One major problem with benching is lagging muscles, usually either your chest or your triceps. What is the point of having a 315lbs chest and 255lbs triceps? Or vice versa for that matter. When you go to bench, you need both muscles at near the same capacity. Of course your chest is going to be stronger than your triceps to some degree as it’s a bigger muscle. Thus, your triceps are often going to be the limiting factor. For the sake of this post, however, I’m going to account for the rare occasion of when your triceps are stronger than your chest (or your chest is so weak that you don’t actually know how strong your triceps are).
If you’re looking to strengthen your triceps then start incorporating the Floor Press, Board Press, and the Close Grip Bench Press into your routine.
The Floor Press is relatively simple but can be hard to find a place to do it. I generally set up in a squat rack (can be seen here). The goal is to slowly bring down the bar until your elbows are gently rested onto the floor, hold for a second, then press. Repeat for as many reps as desired. I’ve used this in both the 8+ rep range as well as doubles and triples. I’ve seen pretty phenomenal strength gains through this variation and often swear by it. I can now bench around the same amount as a 13 year old Russian girl.
The Board Press is another wonder for tricep strength and overloading. Generally boards are 1.5, 3, and 4.5 inches, or 5-10cm. You can buy them online, or you can use random things like books and boxes from CVS (shown here). I’ve heard of some people even putting water bottles in their shirts. I personally go between 5-10cm, or 1.5-3 inches for my boards since I have a bigger chest and 4.5 inches seems like it would be excessive.
The Close Grip Bench Press is another solid variation. Simply move your grip in from its normal width to just about shoulder width apart, maybe slightly more in. This will create a longer range of motion and will heavily shift the focus to your triceps (as well as your upper pecs). I personally don’t use this much because my elbows always feel off afterwards, but I’ve seen pretty much every good lifter incorporate this variation into their routine if tricep strength was an issue.
If you’re looking to specifically increase your strength off the chest, consider adding long pause reps, Pin Presses, and Spoto Presses.
Pause reps and Spoto Presses are pretty similar. Pause reps you pause on your chest, Spoto presses are paused about an inch above the chest. Both work well and are entirely up to the person who wants to incorporate them. I would personally employ Pause reps closer to a meet and Spoto Presses further out simply to not build bad habits (but honestly does anyone miss bench by not touching their chest?). But, like I said, it probably doesn’t matter. They’re both solid.
Pin Presses are also a solid choice. Get safety bars, once again in a squat rack, and place them as close to your chest as possible. Derack the bar and bring it down to the pins which should be just above the chest. This lets you push from a dead stop and thus with much less tension. It’s both less stressful and more intense at the same time compared to a Spoto Press.
Give these variations a shot in your next training block!