak who swings these things endlessly. While I’m not recommending you do kettlebell swings for powerlifting, I am here to tell you that the kettlebell can be used in many ways to boost your lagging bench press. One of the best ways being the bottoms up Kettlebell press.
All of these big barbell presses are great for boosting our bench press, but it’s just not wise to lift massive weight for the entire workout. Doing so will make you overly dominant in some muscles and fry up your nervous system like overcooked tempura.
This is where the bottoms up kettlebell press comes in. It’s a light exercise that’ll give you a ton of bang for your buck especially for strengthening the complex rotator cuff.
The muscles that make up your rotator cuff are often beyond neglected. Many lifters at most will do a couple of half hearted cable external rotations as a warm up. While some of the muscles in the rotator cuff do externally rotate your shoulder, it also raises your arm and most important acts as a dynamic stabilizer meaning if it’s not strong enough, your heavy bench press will be shaky and you’re likely to snap something.
The bottoms up kettlebell press is a pressing movement that helps with all functions of the rotator cuff especially when it comes to stability. You’ll be force to stabilize the sucker like no other feeling your entire forearm and shoulder activate. You don’t need to use a lot of weight, but the benefits can be huge for a pain free bench press. With pain free bench pressing comes bigger PRs in the future.
Do these for sets of 6-10. A lot of gyms don’t have a lot of kettlebells and even a 10lb jump in this exercise can be too much. If you’re not ready to add load to this exercise try adding a quarter to the top of the kettlebell. This will force you to further activate muscles and stabilize to higher degree to prevent that coin from falling.
The last exercise for a big bench press is the inverted row. Its highly underrated and the only reason some of you are dismissing bodyweight exercises is because you secretly know they’re pretty killer.
They’ll do wonders for your bench press. For starters, the inverted row is a horizontal pulling movement which will help fix the imbalance many powerlifters have of overdoing the pressing to pulling ratio.
It’ll strengthen your back which is absolutely crucial for a big bench press. People make the argument that the back doesn’t actually move the bar in a bench press. Those people are correct, but the back is still heavily activated in advanced lifters as well as being a base for your body.
Without a strong back, you’re leaving pounds on the table and giving up the opportunity for a stable base to push off of. If you shake or can’t feel your lats when benching heavy, these are a must include in your next workout.
Lastly the inverted row being a bodyweight exercise is important. Many powerlifters are absolutely strong meaning they can hoist a fair amount of external weight, but aren’t relatively strong meaning they’re not that strong relative to their own bodyweight.
You see, when you bench an external weight like a barbell, any additional weight to muscle will still help you move the bar even body fat. When you do a bodyweight exercise like an inverted row, body fat doesn’t aid you, it goes against you by adding more load.
So long story short, the inverted row will make you more stable, fix common imbalance, strengthen your lats, and show you if you’ve been relying on extra body fat. If you’ve ever dropped a weight class and felt your bench press suffer terribly, you now know you’ve been relying on extra body fat to perform.
Do these for sets of 8-12 and progress this exercise by changing the angle of your body or go to one arm.
A lagging bench press is lifter’s worst nightmare. Trust me, if it doesn’t get addressed, it’ll haunt you like a clingy ex girlfriend. Give it a few weeks and do some of these exercises consistently while adding load slowly to them and see your bench press PR’s skyrocket.
Add a few of these into your program. Now let’s get to benching.