The 6 Best Accessory Exercises To Improve Your Bench Press
Written by Keith Hansen
January 19, 2018
The Bench Press is the most common exercise in any gym.
Walk into your local training facility at 5:30pm on a Monday and try to get a bench. I dare you.
It isn't going to happen, because everyone loves to bench press.
Mondays are famous for being international chest day, and for some people, Tuesday is as well.
Let's first cover the functional basics of the bench press to better understand why these exercises work.
The bench muscles
The primary muscles involved in the bench press are the pecs, the triceps, and the anterior deltoid. Strengthening these muscles and keeping them healthy is critical if you want to bench more weight.
But only focusing on these muscles can get you into trouble. Overly tight pecs can create poor posture.
A strong chest and shoulders but weak upper back can lead to shoulder pain or weakness in your bench set-up. Being great at the bench press takes more work than just benching.
A strong bench requires:
Shoulder stability: The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body. Because of this the shoulder joint must be stabilized internally by the rotator cuff and more externally by the deltoid. These muscle groups are extremely important to maintain shoulder stability and joint integrity when pressing heavy. Barbell benching alone does not sufficiently challenge the rotator cuff and deltoid. This is why accessory exercises are needed.
Pressing strength: The ability to use the triceps, pecs, and anterior deltoid in conjunction to press a heavy weight. Strength is needed in those individual muscles—but practice with similar movements to the barbell bench is also necessary to get those muscles to work together.
Upper back strength: To be able to press heavy your shoulders need to be set and stay set. To keep your shoulders set in a heavy bench takes a strong upper back to fight the opposing pecs and shoulders.
Now you can see why "just bench more" is terrible advice to maximize your bench gains. A great program will help improve your bench by evenly challenging all your muscle groups. Our free intermediate program is awesome for this and will increase your strength in more than just the bench press.
Outside of a program—adding these 6 exercises to your workouts will have you smashing your previous bench press max, with better form.
1. Overhead Press
The anterior deltoid (the front part of your shoulder) plays a big part in the bottom of your bench press.
The overhead press is what you want to do to really beef this muscle up because it puts the deltoid through a large range of motion. Large range of motions mean lots of stimulus to grow, and this translates to big strong shoulders.
The overhead press also hits the triceps hard, and big triceps always equal a big bench press.
There are a few ways to do dips, and the different variations will target some muscles more than others.
The top range of motion in the dip is primarily tricep—just like your bench press. If you struggle with lockouts you should focus on the top portion of your dips.
If your bench press fails near your chest it is most likely due to weak pecs/deltoids. If this is you then focus your dip efforts on going lower—at or below 90 degrees in the elbows.
Be smart with your form and ensure you have great technique to minimize wear and tear on your shoulder joints.
3. Push Ups
Push ups are a favorite because they can be done anywhere. No equipment required.
They are also recommended because they allow you to get in a high amount of volume, and you can easily adjust the difficulty.
If you're tired, or push ups on flat ground are tough, perform your push ups with your hands on an elevated surface to reduce load.
If you need regular push ups to be more difficult, or you want to work in lower rep ranges for more of a strength focus, elevate your feet instead.
4. Dumbbell Bench
Benching a ton can be hard on your shoulders and elbows. Even with perfect form, benching more than 12 total sets a week can get taxing.
The dumbbell bench is an excellent way to increase the volume on the pecs and triceps without increasing shoulder and elbow stress.
The movement freedom of dumbbells also creates the need for more stability than a barbell bench press. Dumbbell bench will increase your stability and help you smash barbell bench PR's.
5. Cuban Presses
The only way to achieve a big bench is to always be able to bench. Don't let shoulder or elbow pains set you back. Bulletproof your rotator cuff by performing the cuban press.
Cuban presses are an excellent prehab tool for the shoulders. It helps strengthen the rotator cuff and maintain mobility in the shoulders.
Do a couple sets before your bench days with 2.5lb dumbbells for 6-8 reps to warm-up the joint and prime the rotator cuff. Then at the end of your workout perform 2-3 more sets. Don't fatigue your shoulders with this before you bench. Save the shoulder burn for the end of the workout.
6. Band Pull Aparts
Band pull aparts are the ace-up-your-sleeve when increasing your bench. Band pull aparts will increase your bench by improving your joint stability.
The only way to hit a true bench press maximum, that is, lifting every ounce of iron your body is capable of, is through perfect technique.
Perfect technique starts with perfect stability, and perfect stability starts with healthy shoulders.
You can keep your shoulders healthy with band pull aparts. They will strengthen the posterior (back) side of your shoulders, and this is a necessary component for joint stability.
Bonus: do your mobility work
Unlike squatting and deadlifting, benching a ton can lead to poor posture if not balanced with back exercises and mobility work. Perform upper back foam rolling and pec stretching at least twice a week to counter the tightness that comes with bench pressing. Along with those, try the mobility technique below to keep your pecs mobile.
These are the best exercises to work on the weak points in your bench. We have organized some of these exercises and more into a program to strengthen your bench as well as your squat and deadlift.
You can check out our free program, The Seriously Strong Intermediate Program, by clicking on the link below.
Check out the Serious Guide to the Bench Press for more information on the bench press.
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