Switch Up Your Bench Press: 10 Variations – T Nation Content – COMMUNITY

Build Your Chest and Bust Plateaus

A bench press is not just a bench press. So if you’re feeling stuck in a rut or beaten up, pick one of these variations you haven’t been using.


If you’ve been benching the same way for months or years, it’s time for a change-up, especially true if you’re feeling stuck in a rut or beaten up. A new variation shakes things up and might even reignite your motivation. These are harder to overload, so choose the appropriate variation to toss in during a deload or back-off week.

1. Slow-Tempo Press

The slow-tempo press provides some unique benefits, namely, tension and control, which are critical to bench press success. It’s also another great way to pack muscle onto the chest, triceps, and shoulders since there’s more time under tension.

Other benefits? Mental toughness, improved coordination, and more natural strength improvement. You can’t rely on momentum or the springy qualities of tendons.

2. Max-Rep Press for Athletes

If you train under a coach in a high school or college athletic setting, you may be tested at a relative weight for maximum reps. Seeing how many reps you can do is just flat-out fun. It also indicates how you should distribute intensity and training volumes relative to your maximum strength performance.

How much weight should you use? It depends on your training age, but here are some options:

  • The 225-Pound Max Rep Test-College or NFL Combine: This one was pioneered by the NFL Combine. It’s a smart strategy to get a very general range of maximum strength and muscular endurance, as well as mental toughness. This test is generally reserved for medium to heavy-sized athletes with a solid strength base.

  • Use 135 or 185 pounds for High School Testing: This one’s for newer, lighter, or younger athletes, and there’s nothing wrong with going a bit lighter and trying to pump out as many reps as possible. Many gyms and athletic teams have opted for this test until the athletes achieve higher levels of strength.

  • Drop Set: Do as many max reps as possible with descending loads of intensity within a work set. If you’re starting with 275 pounds for reps, train to failure, then have someone strip off the 25-pound plates on each side and continue again until failure. Go until the bar is empty. You’ll need two spotters and a tolerance for pain.

3. Paused Press

Powerlifters do a paused press to blast through sticking points, but even non-competitors can benefit. The pause addresses weakness at the bottom of the lift, improves shoulder health and stability, isometric strength, and over-reliance on reflexes, elasticity, and tendon strength to redirect the weight back up.

Plus, a lot of lifters fail at the mid-range. So, holding the weight at the bottom helps you develop as much strength as possible, so when you reverse the weight back up, you overcome the sticking point.

4. Feet-Up Press

This one gets a lot of flack, but hear me out. Yes, you’re removing the leg drive, but a feet-elevated approach has its place. It’s great for de-load phases, and it emphasizes the core and shoulder musculature more. If you aren’t trying to drive your bench press numbers up, there’s nothing wrong with using this exercise on occasion. And the stimulus is intense enough to maintain or build some muscle.

5. Fat Grip (or Bar) Press

This variation is great for building grip strength and creating an irradiation effect, recruiting other surrounding muscles, like those in the rotator cuff and the surrounding shoulder muscles. The wider grip diameter distributes weight differently at the shoulder and elbow, relieving some joint irritation.

If you don’t have a fat bar, just use Fat Gripz (on Amazon) and attach them to any standard barbell.

6. Board Press

You can use more than one board for this. It targets and strengthens the lockout and triceps at the top of the lift. Also, since the board press is technically a partial range of motion, you can apply more overload and potentially increase strength through more CNS drive. Using this approach after max effort lifting has tremendous value.

It also works as an occasional alternative to normal bench pressing, especially during competitive seasons when the stress and load on the shoulder and the rest of the body are high. This helps reduce injury risk and puts both the coach and athlete at ease.

Also, research shows that emphasizing the triceps during presses improves upper-body velocity, which many strength athletes need.

7. Supramaximal Negatives or Eccentrics

Negatives are a great way to handle more weight than normal and generate more torque, power, and strength through eccentric muscle contraction.

Many great minds associate an eccentric emphasis with building more awareness and control. This method advances your musculo-tendinous complex, which promotes better performance and prevents injury later on.

8. Powerlifter Press

This is often called the “backward C” press because the arched torso powerlifters use resembles the letter C. This approach shortens the range of motion, giving you more of an advantage when trying to move a whole lot of weight from point A to point B. A ton of indirect upper back, rotator cuff, and shoulder tension is involved.

9. Reverse Band Press

This is a unique way to strengthen the range of motion from the middle portion to the lockout. Once you fully lower the weight to the chest, the band looped around each end of the bar accelerates it back up since the bands are fully stretched with lots of stored kinetic energy.

Much like the nature of the speed press, this scenario creates lots of speed and momentum out of the bottom, which carries you past the middle to end stages of the movement, effectively completing the lift.

10. Hanging Band Press

Hat tip to Dr. Joel Seedman for this one. Attach bands at each end with weights hanging off them. This creates a tremendous amount of sway and bounce on the bar, requiring you to use extreme amounts of control and tension. When it comes to stability demand, this exercise is unparalleled.

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