Master These 4 Exercises to Improve Your Bench Press

Learn and perfect these four exercises and you're bound for bench press glory.


In my experience performing and coaching the Bench Press, I've determined that the bench has its own "Big 4" exercises that work so effectively to eliminate weak points that I deemed them essential for the Bench Like a Beast program, which I designed to help lifters build a bigger Bench Press. Those exercises are:

  • Close-Grip Bench Press
  • Concentric Pause Bench Press
  • Spoto Press
  • Close-Grip Incline Bench Press

The Big 4 are featured in this program because of their incredible ability to build strength and muscle while improving technique. There are so many potential weak points during the lift that can rob a lifter of their strength, but these four exercises cover them all. Master these four exercises and you're bound for Bench Press glory.

Close-Grip Bench Press

The Close-Grip Bench Press is hands down my favorite exercise to improve the competition Bench Press. By narrowing your hand placement, you effectively do a handful of things that will make your Bench Press better:

  • Increased range of motion: More range of motion automatically means a more challenging lift. If you can move a certain amount of weight through a greater range of motion, chances are you'll be stronger once you widen your grip and decrease the range of motion.
  • More triceps involvement: A narrower grip puts more emphasis on the triceps to lock out the weight. Bigger, stronger triceps mean fewer misses at lockout and more muscle mass underneath the bar to support the weight.
  • Reinforces proper elbow tuck: Close grip forces you to tuck your elbows the right way. You can't get away with flaring your elbows too early with close grip or you'll miss heavy weights almost immediately off your chest.
  • Easier on the shoulders: For the aforementioned reason of tucking the elbows, close grip is generally easier on your shoulders than a wider grip. Less wear and tear on the shoulders means you can get in more volume with less potential for injury.

When performing the Close-Grip Bench Press, keep everything the same as your normal Bench Press but move your hands in closer on the bar. A good starting point is a thumb's width away from where the knurling changes from rough to smooth. That should put you a few inches narrower than you'd be with your pinkies on the rings, and that's narrow enough for most people.

If you want to go narrower, split the middle of your thumb over the knurling transition. That's about as narrow as you'll want to go, because any narrower and you won't be able to keep a straight line from your wrist to your elbow. Don't be that guy who puts his hands 2 inches apart and flares his elbows out like a chicken.

Close-Grip Bench Press Grip

From Left to Right: Grip option 1 / Grip option 2 / Too narrow

Concentric Pause Bench Press

The Concentric Pause Bench Press may be the most difficult of all bench press variations, and for that reason, it wields an exceptional ability to demolish the dreaded 2-inches-off-the-chest sticking point. Here's how it works:

  • Lower the bar down to your chest as you normally would.
  • Pause briefly on your chest.
  • Press up about 2 inches off your chest and pause again.
  • Hold the pause for 1-3 seconds, making sure to stay tight and not flare your elbows.
  • Unpause by aggressively flaring your elbows as you press the bar to lockout.

It sounds simple enough but it's excruciatingly hard with heavier weights. If you can master this technique with 80 percent of your 1RM or more, you're going to be a very good bench presser.

The Concentric Pause Bench Press teaches you how and when to tuck your elbows AND flare your elbows. The timing of this tuck-and-flare can be tricky, but with practice, this exercise will make it second nature.

Spoto Press

A close relative of the Concentric Pause Bench Press, the Spoto Press is named after Eric Spoto, former holder of the world record raw Bench Press. Spoto benched 722 pounds in 2013 and has credited much of this strength to this exercise.

The Spoto Press is nearly identical to the Concentric Pause Bench Press except instead of touching the chest, you simply pause with the bar 1-2 inches from your chest and press back up without ever touching your chest. This is much more than a reduced range of motion exercise. It's extremely challenging to stay tight without touching your chest if you pause ever so slightly above your chest. There's no way you can stay tight if you lose your position on the way down, so you have no choice but to keep proper form.

Close-Grip Incline Bench Press

It was a close race between the Close-Grip Incline Bench Press and the Overhead Press for the fourth and final spot in the Big 4. Rock solid shoulders no doubt play a huge role in the bench press, especially the first few inches off the chest, because it primarily relies on the delts. However, in my experience as a lifter and coach, very few lifters possess the necessary mobility and coordination to overhead press without beating up their shoulders and neck. And even if your shoulders are up to snuff, very few lifters can stay healthy while overhead pressing with heavy enough weight and high enough volume to justify having it in a program like this. Luckily, the Close-Grip Incline Bench Press keeps many of the benefits of the Overhead Press while omitting many of the drawbacks, making it a perfect fit.

The Close-Grip Incline Bench Press is performed exactly like the Close-Grip Bench Press but while lying on a 15- to 30-degree incline bench. I prefer lifters to err on the side of the lower incline (a 15-degree incline is more shoulder friendly), but up to 30 degrees is fine. There are a few subtle differences in technique, however:

Instead of tucking your elbows in tight to your sides, keep them a bit further away from your body.

  • Instead of touching the bar to your chest around your nipple line, touch closer to your collarbone to keep your wrists and elbows directly under the bar.
  • Instead of hooking your feet back, keep your feet out in front of you and flat on the floor.
Close-Grip Incline Bench Press touch point

Left: Correct touch point / Right: Incorrect touch point

Big 4 = Big Weights

These exercises are called The Big 4 for a reason; if you master them, you'll bench big weights, period. Take special care to learn the ins and outs of each of them and approach them just as seriously as you would your competition-style Bench Press.

Click here for a complete training program that will add up to 40 pounds to your Bench Press in only 10 weeks.