The bench press is considered one of the “big three” cornerstone lifts of any serious resistance training program, best known for its ability to induce impressive training stimulus in the majority of the upper body push muscle groups.
However, the bench press itself may be insufficient as the sole source of training stimulus in this particular area, and as such many exercisers and athletes seek out the use of certain accessory exercises that not only aid in achieving their training goals, but also greatly improve their capacity to perform the bench press itself.
Whether the exerciser is a competitive powerlifter wishing to improve upon a form sticking point, a bodybuilder seeking specific muscle group hypertrophy alongside the bench press, or an athlete seeking to induce a more effective rehabilitation of a specific injury - many bench press accessories are available for such purposes.
Accessory exercises or accessory movements are specific training exercises performed in order to supplement or improve upon a particular aspect of an individual’s training, such as an underdeveloped muscle group or a recurring weak point in the performance of a major compound exercise.
These accessory exercises are generally performed alongside the compound movements they are meant to supplement, allowing for the exerciser to retain the same form of training stimulus while also improving upon their particular weak spot or underdeveloped muscle group.
In terms of bench press accessory exercises, this equates to similar compound movements that mimic the form or muscle activation pattern of the traditional bench press - though usually with a certain modification that allows it to aid in the exerciser’s training goals.
Up to a certain extent, accessory exercises are not necessary and are not a requirement in an exerciser’s training program.
However, if the exerciser finds that they are having trouble with a particular mechanic or form point during the performance of the bench press, or otherwise wish to utilize a similar movement pattern but with a more specific or intense muscular activation, accessory lifts are exactly what they require.
The particular factors involved in the addition of these bench press accessory exercises - like volume of repetitions, intensity, or even workout programming - will depend on what sort of accessory exercise is chosen and the reasoning behind such a choice.
Accessory exercises can improve an exerciser’s capacity to perform the bench press movement in a variety of ways, such as by improving their ability to consciously recruit muscle fibers in any activated muscle groups, or even by simply inducing additional muscular hypertrophy in the pectorals, triceps and deltoids via additional training stimulus.
The particulars of how an accessory exercise improves an exerciser’s bench press will depend on what sort of accessory exercise they have chosen - as well as what issue is affecting their bench press, with certain accessory exercises improving more specific training factors such as sticking points, improper lock-out or muscle group imbalances.
For powerlifters and exercisers wishing to reduce the risk of injury during the bench press, improve their form or otherwise supplement the mechanics involved in the movement, the usage of specific accessory exercises that focus on these particular factors such as the block press or pause press are the most applicable.
Likewise, in the case of individuals wishing to improve upon the hypertrophy induced by the traditional bench press in a specific muscle group, the exerciser may also make use of such accessory exercises like the close grip bench press - which activates the triceps brachii more intensely, or the wide grip bench press - which trains the pectoral muscles more intensely instead.
Not all accessory exercises to the bench press movement are equal in effectiveness or intensity, as certain accessory exercises may require a more advanced understanding of free weight resistance exercises, or a level of physical strength that the majority of novices do not yet possess.
As such, while the exerciser will take into account their particular needs when choosing a suitable accessory exercise to the bench press, they must also consider their own capacity to perform such accessory movements, both in terms of exercise mechanics experience and in physical strength.
In relation to this, individuals performing bench press accessories as part of a physical rehabilitation routine or as athletic off-season preparatory work should also take into account the long term planning of their recovery program, as certain accessories of the bench press may worsen or affect their conditions.
Though somewhat technical, a multitude of accessory exercises may be employed so as to aid in the various characteristics that go into performing a repetition of the bench press to its fullest capacity; aiding in such matters like form sticking points, proper elbow extension, isometric muscular contraction and even the touch point of the bar itself.
In order to choose the most suitable accessory movement for the bench press in this particular context, it is important for the exerciser to first identify what sort of issues they are experiencing with their bench press - generally requiring the aid of an athletic coach or similarly experienced individual.
The pin press is a variation of the standard barbell bench press that makes use of a squat rack or power cage so as to arrest the momentum and range of motion involved in said bench press exercise, essentially forming a partial repetition that starts and stops at the pins or safety bars of the barbell rack.
This allows for the exerciser to create a unique angle of resistance that enables them to train the start and end of each bench press repetition without actually performing a full repetition of the bench press, making the accessory exercise especially useful for individuals with poor elbow extension control, or exercisers having trouble with the lock out portion of the bench presses’ form.
If the pins of the barbell rack are of the adjustable variety, the exerciser may even utilize the pin press in order to remedy practically any sticking point throughout their performance of the bench press, so long as they set the pins below the sticking point in their form.
In addition to these purposes, the pin press also allows for supramaximal loading of the bench press, of which may come in quite useful during the conditioning training phase of powerlifters and similar strength based athletes.
Also occasionally referred to as the block press, the board press is yet another variant of the bench press that alters the range of motion by placing a board or similar apparatus along the sternum of the exerciser, thereby preventing them from touching the barbell to their chest.
Much like the pin press, the board press can aid in sticking motions or a particular weakness during certain portions of the bench press repetition - in particular, the middle of both the concentric and eccentric phases.
The board press is also an excellent method of reducing the range of motion of the bench press, either for the purposes of supraphysiological loading of weight so as to condition the exerciser neurologically and psychologically, or for improving upon their explosive output at mid point of the repetition.
Most useful for powerlifters wherein competition rules dictate that the barbell momentarily stops on their chest while performing a bench press attempt, the pause press is simply the traditional bench press but with the addition of a lengthy pause so as to induce significantly more static muscle contraction.
This will have a multitude of benefits not normally found in the traditional “touch and go” bench press, such as a significant improvement in the development of muscular endurance in all activated muscle groups, as well as increased power at the bottom of the bench presses’ range of motion, resulting in an easier concentric phase.
The pause press can also aid exercisers in creating a more natural and stable bar path in accordance with their own unique biomechanics, reducing unstable and inaccurate bar-chest contact points, as may be the case in individuals with a muscular imbalance or those with unstable eccentric phase form.
Though technically a major component of the aforementioned bench press mechanics and form, performing bench press accessory exercises for the purpose of inducing a greater amount of muscular hypertrophy will generally require its own set of exercises separate from the previously mentioned ones.
This is due to the fact that, while the following bench press accessories may also improve the exerciser’s form, technique and lifting mechanics, they are primarily performed so as to maximize muscular activation in a specific muscle group.
In the case of an exerciser searching for an accessory to pair with the traditional bench press so as to maximize the muscular hypertrophy induced in their triceps, the close grip bench press is not only one of the best possible choices - but also the most efficient one in terms of equipment and time.
The close grip bench press is simply a traditional bench press, but with the exerciser’s hands placed closer together along the barbell so as to reduce the load placed on the pectorals and shoulders - thereby instead shifting it to the triceps brachii, resulting in greater training stimulus and thus better results.
The bench press is considered one of the best possible pectoralis muscle group building exercises available - but, it may be improved even further by the exerciser widening the distance between their hands, thereby forcing the pectoralis major and minor to activate to a more significant degree as the resistance is shifted away from the triceps brachii.
As such, combining the traditional bench press with an accessory movement such as the wide grip bench press will result in maximal training stimulus induced in the chest muscles, though the exerciser must take care not to overtrain said chest muscles due to the excessive amount of repetition volume they undergo.
A common occurrence in athletes that regularly perform compound exercises such as the bench press is that of injuries accrued due to the intense nature of their training - an eventuality that, while unfortunate, is also quite easy to recover from with proper diet, rest, and physical rehabilitation.
As such, exercisers wishing to retain their range of motion in regards to the bench press movement, reduce tension on the shoulder joint during a chest press exercise, or correct for certain postural and biokinetic issues will find that the following accessory exercises can fulfill their needs.
As always, however, it is vital for individuals with a history of injuries to first consult with a medical professional prior to attempting any physical exertion, especially heavy compound movements like the bench press and its accessories.
For individuals with a significantly reduced range of motion during the bench press exercise, the usage of the floor press as an accessory or even as a substitute to the traditional bench press should allow for a similar recovery stimulus to be achieved.
This, of course, will result in a reduced activation of the triceps brachii as they are not recruited as significantly as they would be with a full range of motion.
The reduced range of motion and lack of tension placed on the shoulder joints makes the floor press one of the most suitable exercises for individuals with such requirements, though it should be noted that - as an accessory exercise - the floor press is still not as effective a training movement as the traditional bench press.
For flexibility and postural issues such as internally rotated shoulders or improper wrist form during the bench press, the usage of the dumbbell chest press as an accessory exercise meant to remedy such issues is more than suitable enough - so long as it is combined with other rehab work, such as a stretching routine and the usage of proper form during exercise.
Apart from postural and flexibility issues, the nature of dumbbells as exercise equipment will also aid in remedying the issue of muscular imbalances caused by the barbell bench press, forcing both sides of the body to work in equal measures and thereby correcting any developmentally lagging muscle groups present.
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