In the first part of this blog post, we went over 4 different ways to bench press that could ultimately help you build a bigger bench. For the bench press, you can use a standard barbell, dumbbells, Swiss bar, or Duffalo bar as means towards that goal, and the reason you want to change things up is because of the potential wear and tear on your joints, especially your shoulders.
Once again, the biggest problem for those who bench almost exclusively with a a barbell arises as a result of the hand orientation necessary to push a ton of weight. When you lie down on the bench, the palms are always supposed to be facing away from your head in the standard bench press, which requires pronation and internal rotation.
As you can see in the image above, there is a lot going on in the shoulder joint and not a lot of space–and that’s putting it mildly. When you pronate your wrists and internal rotate your shoulder, the humerus (or the upper arm) wants to ride up in the shoulder joint towards the acromion. This closes off the space above the humeral head, which can result in shoulder impingement.
This is why everyone is always looking for a “shoulder-friendly” bench workout; frequent barbell benching just beats them up, and that’s why it’s important to give them a break by using dumbbells, the Swiss bar, or even the Duffalo bar if you have one.
Other than changing up your implement of choice, you can also use bands or chains to improve your bench press as well; and here’s how to do so.
Don’t quote me on this, but it seems as if over the past decade chains have transformed from an obscure gym tool to a must-have piece of equipment, especially for gyms that are serious about weight training. Here’s what they look like in the context of the bench press.
Chains provide something called accommodating resistance. In the bench press, you are strongest at lockout, and weakest at the bottom. When you add chains to your bench press, the weight (bar and chains) is lightest at the bottom, because more of the chains are on the ground. As such, the weight feels heaviest at lockout–hence why it’s called accommodating resistance.
By using chains, you can do “more work” in the bench press. It’s perfectly fine not to use chains at all. However, the weight you put on the bar is the weight you use throughout the entire set. With chains, the weight changes dynamically. Why not use more weight if you’re perfectly capable of supporting it? And less if you’re not? Chains take this concept to a whole new level. You don’t have to finish your set to adjust weight: the weight changes itself within the rep. Adding chains to the bench forces you to continue pushing up with maximal effort to finish your reps; the good thing is that you naturally get stronger as you approach lockout. However, this means you can’t spare any effort.
Benching with chains makes it easier to lock out on normal bench presses without chains. This is a powerful way to improve your bench, especially if you struggle with locking out in the first place.
Bands are another way to add accommodating resistance to the bench press. The mechanism for this is the same, and here it is in action:
The one difference between band and chains that is worth noting is the nature of the accommodating resistance that each implement provides.
Chains provide a constant, linear increase in resistance as you go up towards lockout. On the other hand, bands provide a changing, exponential increase in resistance as you go up. This makes bench presses with bands harder than bench presses with chains, even if the general set-up is similar like in the two examples above.
Above, I am using quarter-inch bands that have been doubled over. I can’t even imagine how much more difficult this exercise would be with bands that are an inch thick, or even a half-inch thick.
In fact, I believe this aggressive and exponential increase in resistance is why reverse-band set-ups can be preferable sometimes. Here’s what that looks like (in the context of a squat):
In this set-up, the weight still feels heaviest at the top and lightest at the bottom. Because the bands are reversed though, the weight feels super-light at the bottom when the bands are stretched. In a conventional set-up, the weight feels super-heavy at the top.
The reverse set-up also makes it easier to get precisely the weight you want at the very top of the bench press–there’s virtually no help from the bands at lockout. If you want to use 225 on the bench press, there’s a good chance the weight will be close to 225 at the top. With a conventional set-up, it’s the opposite; there’s a little more guesswork involved as to how much weight you’re actually benching once you reach the top, but you know what that weight is at the bottom.
In a reverse-band set-up, I’m much more inclined to use a weight that is above my one-rep max because the bands take a lot of the weight off at the bottom position. On the other hand, I’d definitely use a weight that is below my one-rep max in a conventional set-up; if 225 feels heavy at the bottom, there’s no way it’s going to feel better on the way up when it is ALSO resisted by bands.
Bands and chains can improve your bench primarily through accommodating resistance. They emphasize the lockout phase of the lift in different ways. While chains provide a linear increase in weight as you go up, bands provide an exponential increase as they get stretched more. Bands can also be set-up in reverse, which provide a different form of accommodating resistance. Try these methods out and let us know what you think!
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy Lau is a Senior Staff Coach at Halevy Life.
Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and received his Master’s in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.
As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.