I often wondered how the big boys where benching so much. Is it the shirt? Gear? Maybe a little. But, I wondered what was the main factor in increasing their bench press maxes? The answer is triceps strength. Over the years, I found out how true that really is. The close grip bench press will raise your regular bench press. Am I asking or telling you? I'm telling you... it will. And after researching writings by the Godfather of powerlifting, Louie Simmons, and talking with Dave Tate, a Simmons disciple, I have found several ways to increase your bench press poundages by increasing your triceps strength.
Remember, this is not bodybuilding. This is strength building. We don't want to develop the lateral (lazy) head of the triceps. We want THICK huge triceps that go all the way down to the elbow. There are many core barbell and dumbbell exercises to choose from in order to accomplish this goal. Here are some of my favorites.
Tricep Exercises For Bench Strength
Close Grip Floor Press with Chains & Close Grip Floor Presses with Mini-bands
View Exercise: With Chains - With Chains AND Bands
Drape a 5/8" chain over the bar. The chain should be about 5 feet long. Go to EliteFTS.com for a set of chains (bands too) and you'll see that they're real inexpensive. Work up to a max single. NOTE: The Westside technique says to not be afraid to miss. Well, I don't know about you but I hate to miss a lift. It pisses me off and sometimes the rest of the workout sucks. Point in case, I was doing 2-board presses the other day, missed 405, jumped off the bench and stamped my feet like a little kid being told, "No, you can't have any candy!" But, I understand the concept of missing. You must go for MAX weights, pushing your body and it's faculties to their limits. That's how you get better - mentally and physically. The big boys do records using three, four, or five sets of chains. I use two sets of chains (because that's all I have) or you can Max Out with mini-bands on the bar.
A note about chains from a visitor: Why use chains at all? Why not just add more weight to the bar? It's called Dynamic Lifting... more weight at the top than the bottom. For example, you bench 200 pounds + 80 pounds of chain. After unracking the bar, you're holding about 275 pounds (some chain is still sitting on the floor). As you lower it, chain builds on the floor, taking weight off, so that at the bottom of the rep you're only holding around 210 pounds. Now you press it back up and weight builds gradually back up through the full range of motion to 275 again.
Regular Bench with Chains
View Exercise: With Chains And Bands
Start with a set of chains. Work up to a bar weight with the one set of chains, do a single, then add a set of chains. Work up to another single, and continue until you fail. Use at least two grips, medium and close to make personal records (PR's)... one per workout.
Board Press with Bands or Chains
View Exercise: Close Grip Using Board
Wow! This is a hard one. When doing board presses, it's almost like doing a plyometric or jumping exercise. You rest on the boards for a split second and then explode. Exploding with bands and chains attached to the bar with weight isn't as easy as it sounds. I always try to get a record with two, three, and four boards. This adds up to three PR's on boards, three more with bands, three more with chains, and three with bands and chains combined. This combination is one hell of a workout. And when you combine chains and bands together, you better be ready or it will slam you through the floor and right into the basement. Good luck... they're tough.
Cambered (EZ) Bar Bench
View Exercise: Cambered Bar Bench
Do not have the bar touch your chest. Come to about an inch off your chest or use a two board. That's if you have boards (make them - it's not hard). Do a 1 to 3-rep max. One rep is preferred.
Incline Bar Close Grip to a max
View Exercise: Incline Bar Close Grip
Work up to a max single. I do these with my elbows tuck to my sides and then instead of lowering the bar, I bend at the elbows first, almost like "skull crushers" but lowering the bar to my chin. Then roll or jack the bar back toward the starting position. Way tuff. Others do them close grip with elbows out. Either way it works for me and my triceps. Do them slow and take small jumps.
Dips with Weight and Bands
View Exercise: Dips With Bands
These have really increased my close grip bench and regular bench. I do about 2 warm-up sets using just my bodyweight. Then I add a band. Loop the band around something stationary from the floor then place it around your waist. Then start adding plates working up to 100 pounds for reps of 3-6 for 5 more sets.
Decline Barbell or Dumbbell Close Grip Bench Press to a max
Same as regular close grip bench press but on a decline bench.
Here's an interesting one. I have never ever done decline, thought the damn exercise was a waste of time. I thought it was for those who couldn't bench press and for lowly bodybuilders (funny, my wife is a bodybuilder and feels the same way about decline as I do though). Work up to a max single... and DON'T THROW THE DUMBBELLS. It makes you look like an idiot.
Here are a few more special triceps exercises that can be done after the above lifts. I have done many different exercises but these are my favorites and ones I have found are easier for the newbie.
Dumbbell Triceps Extensions
View Exercise: Shown On Floor
We call them DARTS since the action is like throwing darts. Hold the dumbbells with the palms facing each other. With the arms straight over the chest, lower the bells by bending at the elbows. Lower one end of the bells until they touch the delts. Then rotate the elbows upward and back over the head. This will place tremendous tension on the part of the triceps that connects on the inside of the elbows. Without dropping the elbows too much, extend the dumbbells. The rep range is usually 3 to 5 reps for 6 sets. About 18-30 total reps seem to work well. It's up to you whether you do multiple sets with the same weight or work up on each set. I do both, alternating each week. Do these lying flat on a bench or the floor.
Elbows-Out Dumbbell Extension
View Exercise: Shown On Floor
This one is FUN. Pointing the elbows out to the sides palms facing forward with thumbs pointing down, touch the dumbbells on the upper chest. Now extend them to arm's length, keeping the dumbbells touching all the way. Start light and do high reps, 20 to start, and increase slowly. I have done 75 reps with 25 pound dumbbells and gone as heavy as 90's for 10 reps. Our workout partner, Travis, has done 120 lbs. for 10. Impressive! This is another tough one, but very effective.
Misc. Exercises with Bands
Hold a band around your back, gripping each end in your hand. Now pick up a set of dumbbells and do lying dumbbell extensions (Killer). You can do these on the floor as well. Place a mini band around the top of a power rack and do band pushdowns for high reps. And, when I say high, I mean 100 reps! My favorite is doing band pushdowns. Loop a band over the lat bar and do pushdowns. I have found it is better to go heavy in the 6-8 rep range.
Straight Bar or EZ Bar Triceps Extensions
View Exercise: Shown With EZ Bar
Remember to hold the elbows tightly in. Don't use too close a grip. Start the bar over the lower chest. Lower it in an arc by raising the elbows and pushing them toward your head. This will put most of the work around the elbows, and that is where your extension strength comes from. I do 6-rep sets. Push for records when possible. These can also be done with chains or bands. But, wait until you have a good strength base without first.
Bar Extensions Off Floor
View Exercise: Bar Extensions
Use 10, 25, 35, or 45 pound plates. Start every rep from a dead, relaxed start. Work up to a 5 rep PR. By using different size plates, you will build strength at different points. This exercise sometimes causes elbow discomfort and soreness but I still do it because it makes me strong.
* A note about close grip barbell bench presses. When doing a close grip bench your hands should be no wider than putting your little finger on the rings that you can see on the bar. If you place the bar on or above the nipples, meaning toward the upper chest with arms in normal position, this will build the triceps much faster.
Switch the above lifts every two weeks. Pick your exercises carefully... it's not as easy as it sounds. It should take a few months to figure out what works best for you. Sorry, didn't say everything was going to be easy if you want to get strong. Banging triceps is the key to a bigger bench press. Bench shirt or no bench shirt, gear or no gear, if your triceps are strong, your bench will increase. That's the bottom line. Triceps account for most of your bench press progress. Pectorals do not make a big bench - you dummies.
Learn to train triceps correctly and, again, I cannot emphasize this enough: This is not bodybuilding. This is strength building. My triceps have gotten thicker and bigger doing this type of training then any damn bodybuilding techniques I've used in the past have. So, train hard, be patient, grow big triceps, and give me one more rep!
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