Written by Andy Chasse’ in Exercise
Viewed by 121 readers since 06-18-2009
When someone finds out that you’re into weightlifting, what is the first question always asked? “What do you bench?”, of course. While there are more important lifts out there, the infamous bench press has endured the test of time and firmly stood its ground. It is a very important lift involved in building and maintaining upper body size and strength. It does wonders for the ego, too!
If the bench press is so important, then why do so many lifters seem to have problems with it? Well, important lifts are generally pretty complicated. Fortunately, it’s not so daunting when broken down into several smaller pieces. While many people seem to think that bench press strength is entirely based off of chest strength, this is in fact, very untrue. The chest actually only contributes to the movement in the bottom portion of the press, just as the bar leaves the chest. The shoulders, triceps, and upper back all play more important roles than the chest alone. The shoulders, primarily the front deltoids, stabilize and provide strength from the second the bar hits the chest until it has moved nearly halfway to lockout. At this point, the triceps take over and push the bar through the mid-point into full elbows-straight lockout. The entire upper back works as a stabilizer throughout the movement.
In theory, and luckily in practice too, it would make sense to break down bench press training into muscle-specific groups. There will be assistance work for the shoulders, triceps, and upper back. The chest generally gets beat up enough from the bench press alone. Don’t worry about isolating it. So what are some of the best assistance exercises for each muscle group?
1) Shoulders. As stated above, the front deltoid is the primary shoulder muscle involved in the bench press. Most overhead pressing movements nail this muscle. The standing military barbell press is one of the best bets in this category. The push press, a military press variation using explosive force through the feet, is another great movement.
2) Triceps. The triceps take a pretty good beating in the overhead pressing work, but it won’t hurt to add in a little more beating. Dips, weighted or unweighted, are by far one of the most helpful exercises when it comes to increasing bench press strength. As with the overhead press variations, they are a compound exercise utilizing both the shoulders and triceps. Pushdowns are another very solid triceps assistance option.
3) Upper Back. Any rowing movement will satisfy this requirement, whether it is horizontal or vertical. Bent-over barbell rows build upper back mass and strength in a hurry, as do pull-ups and chin-ups. Pick your poison.
With the assistance exercises out of the way, here is one final tip. Keep in mind that this is the most important of them all. Strength training is all about varying your intensity. While the use of heavy weights is essential to strength gain, the body just can’t keep up with a super high intensity week in and week out. Keep the weight heavy a majority of the time, but don’t be afraid to back off for a week if your body is hurting. Listening to your body will never steer you wrong!