Friday, July 11, 2014

Powerlifting 101:

The “Best” Training Exercise for the Bench Press


It seems like everyone is looking for a way to help increase their bench press. I think we all have used a host of “assistance” exercises including inclines, declines, overhead presses, board presses, skull crushers, pushdowns, every type of triceps extension known to man, front raises, laterals, plate raises, rows, pulldowns and list goes on and on. Most of these exercises will definitely help you with the bench press. But if you could only pick one exercise which one would it be?

Well, if you are really looking for something different you can always go to the internet and find hundreds of bench press Gurus who can show you any number of “special-super duper-new and improved- sophisticated” exercises that will automatically increase your numbers overnight. Right?

Seriously, let’s say for the purpose of this article that you are a drug free, raw lifter. For obvious reasons a very large percentage of related content on the internet is essentially useless to you. Hopefully you feel we can give you useful advice.

I feel the best “one” exercise you can do to build a better bench press has been lost in the internet shuffle. Albert Einstein said “Out of the clutter, find simplicity”. Well, the best thing for improving your bench may be the simplest thing.

Yep, I’m about to go simple old school. You need to make one simple change to the bench press movement. Move your grip in. This will create the training exercise you are looking for. The Close Grip Bench Press (shoulder width grip) is the most beneficial exercise there is to building a better competition bench press.

In over 40 years of training the bench press and 13 years of directing powerlifting events I have known, and trained with some of the best raw drug free benchers in the world. The one thing they all have in common is the utilization of the close grip bench press as one of their key bench press training exercises.

So what makes this exercise exceptional? Although the triceps are one of the prime movers in the initial press off of the chest I think we can conclude that the triceps need to be very strong for a successful lockout as well. Typically, more often than not a failed maximum bench press is lost at the top of the movement. For this reason it is essential that the triceps be trained in relation to the bench press. In my opinion the best triceps developer for the bench press is the close grip bench press. This exercise allows all muscle groups (in the shoulders, chest, and arms) to work in unison in a natural movement pattern. This is of particular importance since the triceps have to function within the basic bench press pattern. Who cares how strong your triceps are in some other isolated movement. For bench press purposes this is what makes the close grip bench far superior for building triceps strength than any other isolation exercise (such as triceps extensions).

Now, we are not advocating the use of the close grip bench press exclusively. No “one” training exercise is enough. You need to incorporate many other “assistance” exercises into your training regimen to ensure proper upper back, chest and shoulder strength. But, if you are not utilizing close grip benching as a training exercise for the bench press you are missing the boat entirely. It’s that simple.  


Powerlifting 101 articles are focused on primary fundamentals of powerlifting and are designed to help novice lifters. For more Powerlifting 101 articles visit

Please contact us with your comments and/or questions.


Keith Payne CPT, YFS


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