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10 Advanced Bench Press Techniques For Athletes

The bench press is a cornerstone exercise for building a strong, sculpted upper body. However, as athletes and bodybuilders progress in their training journey, they often seek advanced variations to challenge their muscles in new ways, break through plateaus, and continue making gains. 

In this article, we’ll explore 10 advanced bench press techniques that can help take your chest development to the next level. These techniques have been endorsed by expert trainers, elite athletes, and renowned bodybuilders, and are backed by scientific research. 

Whether you’re a competitive powerlifter or a physique enthusiast, incorporating these advanced bench press variations into your training regimen can help you push past your limits and achieve your goals.

Advanced Bench Press Techniques

1. Banded Bench Press

The banded bench press is a variation that involves attaching resistance bands to the ends of a barbell, creating accommodating resistance. As you press the bar upwards, the bands stretch and provide increasing tension, making the lockout phase more challenging. This technique is highly effective for developing explosive power and strengthening the triceps, which are crucial for bench press performance.

Practical Application of Banded Bench Press

To perform the banded bench press, loop one end of a resistance band around each end of the barbell, and secure the other end to the base of the bench or power rack. Set up for the bench press as you normally would, with the added tension of the bands. Lower the bar to your chest, then press it back up explosively, focusing on generating maximum force throughout the movement.

Elite powerlifter and coach Josh Bryant swears by the banded bench press for building lockout strength: “The accommodating resistance provided by the bands is unmatched for developing tricep strength and power. It’s a staple in my training and in the programs I design for my athletes.”

Research also supports the efficacy of accommodating resistance for bench press performance. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that athletes who incorporated banded bench presses into their training saw significant improvements in bench press strength and power output compared to those who performed traditional bench presses alone.

2. Paused Bench Press

The paused bench press is a variation that emphasizes control, stability, and explosiveness. By adding a deliberate pause at the bottom of the movement, you eliminate the stretch reflex and force your muscles to work harder to initiate the press. This technique is particularly beneficial for developing starting strength and reinforcing proper technique.

Practical Application of Paused Bench Press

To perform the paused bench press, set up as you would for a standard bench press. Lower the bar to your chest, then pause for 2-3 seconds with the bar lightly touching your chest. Maintain tension throughout your body, and avoid relaxing or bouncing the bar. After the pause, press the bar back up explosively, focusing on generating maximum force from the bottom position.

Bodybuilding legend and six-time Mr. Olympia winner Dorian Yates emphasized the importance of paused reps for developing control and mind-muscle connection: “By adding a pause at the bottom of the bench press, you eliminate momentum and force your muscles to work harder. This not only builds strength but also improves your ability to feel and activate your chest muscles.”

3. Close-Grip Bench Press

The close-grip bench press is a variation that targets the triceps more heavily than the standard bench press. By placing your hands closer together on the bar, you shift the emphasis from your chest to your triceps, making it an excellent exercise for developing lockout strength and building more defined arms.

How To Perform Close-Grip Bench Press

To perform the close-grip bench press, set up as you would for a standard bench press, but place your hands shoulder-width apart or slightly narrower on the bar. Lower the bar to your lower chest or upper abdominal area, keeping your elbows tucked close to your body. Press the bar back up explosively, focusing on extending your elbows and contracting your triceps.

Renowned strength coach and author Mark Rippetoe emphasizes the close-grip bench press for tricep development: “The close-grip bench press is one of the best exercises for building strong, powerful triceps. It allows you to handle heavy weights and overload the triceps in a way that other isolation exercises cannot.”

4. Incline Bench Press

The incline bench press is a variation that targets the upper chest more effectively than the flat bench press. By setting the bench to a 30-45 degree incline, you shift the emphasis to the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, helping to develop a more complete and aesthetically pleasing chest.

How To Perform Incline Bench Press

To perform the incline bench press, set an adjustable bench to a 30-45 degree incline. Lie back on the bench, with your eyes aligned with the bar. Grasp the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip, then lower it to your upper chest. Press the bar back up explosively, focusing on contracting your upper chest muscles.

Eight-time Mr. Olympia winner Ronnie Coleman was a big proponent of the incline bench press for building a massive upper chest: “The incline bench press is a must-do exercise for anyone seeking to build a thick, powerful upper chest. It allows you to target the upper pecs in a way that the flat bench press simply cannot.”

Research also supports the effectiveness of the incline bench press for activating the upper chest. A study published in the European Journal of Sport Science found that the incline bench press elicited greater activation of the clavicular head of the pectoralis major compared to the flat bench press (Lauver et al., 2016).

5. Reverse-Grip Bench Press

The reverse-grip bench press is a variation that places your hands in an underhand or supinated position on the bar. This technique alters the recruitment of your chest, shoulder, and tricep muscles, providing a unique stimulus for growth and strength development.

How To Perform Reverse-Grip Bench Press

To perform the reverse-grip bench press, lie back on a flat bench and grasp the bar with an underhand grip, hands slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart. Unrack the bar, then lower it to your lower chest, keeping your elbows tucked close to your body. Press the bar back up explosively, focusing on contracting your chest and triceps.

Powerlifting legend and coach Louie Simmons incorporates the reverse-grip bench press in his training programs for improved tricep strength and shoulder health: “The reverse-grip bench press is an excellent variation for building lockout strength and reinforcing proper shoulder positioning. It’s a valuable tool for any serious lifter looking to maximize their bench press performance.”

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6. Dumbbell Bench Press

The dumbbell bench press is a variation that offers several unique benefits compared to the barbell bench press. Dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion, improved stabilization, and unilateral strength development, making them an excellent tool for building a strong, well-rounded chest.

How To Perform Dumbbell Bench Press

To perform the dumbbell bench press, lie back on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing forward. Press the dumbbells up above your chest, then lower them down to chest level, allowing for a slight arch in your back. Press the dumbbells back up explosively, focusing on contracting your chest muscles and maintaining control of the weights.

Bodybuilding coach and author John Meadows praises the dumbbell bench press for its versatility and muscle-building potential: “The dumbbell bench press is a fantastic exercise for building chest size and strength. It allows for a deeper stretch and greater range of motion compared to the barbell bench press, which can lead to more muscle fibre recruitment and growth.”

7. Banded Dumbbell Bench Press

The banded dumbbell bench press combines the benefits of dumbbells with accommodating resistance, providing a unique challenge for your chest, shoulders, and triceps. By attaching resistance bands to the dumbbells, you create a variable resistance that increases as you press the weights upward.

How To Perform Dumbbell Bench Press

To perform the banded dumbbell bench press, loop one end of a resistance band around each dumbbell handle, and secure the other end under the bench or your feet. Lie back on the bench with the dumbbells in hand, palms facing forward. Press the dumbbells up against the resistance of the bands, focusing on generating maximum force throughout the movement. Lower the dumbbells back down to chest level, maintaining tension on the bands.

Elite powerlifter and coach Greg Nuckols incorporates banded dumbbell bench presses in his training for increased strength and hypertrophy: “The banded dumbbell bench press is a fantastic variation for overloading the top portion of the movement and creating a unique growth stimulus. The increased tension at the top of the press really forces your chest, shoulders, and triceps to work harder.”

8. One-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

The one-arm dumbbell bench press is a unilateral variation that emphasizes core stability, balance, and unilateral strength development. By training each arm independently, you can identify and address any strength imbalances, leading to improved overall bench press performance.

How To Perform One-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

To perform the one-arm dumbbell bench press, lie back on a flat bench with a dumbbell in one hand, palm facing forward. Press the dumbbell up above your chest, then lower it back down to chest level. Maintain a tight core and avoid twisting or shifting your body. Complete all repetitions on one arm before switching to the other side.

Strength coach and author Mike Boyle incorporates unilateral pressing exercises like the one-arm dumbbell bench press in his athletes’ training programs: “Unilateral pressing exercises are essential for identifying and correcting strength imbalances. The one-arm dumbbell bench press is a great way to build stability, balance, and unilateral strength, which can translate to improved performance in bilateral pressing movements.”

9. Decline Bench Press

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The decline bench press is a variation that targets the lower portion of the pectoralis major, helping to develop a more complete and well-defined chest. By setting the bench to a decline angle, you shift the emphasis to the lower pecs, which can be difficult to target with other pressing variations.

How To Perform Decline Bench Press

To perform the decline bench press, set an adjustable bench to a 15-30 degree decline. Secure your feet at the end of the bench to prevent sliding. Grasp the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip, then lower it to your lower chest. Press the bar back up explosively, focusing on contracting your lower chest muscles.

Four-time Mr. Olympia winner Jay Cutler incorporates the decline bench press in his chest training for optimal development: “The decline bench press is a great exercise for targeting the lower chest and creating a more complete, aesthetic physique. I like to include it in my workouts to ensure balanced development and maximum muscle activation.”

10. Suspended Push-Up

The suspended push-up is a bodyweight variation that utilizes suspension straps, such as TRX, to create an unstable training environment. This technique challenges your core stability, proprioception, and overall upper body strength, making it a valuable addition to any advanced bench press training program.

How To Perform Suspended Push-up

To perform the suspended push-up, grasp the handles of a suspension trainer with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Extend your legs behind you, creating a straight line from your head to your heels. Lower your body towards the handles by bending your elbows, maintaining a tight core and neutral spine. Push your body back up to the starting position, focusing on contracting your chest and triceps.

Strength and conditioning specialist Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., has studied the benefits of suspension training for muscle activation and development: “Suspension training exercises, like the suspended push-up, create an unstable environment that forces your muscles to work harder to maintain balance and control. This increased activation can lead to significant improvements in strength and hypertrophy over time.”

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Conclusion

Advanced bench press variations offer expert athletes and bodybuilders a wide array of tools to continue challenging their muscles, breaking through plateaus, and achieving their strength and physique goals. 

Techniques such as banded resistance, paused reps, close-grip positioning, incline and decline angles, unilateral training, and suspension training, allow you to target your chest, shoulders, and triceps from multiple angles and with unique stimuli.

The key to success with these advanced variations is proper form, progressive overload, and consistent application. Start by mastering the technique with lighter weights or resistance, then gradually increase the challenge over time. 

It’s also essential to listen to your body, allow for adequate recovery between training sessions, and maintain a balanced, well-rounded training program that targets all major muscle groups.

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