I get this certain question all the time. You know…. The one... How much you bench??
It’s a fact that everyone and their dog wants a bigger bench. Most People I know who lift and athletes
especially, want to have a strong bench press. I can remember in high school how weak my bench was. The crazy thing was I was benching something
like 3-4 times a week!
Little did I know this had a reverse effect on my bench. Another thing I really didn’t know was that by
doing other exercises other than benching itself, would actually increase my bench! Who knew?
The greatest thing I discovered was implementing different variations of bodyweight movements into
my programs to help “supplement” my bench press.
When I finally learned this in college, I went from being able to bench 225 for a measly 7 reps, to in just
3 months, benching 225 17 times at my pro day NFL combine! That showing of strength still didn’t get me into the league unfortunately…
Anyways, the important thing was that I learned how to add in different bodyweight supplemental
exercises to my weight lifting routines. To increase my benching numbers!
And now, I’m going to let you in on how I did it! With these 7 different bodyweight “MUST DO”
1) Advanced Range Of Motion Push Ups (ARMPU’s)
This is taking your regular push up and increasing the range of motion. It will not only make you work
harder through an extending range of motion but also help stretch out your pectoral muscles giving
them more strength over time.
Benching along will decrease your range of motion over time. Especially if you start building up a big
chest, the bar will stop once it hits your chest.
With ARMPU’s , you can move more freely and let your body go through an extra couple of inches that
makes a HUGE difference over time. When you start to bang out more than 20+, you can obviously add a bit of weight if you need to, to add
more resistance. I would master being able to crank out 30 solid ARMPU’s first before you add any kind of weight.
2) Pull Ups
Wait… Pull Ups?? Isn’t that a pulling movement? How will that increase my bench press??
Trust me. You need to have a strong back and lats to have a bigger bench press. Pull ups are the king
daddy of building up a nice “cobra commander” back.
Think of it like this.
You can’t shoot a cannon out of a canoe. It just won’t work. Think of your back as the canoe and the
cannon as your chest and arm pressing up a 405lb bench press. If you have a weak back, you’ll break.
You want a freaking titanic supporting your cannon if you know what I mean.
Start adding in, if you’re not already, different variations of pull ups.
Mix your grips up and just like with the push ups, once you master hitting a solid 20 reps, start adding
some weight. You’ll be jacked not only with a bigger chest from a heavier bench, but your back will match!
3) Explosive Plyo Push Ups
There’s nothing better that fires up ALL of your muscle fibers than explosive movements like plyo push
ups. You force all of your muscle fibers to turn on in order to move as explosive as you do with plyo push ups.
In turn, you’ll turn on more muscle fibers to recruit for when you’re benching.
I like to throw in a few sets of plyo push ups before I hit bench presses. I like to do this especially when I
hit heavy presses. WHY? It fired up the muscles and gets me ready to roll!
Think of it as a wake up call for all of your muscle fibers in your shoulders and chest.
Don’t go overboard! All you need is a few sets of about 6 reps. Also focus on being as explosive and fast
as humanly possible.
If you can’t crank out 30 solid push ups quite yet, leave these along till you can!
4) Reclined Rows
Another pulling exercise??? Yep – pulls do your bench good! Reclined rows or horizontal rows help balance out your pulling and pressing strength. You don’t want to
be too over balanced. Again, any type of rowing movement is going to help you build up a nice solid “canoe”. You must have
strength in your back to have a big bench.
You ever see a 405lb bencher have a small back???
I’ don’t think so!
Now go out and ROW!
5) Ring Dips
These are by far one of my favorite exercises alone. I love dips! These babies alone will add slabs of muscle and strength to your whole upper body.
When you properly progress to these, you’ll have a set of solid shoulders and triceps. First of all, you don’t want to have weak shoulders. This will keep you from a big bench. Think of your
shoulders as the base of the pillars holding up your roof. Especially when you have a heavy barbell
across your chest, you don’t want this base to be weak. Weak base = weak pillars.
Dips are important in creating lots of strength, stability, and mobility in your shoulders and will also
increase overall tricep strength, which you’ll find out next are important for your final push when
benching. I would start out on regular dips on a bar then after you can knock out a solid 15-20 reps, hit up some
rings to increase difficulty. From there add weight with chains around the neck!
6) Bodyweight Skull Crushers
These are a lost art and I have yet to see anyone else in my life do these other than in magazines. It’s a
shame because not only do bodyweight skull crushers work the heck outta your triceps, but you’ll work
your abs super hardcore as well!
What’s a big bench without some nice strong abs right??
Bodyweight skull crushers can be done in various amounts of ways. I started out by using a smith machine (yes the smith machine does have some use, but not much). I
would lower the bar down to about hip height, then I would grab the bar, with a regular grip, facing
down, and perform basically a free standing skull crusher. The key to these is to keep your elbow in and
tight! Now, I prefer to use a TRX to perform Skull Crushers.
These types of skull crushers are more difficult because, A) Your abs are being working extremely hard
and, B) Most people lack this basic bodyweight strength to skull crush close to half their bodyweight.
Depending on your angle, you add difficulty the closer to parallel to the ground you are.
If you’re doing these for the first time, do them at a higher angle. Start backing your feet away once you
start to increase both strength in your triceps and abs. You’ll need both! Bodyweight Skull Crushers are an excellent movement, especially for isolating the triceps. If you didn’t
know, the triceps are responsible for the final press of your bench press. Your triceps are what extend
you arms straight, and if you have weak triceps, you will hit a wall in the middle of your press.
Have you ever got stuck half way up on a bench press?? Yeah, if you have, you have WEAK triceps and
you need to start adding in bodyweight skull crushers ASAP!
Just take my word for it!
7) Hand Walking
Now we’re ending with a highly primitive way of adding strength to your upper body – hand walking.
It’s funny, I had an old client athlete who really wanted to add both strength and mass to his chest. In
the first few weeks of his program, we did tons of hand walking. This not only helped build stamina in
his upper body, shoulders, abs, and back, it added tons of useful strength as well!
In just a few short weeks, his bench press numbers increased and we didn’t even bench in that time
Hand Walking is SUPER functional and when added into your program, like plyo push ups, it will help
turn on lots of “dormant” muscles that are waiting to be awakened!
You can do partner “wheel barrow walks” or my new favorite, Power Wheel walks. Either way works
but you got to add them into your routine if you want to increase you numbers!
So there you have it! Add in these different variations of movements into your program to help blow
your bench up! Don’t go too crazy! I would use these as “supplemental” movements meaning, use them in conjunction
to other weighted exercises you should be currently doing anyways. So exercises such as barbell bench
press, dumbbell presses, rows, military, deadlifts, ect.
When you add these in with you current movements, you’ll have a lethal program!
About Travis Stoetzel
Travis Stoetzel is a super passionate strength and conditioning coach and co-owner of The Forged
Athlete Gym in Omaha NE. He trains serious athletes from youth level all the way up to professional
level sports. He physically trains himself just as hard if not harder than the athletes and clients he trains.
Travis has a personal website blog that supplies hardcore strength and conditioning methods, workouts,
and hardcore motivation at www.travisstoetzel.com
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