I know why you’re here. You’ve been training hard at the gym. Putting in the work. Eating clean and taking supplements. But no matter what you do you can’t seem to increase your bench press max. Week in and week out, the weight and reps stay the same. You get frustrated and start to think you’ve reached your bench press potential.
You’ve hit a bench press plateau. It’s a frustration all lifters face.
The good news is there’s a smart way to improve your bench press fast.
You can force your muscles to grow bigger and stronger just by introducing proven assistance exercises to your bench press routine.
So if you want to finally start making bench press gains again, follow along as we go over the three most effective assistance exercises to increase your bench press.
Identify The Sticking Point In Your Bench Press
To learn how to increase your bench press quickly and efficiently you first need to identify the weak point in your bench press.
Sticking Point #1 – Weak Off The Chest
Weak off the chest means you have trouble pressing the bar up from the bottom of the lift.
This typically means your pectorals are the weak point in your bench press.
You’ll want to perform assistance exercises that develop the pecs and increase explosiveness and bar strength off the chest, like paused bench press.
Sticking Point #2 – Weak From Midpoint To Lockout
Weak from midpoint to lockout means you’re able to move the bar up and off your chest for a few inches but struggle to complete the rep and lockout.
This typically means your shoulders and triceps are the weak point in your bench press.
You’ll want to perform assistance exercises that target these muscles groups and have carry over to the bench press, like close grip bench press and weighted dips.
Related: 3 Best Deadlift Assistance Exercises
3 Best Assistance Exercises To Improve Your Bench Press
Here are the three best bench press assistance exercises to help increase your bench press fast and set a new PR.
1. Paused Bench Press
Paused bench press is the best assistance exercise for targeting the pectoral muscles and increasing strength off the chest.
The paused bench press follows the same movement as the traditional bench press but with one very important twist.
Instead of lowering the bar to your chest and immediately pressing it away like the traditional bench press (i.e., touch and go), the paused bench press requires you to hold the bar on your chest for 2-3 seconds.
The paused bench press develops power off the chest because the “pause” serves to increase time under tension at the bottom of the rep. It also eliminates the stretch reflex of the pectorals, which makes the lift more difficult.
Because the paused bench press is more difficult than the traditional bench press, try starting with 80% of your traditional bench press weight and see if you can hit the same number of reps.
For example, if you can bench 205 for 8 reps, do paused bench presses with 165 for 8 reps. You may be able to do more or less than 80%, so adjust accordingly.
2. Close Grip Bench Press
Close grip bench press is a favorite exercise for targeting the shoulders and triceps and strengthening your bench press from midpoint to lockout.
The close grip bench press is performed like the traditional bench press but with a more narrow grip.
The key to maximizing the effectiveness of the close grip bench press is to use proper grip placement.
The biggest mistake lifters tend to make when performing close grip bench press is setting up to the bar with a far too narrow grip. This greatly reduces the benefit of the lift and can lead to wrist pain and injury.
The ideal grip position for close grip bench press is with your hands directly in line with your shoulder joint. This will ensure the proper bar path and emphasis on the shoulders and triceps.
Close grip bench press is harder than traditional bench press because it reduces your mechanical advantage over the weight and increases the range of motion of the lift. Like the paused bench press, start with 80% of your traditional bench press weight and adjust to suit your ability.
3. Weighted Dips
Weighted dips strengthen your shoulders and triceps and increase strength at lockout.
Dips are the king of compound, body-weight exercises, and weighted dips add a cherry on top. That’s because weighted dips pack on muscle size and strength, not just muscular endurance like bodyweight dips.
You perform dips and weighted dips by first raising yourself on parallel bars with straight arms. Next, you lower your body until your shoulders are below your elbows. Finally, you push yourself up using your chest, shoulders, and triceps until your arms are straight again.
There are a few ways to add weight to your dips. You can hold a dumbbell between your legs. Or you can even wear a weighted vest. But the best and easiest way to do weighted dips is by using a high-quality Dip Belt.
A dip belt fits around your waist like a weightlifting belt but has a harness or chain attached to it for holding plates. I’ve been using the Dark Iron Fitness dip belt for over a year now and it’s far and away the best dip belt I’ve ever used.
You should try weighted dips after you’re able to complete 12-15 strict bodyweight dips. This will ensure you’ve developed proper body mechanics for the movement and will greatly reduce your risk of injury. After all, it’s hard to make bench press gains from the sidelines.
To Sum Up
If you’ve been struggling to increase your bench press max it’s time to try an assistance exercise that will turn your weak point into a strength.
Remember, the purpose of assistance exercises is to assist in the development of your bench press, not to replace it.
In other words, do both traditional bench press and assistance work to make steady gains.
Finally, this article assumes you already perform the bench press with proper form (i.e., proper grip width, arch, leg drive, and bar path). If not, you need to get back to basics.
I plan to do a post on bench press form in the near future. But until then, I highly recommend Alan Thrall’s video on how to bench press.
All the best,
P.S. Want a surefire way to increase the intensity of your next chest workout? Then be sure to listen to the 5 Best Songs To Crush Your One Rep Max during your next gym session. These songs are guaranteed to get you pumped up to hit a new bench press PR.