Having a standard barbell is one of the most crucial elements for any gym to call itself, well, an actual gym. The one that you’re most likely to find is called an Olympic bar, weighing in at 44 lbs and 7.2 feet long; with loadable ends on either side of a 4.3 foot-long shaft. The shaft can have various knurling patterns to enhance your grip for whatever you’re using it for. For example, a barbell used for weightlifting is likely to have a different knurl than one used for powerlifting.
Speaking of powerlifting, the bench press is not only a staple exercise in this sport; it can also be a mightily important exercise for anyone who values muscle mass, likes looking good, or just wants to increase his bench.
Benching with the barbell is not the only thing you can or should be doing to build a bigger bench or make your pecs look good, though. When it comes to proper positioning and mechanics for the upper body, there are other pieces of equipment and other ways you can make the bench press work for you.
For the record, the barbell has a ton of versatility from the get-go for beginners and experts alike. Just check out these barbell bench press variation below:
Other than reversing your grip on the bench press as in the last video, however, the only real way to change things up with a standard barbell is to vary how far apart your hands are from each other. The wider your hands are, the more you’re emphasizing the chest; the closer your hands are, the more you’re emphasizing the triceps. These are the two muscles primarily responsible for pushing up and extending your arms in the bench press.
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. Yes, the hands are almost always supposed to be positioned such that your palms face downward and you can point your thumbs at each other if you were holding the barbell. However, this puts the hands in pronation and the shoulders in internal rotation, which closes off the amount of space you have in your shoulder joints for your arms to move. You are more likely to have bone rubbing on bone in you shoulders because of this positioning.
This is why everyone is always looking for a “shoulder-friendly” bench workout; frequent barbell benching just beats them up.
You probably guessed it; most of those shoulder-friendly bench workouts involve dumbbells. With dumbbells your hands are no longer locked in place, giving your shoulders room to breathe. You also have a lot more degrees of freedom here, which leads to loads more variations; alternating, single-arm, neutral-grip, close-grip, just to name a few:
The dumbbell variation that works best for you is highly dependent on what you need as an individual. Go single-arm or alternate hands to build stability, go close-grip to build your triceps, etc.
You have a ton of options at your disposal with dumbbells, find the right one for you!
3) Swiss Bar
There are many variations of the Swiss bar, but generally speaking, they look like this: https://www.roguefitness.com/rogue-mg-1-multi-grip-bar-2-0 .
All of the handles on the bar are perpendicular rather than parallel to the length of the bar. No matter how far out you choose to have your hands, your palms are always facing one another. This is a neutral position for your shoulders, which makes the Swiss bar great for those dealing with shoulder issues — caused by regular benching. Yet still, you are able to work your chest or triceps depending on the kind of bench press that works for you. Here’s a classic video demonstrating this concept of positioning in the Swiss Bar Bench Press from Joe DeFranco, who was and still is one of the biggest names in performance training:
4) Duffalo Bar
Finally, if you happen to have this piece of equipment at your disposal, you are in luck.
The Duffalo Bar comes from our colleague and Advisory Board member, Chris Duffin, who runs an excellent fitness business that does it all. Kabuki Strength both coaches clients and teaches coaches; they also engineer, manufacture, and sell innovative and cutting-edge gym equipment, with the Duffalo Bar among their most popular products. Duffin also deadlifts over 1000 pounds, so I’d listen to him if I were you!
At first glance the Duffalo Bar looks like little more than a barbell with a curved shaft. However, it is this curved shaft that makes it a fantastic tool for the bench press. The bar is designed to take stress off your wrists, elbows, and shoulders, while creating better lat and scap engagement. This takes the vulnerable shoulder muscles out of the equation when you bench with the bar, even with the bigger range-of-motion. Here’s a better explanation as well as footage of this bar in action:
A quick testimonial by my friend and @kabukistrengthlab co-owner Rudy Kadlub discussing his shoulder replacements over the last 10 months and how he’s used the Duffalo Bar to get back on the platform! Thousands have used this bar successfully to press and squat pain-free…what are you waiting for? Using the straight bar to squat week-after-week out of competition can have negative side effects for many lifters, so why risk it? 4 weeks out of a meet, switch to a straight bar for competition prep. ••••• Thanks for supporting Kabuki Strength and helping make the world a better place through strength! ••••• www.kabukistrength.com www.kabuki.ms ••••• #kabukistrength #kabukistrengthlab #kabukimovementsystems #kabukistrengthcoaching @kabukistrengthlab @mad_scientist_duffin @barbellandbulldoglife @zacules32 @brandon_senn @brady_cable @rudykadlub
As an aside…we are probably one of very few places in the NYC area who even have a Duffalo Bar. As you can imagine we’re big fans of this bar and we put it to good use.
Building A Bigger Bench
So how do these pieces of equipment help you build a bigger bench? It’s actually quite simple. If your joints hurt, you won’t be able to bench, period. The less your joints bother you as a result of using joint-friendly equipment, the more often you’ll be able to bench, and the more time you can spend under the bar benching without any setbacks. More to come on this topic! Stay tuned.
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.