What Are The Best Accessory Exercises For The Bench Press?
February 11th 2020
I wanted to know what are the best accessory movements to increase my bench press, other than doing the flat bench press all the time.
The bench press is perhaps the most complicated exercise to perform, and perhaps the first exercise you’ll find yourself plateauing in.
For those who have not read the other articles, a plateau occurs when the amount of weight you can lift starts to stagnant.
In other words, you stop becoming stronger.
There are multiple reasons why a plateau might occur.
Some of the reasons are:
- Not enough sleep
- Poor nutrition
- Bad technique
- Muscular imbalance/weakness
If you are plateauing during your bench press you want to make sure you have checked off as much as you can off of this list.
If you have poor sleep, the next day when you lift, you won’t have as much energy which could be holding you back.
And it’s not just the amount of hours you slept the day before. If you slept for 6 hours for 5 days, and then 8 hours the day before benching, you are still sleep deprived.
So the first aspect to focus on is getting the right amount of sleep.
The second reason why you might be plateauing is due to poor nutrition.
If you are not giving your body what it needs in order to build muscle (protein), you will experience much slower progress.
So track what macronutrients you are currently taking (can link an internal article about this), and see if you are getting enough protein.
Poor form is another big factor that may be contributing to your plateau.
If you are performing the lift without proper form, and mechanics, you are less efficient.
You might be using smaller muscle groups (ex: Shoulders) to lift the weight rather than the big, main ones (ex: Chest).
The last reason why you might be hitting a plateau, and it should be the last one you address, is muscular weakness and imbalances.
Muscular weakness and imbalances occur for all lifters and it can be resolved through bench press accessories.
Bench press accessories are movements similar to the bench press that either target muscles that can indirectly help increase your bench press or movements that help train your body how to perform the bench press more efficiently.
Bench press accessories are helpful for breaking plateaus and increasing your overall strength by making you a more balanced and well-rounded athlete.
However, it is important that if you are using bench press accessories to break plateaus, you also need to address the other reasons that might be causing plateaus that I listed above.
If you don’t then you will see less than optimal results.
With that being said, today we will go over some of the best bench press accessory exercises you can implement in order to break your plateau and increase your strength.
We will also go over who the accessory exercises would best help as each accessory exercise has a different purpose.
The best bench accessory exercises are:
- Close grip bench press
- Floor presses
- Pec flies
- Paused bench/Spoto bench
- Incline bench, or shoulder press
- Fat gripz bench press
With that being said, let’s get into it.
Close Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press is exactly the same as the regular bench press but your hands are positioned closer together.
What this does is it shifts the load of the weight from your chest onto your arms, specifically the triceps.
Having strong triceps is important for having a strong bench because triceps work to lock out your elbow.
So if you are having trouble locking out during the bench press, or are having trouble midway through the top portion of the bench press, performing close grip bench may help you overcome this sticking point.
Sticking Point: Lock out, top half of the bench press
The floor press is simply a dumbbell (or barbell if you have a rack) bench press performed on the ground rather than on the bench.
The main benefit of the floor press is that it takes the momentum out of the lift.
When you perform the regular bench press on the bench, it is not simply a movement of the upper body.
A proper bench press also incorporates leg drive which is the act of digging your heels into the floor, pushing your upper back into the bench, to give you maximum stability so you can lift the weight.
In a floor press, you don’t need to do all of these actions because your entire back is on the floor itself.
You are in maximum stability during a floor press and are able to focus all of your effort in lifting the bar.
The floor press is good for those who experience weakness when the bar leaves right off the chest.
If this is where you are struggling during the regular bench press, the floor press may be helpful for you.
Sticking point: Weakness right off of the chest
Pec flies, also known as chest flies, is an exercise that targets the main muscle activated during the deadlift, your pecs.
Pec flies can be performed lying flat on a bench, or with a slight incline to target the upper fibers of the chest.
Pec flies are good for overall chest growth and development and will make you stronger over time.
Training like a bodybuilder, doing high repetitions with lower weight, is good not only for overall size but also for strength.
One of the principles of muscle is that the greater the cross-sectional area of the muscle, the more force it can generate.
So if you are lacking in pec size, you might find pec flies could help increase the size of your pecs, as well as increase the amount of weight you can lift.
Sticking Point: Those who lack in overall development of the chest.
Paused Bench/Spoto Press
The paused bench and spoto press are two different exercises but very similar so I grouped them together here.
The paused bench is simply performing a regular bench press, but pausing when the bar touches your chest.
This is theorized to help train the smaller, stabilizer muscles that are involved during the bench press.
However, one of the common ways lifters “cheat” on this lift is they let the bar rest on their chest.
This decreases the amount of weight that is transferred through the arms and chest which makes the exercise a lot easier than it should be.
One of the exercises designed to counter this flaw is the spoto press.
Developed by competitive powerlifter Eric Spoto, who benches over 700 lbs., the spoto press is a paused bench but instead of pausing when the bar is on the chest, you pause when the bar is 1-2 inches away from the chest.
This ensures that you are not resting any weight of the bar on your chest and that all of your muscles are working to stabilize and hold the bar on that position.
The paused/spoto bench is useful for those who lose tightness in the bottom portion of the bench press.
Losing tightness will negatively affect your bench because you are not pushing off as strong as you can.
So if you have trouble controlling the weight down, or keeping tight in the bottom position, the paused/spoto bench might be good for you.
Sticking Point: Those who lose tightness in the bottom position of the bench press
Incline Bench/Shoulder Press
The incline bench press is similar to the regular bench press but is performed on an incline bench rather than a flat bench.
This changes the angle of the exercise so that you are targeting the upper fibers of the chest, and your shoulders.
The shoulder press is an exercise that involves pressing the weight (barbell or dumbbell) straight above your head, targeting your shoulders.
The shoulders play an important secondary role during the bench press.
If you are performing the bench press with proper form, you will know that the bar does not travel in a straight path.
Instead, it travels in a curvilinear path.
Having strong shoulders is essential for maintaining this curve.
In addition, both of these accessory exercises are great for developing the upper chest and shoulders which we already discussed would increase your bench through increasing the muscle’s cross-sectional area.
Sticking Point: Those who lack development in the upper chest, shoulders, or for those who have trouble keeping proper bar path throughout the lift.
Fat Gripz bench press
This might be uncommon for modern lifters but back in the day, lifters trained with what was around them.
If conditions were not ideal, so what?
You still needed to train.
So, when barbells were created, some came with a larger diameter. This obviously means that your bench press will be harder to perform.
You need to focus on grip as well as your pressing strength.
And in a majority of barbell training, you will not even focus on your grip; that was reserved only for the deadlift and maybe if you were ambitious, you had several pulling movements like a barbell row or pullups.
For me, I wanted to continue training my grip along with my bench press. After all, I wanted to perform a harder accessory movement.
So, I used fat gripz on my standard size barbell and just performed fat gripz bench press sets after my main sets.
Sticking Point: Those who want to work on grip, those who need more volume in their training
How often should I train with bench press accessories?
Bench press accessories play a big role in helping you to develop more strength and to increase your overall bench press.
However, for beginner lifters, we recommend that you continue to follow your program. If your program includes bench press accessories, great! But if not, don’t sweat it.
As a beginner lifter, the main thing you need is to simply bench press more.
Your body needs time to adjust to the movement. If you are plateauing already, you might have started at a weight that is too high.
If that’s the case, I suggest you reduce the weight and slowly build back up.
This will work wonders to improve your form, your muscle size, and your strength over time.
There is no shortcut to having a big bench press. Most of it will be a grind.
Which is a great thing if you ask me!
If it came easy to you, would you even care for it?
The answer is almost 100% no. You need to work hard and struggle to achieve what you want.
Only then, you can truly feel satisfied for your efforts.
What to do if bench press accessory movements are not helping?
If you have been incorporating accessory movements but are still in a plateau, and your diet, sleep, and form are on point, then you might simply need to find what works for you.
People respond differently to different training stimuli. Some people respond well to high-intensity, high-repetition bench press while others do better with lower-intensity, low repetition bench press.
You might need to reevaluate your program, optimize for more recovery, or you might need to reschedule your training time when you have more energy.
Strength training is not black and white.
There is no exact formula for getting stronger.
We just have an idea of what works and what doesn’t work. But as long as you are in the gym consistently, following a decent program, and getting enough sleep and protein, you shouldn’t face be facing this issue until you become an advanced lifter.
Focus on your program but be open to learning about different training methods.
As a beginner, stick to what is on your program.
For lifters that have flexibility in their accessory selection, pick the hardest exercise for you to do and commit to that for some time.
Train hard, sleep and eat harder.
Your progress will come...