For a Bigger Bench Press, Try These Variations

Ready for a bigger Bench Press? STACK Expert Rich Sadiv brings you 3 unusual Bench Press variations for fast results.

Board Press

Achieving a bigger Bench Press is not as easy as it sounds. Maybe you've reached a point in your Bench Press training where the gains are not coming as fast as you'd like. Or maybe your strength levels have stagnated. Variations can help you break through those plateaus.

Let's take a look at three Bench Press variations that will help you hit your goals.

Board Press

Equipment: a 4 board, 3 board, 2 board and 1 board. You can purchase them or make your own. All four cost about $80 total, excluding shipping and handling if you order them online. To make a set, you will need (10) 1" x 6" cut to a length of 18" and (4) 1" x 1" cut to a length of 14" for the handles. Use screws that can be drilled to fasten the boards together and to fix the handle to the boards.

Set-Up: This exercise requires two spotters, one to spot the lift and the other to place the boards on your torso. After you receive the liftoff and your arms are extended, the second spotter places the boards on your upper torso. The boards should run from the top of your chest to the upper part of your abs. The board holder should angle the boards with the handle up and the boards slanted towards you as the lifter.

RELATED: Benefits of the Incline Bench Press

The lifter performs the Bench Press in a normal fashion, except that the boards become the touch point, not the chest. The bar shouldn't touch the boards; rather, the boards should catch the bar with a slight sinking of the bar into the boards. Then press up. Do not heave the bar off the boards. Just press it back up to the starting point.

Sets/Reps: The boards can be used as both a strength-developing exercise and an assistance movement. When using the boards to develop strength, keep the reps low and the intensity high (weight used). Rep ranges of 5 and down are a good rule of thumb. 

Week 1: 1 board, 3x5
Week 2: 2 boards, 3x4
Week 3: 3 boards, 3x2
Week 4: 4 boards, 5x1

As an assistance, exercise-cycle the boards from lowest to highest in one set, with a grip closer than your usually bench grip. If your grip is index-on-ring, move it to pinky on ring. If your bench grip is pinky-on-ring, move it to thumb spacing off the smooth part. If your grip is thumb spacing off the smooth part, take an index finger splitting the smooth with the knurling.

Start with the 1 board on your torso and do 3 reps. Replace the 1 board with the 2 board and again do three reps, then go to 3 boards, then 4, doing three reps on each board. This will produce a set of 12 reps. Do not rack the bar between board changes. Just keep it in the starting position. You can also do this for 8 sets of 2 reps or 16 sets of 4 reps.

Load: Lighter for an assistance day, especially if you take your grip all the way in. The weight on strength days can go above your max, especially on the higher boards or if your weakness is off the chest. 

Benefit: Great exercise if your weakness is the lockout. The increased load also assists in stabilizing the bar at the top of the movement. On the heaviest sets, hold the weight in the lockout position for a 3 count, then lower.

Bench Press Against Bands

Equipment: Two short mini-bands (12" long x .5" wide). These can be purchased for under $10 online. You also need a set of heavy dumbbells (a set of 90-pounders should do the trick) to anchor the bands and two 10-pound plates to hold the dumbbells in place.

Set-Up: Put a dumbbell on the floor on each side of the bench about 18 inches from the head of the bench. Place a 10-pound plate next to each dumbbell to stop it from rolling. Take one end of the band and put it through the dumbbell so the band is on the handle of the dumbbell. Put the bar through the other end of the band, lining up the band on the 32" ring. Do this on both sides of the bar. 

Execution: Use a closer grip then your regular Bench. Depending on your regular grip, it can vary from pinky-on-ring to index finger splitting the knurling and the smooth part. Pull the weight down and press it up as fast as you can while still in control of your body position and the bar path.

Sets/Reps: Keep the reps to 3 per set. The sets can vary from 3 to as many as 9. An example of a 9-set workout would be 3 sets of 3 with three different width grips. Grip options from outside in would be pinky-on-ring, thumb spacing from smooth part, index slightly off knurling, or index finger on the smooth part. Your usual Bench grip will dictate grip width, and move it in from there. Do 2 weeks on with the bands, 1 week off.

Load: Use 35%  to 40% of your 1 rep max. The key is moving the bar as fast as possible with perfect form, not the weight on the bar.

Benefit: This is a great exercise to establish bar speed.

Fat Bar Bench Press

Equipment: A fat bar is the same length as a standard barbell but is 6-1/2 inches in diameter instead of 3-1/2 inches. The bar can be purchased online for $119, excluding shipping.

Execution: Follow your usual Bench form. Concentrate on keeping your wrists firm and pulling the bar apart. Establish a strong grip on the bar. The bar can also be used to do the Floor Press.

Sets/Reps: 3-5 x 1-5

Load: The fat bar is lighter than the standard 45-pound bar. Use a load comparable to your regular Bench. 

Benefit: When you go back to the standard bench bar, it will feel like a pencil in your hands. This will give you the ability to pull the bar apart, keep your wrists straight and improve any elbow-flaring issues you might have. 

Do these exercises as part of a twice-a-week Bench workout. On these days, I would also do shoulders and triceps.

Day 1

  • Flat Barbell Bench, 5x5
  • Fat Bar Bench, 3x5
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench, 4x10,8,6,5
  • Front Overhead Shoulder Press, 5x5
  • Dips (weighted), 4x10,8,6,5 

Day 2

  • Bench Press Against Bands, 9x3
  • Incline Barbell Press, 3x10
  • Bent-Over Lateral Raise, 15,12,10
  • Plate Raise, 2x15
  • Triceps Push-Downs (overhand and underhand superset), 3x10  

Day 1

  • Flat Barbell Bench, 5x4
  • 4-Board Press, 3x5
  • Incline Barbell Press, 4x5
  • Upright Row, 3x8
  • Lying Triceps Extension, 3x10
  • Rolling Thunders, 3x10 

Day 2

  • Bench Press Against Bands, 9x3
  • Board Press Cycle - 4 to 1 Board, 2x3 each board
  • 4-Minute Push-Up challenge (as many as you can do in 4 minutes)
  • Y, T, W Shoulder Series, 10 each
  • Dips, 4x15,12,10,8 

Day 1

  • Flat Barbell Bench, 5x3
  • 3-Board Press, 3x4
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench, 4x10,8,6,5
  • Front Overhead Shoulder Press, 5x5
  • Dips (weighted), 4x10,8,6,5 

Day 2

  • Board Press Cycle - 4 to 1 Board, 2x3 each board
  • Fat Bar Floor Press, 3x5
  • Bent-Over Lateral Raise, 3x15,12,10
  • Plate Raise, 2x15
  • Triceps Push-Downs (overhand and underhand superset), 3x10

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Photo: Bodybuilding.com


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Topics: BENCH PRESS | EXERCISE | BENCH | PRESS | BARBELL