You’ve got your bench press form DOWN… But there’s a lot more to developing your chest strength than just the Bench itself. Let’s take a look at how to develop you pecs til they’re popping through your pads!
The Accessory Lifts: Bench Press
You’ve just completed your 5×5 for Bench Press: hooray! But now what happens to your workout once your primary heavy lifting is completed? Accessory lifts are variations of compound lifts designed to target specific muscle groups or target weaknesses within a main lift. They are designed to be performed at approximately a RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) of 7-8 at a rep range between 6-8 repetitions. Essentially, to a weight that you can comfortably do three reps more if you were to continue past your intended amount of reps.
Lets break down the accessory lifts that you can perform after your bench press, to maximize the workload on your upper body.
Incline Bench Press
Arguably the most common accessory lift to the bench press, the incline press requires a bench set to roughly a 45-60 degree angle. This will specify on the upper section of your pectoral muscles, as well as your front deltoids in your shoulders. With what equipment you intend to use for the incline press can potentially affect the ratio of exertion between certain muscles. Opting for a barbell incline and you will still target your upper chest as the dominant muscle targeted. However, choosing dumbbells for the incline press will shift some exertion away from the chest and on to the front deltoids and triceps. This is because lifting dumbbells require a greater amount of stabilization from your arms (and therefore more exertion and effort) compared to lifting a barbell.
You should heavily rely on the incline press as an accessory lift if you are struggling to explode the bar off your chest to begin the pressing motion in your bench press, or if you are struggling to engage your shoulders in your bench press.
Flat-Back Bench Press Holds
A very easy accessory lift to implement straight after your main bench press. Instead of engaging your back muscles and lower body, relax them (as if you never read my article on bench press cues). The lack of other muscle groups associated to the bench press will target your chest, shoulders and triceps more so than your competitive bench press. These muscles in question still work to a high level, despite the introduction of your back muscles, core and legs in the bench press. This will mean, when those secondary muscle areas are no longer engaged, more work will be required from your pushing muscle groups that are already fatigued from your heavier lifts.
For efficient use of the flat-back bench press, I highly recommend descending on the bar and hold on the chest for a full two seconds before pressing. Your front deltoids will feel this especially as they will extend to a greater length without the engagement of your back to reduce the range of motion. This is another excellent accessory lift to those who are struggling to explode the bar off their chest to begin the pressing motion in their bench press.
Note: this requires a squat rack where you can apply safety bars. The dead press is when you press the bar at around the highest part of your chest, but the bar is sat atop the safety bars (thus, from a dead position). This accessory lift is intended to eliminate any momentum from the descent towards the pressing motion. It will not only work on explosion from the bottom of your press, but will also benefit those who are struggling to lock out their bench press. This is due to the pectorals lacking additional power from the descent, which will apply additional work on the triceps, for they will be engaged for longer. Your deltoids will also benefit from the dead press, as the amount of force required to press the bar from a dead position will engage the deltoids at a much higher rate than usual, and a lot faster! The explosive feel of the dead press will be found heavily on your shoulders. This is an excellent accessory lift that you can develop towards most bench press weaknesses.
Ironically, a beginner’s version of the bench press! A spoto press requires you to descend the bar to approximately two inches from the chest and hold for two seconds before pressing. This is an ideal accessory lift for those who struggle with locking out their arms to finish their bench press, as it eliminates the explosive action at the bottom of the press and instead emphasizes the remainder. Your pectorals and triceps will be heavily hit in this accessory lift, as your deltoids will be nowhere near extended enough to be fully engaged when pressing two inches above the chest.
Close Grip Bench Press
For those with weak triceps and a weak lockout in their bench press, opting for a closer hand width for your accessory lift is an excellent suggestion! The closer your hands are to each other, the lack of extension can be made by both your chest and your shoulders. Therefore, your triceps pick up a lot of slack! Keep a close eye on keeping your elbows cork-screwed into your sides to prevent any shoulder abduction movements as your descend or press. Avoiding any flaring of the elbows and your triceps will be fully engaged more so than any other muscle group and will be a sure-fire way to fix any lockout issues in your bench press.