By Steven Morris
Your pecs do not drive your Bench Press. No matter how much you think they do, they simply don't. If you bench correctly and you care how much weight you press, you need to get out of the "pecs" mindset right now.
Any successful Powerlifter will tell you that while the pecs do play a role, the Bench Press lives and dies by tricep and shoulder strength.
The tri's especially are the key to a big bench IF you Bench correctly (elbows tucked in close to the body, not this elbows flared out to the sides nonsense - a great way to have a crappy Bench and jacked up shoulders).
And, while we're at it, working your biceps like a kid on Prom Day won't give you huge arms. Sure, we have to train them and a nice peak looks impressive…but, again, the triceps are key as they make up close to 2/3rds of you upper arms.
Some already know this but are stuck in both arm development and in their quest for a bigger Bench. Why is this? Frankly, they get stuck using the same ol' tricep exercises week after week.
Here are 6 Tricep Movements that will absolutely blast your Bench plateau and put some beef on your guns.
Close Grip Lockouts
Lockouts are excellent for increasing tricep strength. The short range of motion allows you to overload the tri's causing an increase in strength, improved Bench (if you're having trouble locking out heavy weights), and lay the foundation for increased mass.
Keep the distance fairly short, 4 - 8" total, and the reps low. Use these at the end of your normal Bench workout and gradually load the plates on.
We borrow this move from the Powerlifters. Named after bench pressing monster J.M. Blakely, this movement is a great way to strengthen the tri's more than you ever thought possible.
I've seen guys put 10+lbs on their bench in two weeks after just using this movement.
Set up like you would in a Bench press, now lower the bar down and back, almost like you would do a tricep extension. Your elbows will go forward while the bar travels back. This places a tremendous amount of stress on the triceps.
Lower the bar to your weakest point, usually just over the neck. Then finish by pressing up.
Most like to use this as an accessory lift. I've experimented with it as a Max Effort move and have had great success. But, if you have rotator cuff problems, I'd stick with using this as an accessory move (3 - 5 sets of 5 - 10 reps)
High-Rep Band Pushdowns
This movement is so simple and effective that it seems too good to be true. There are two was of doing this exercise. First is the in-gym version and is most effective as a finisher; a way to really cook the tri's at the completion of a workout. Using a band, loop it over the top of a power rack or chinning bar and start doing pushdowns...rapidly and smoothly. This is done for 3 sets of 20+ reps.
The second, and more result producing way, is to use the band outside the gym. Loop the band over the top of a door and knock off multiple sets of high reps throughout the day till you hit 100 total.
I remember reading about this in a Louie Simmons article as a way to break through a bench plateau. At the time it seemed way too simple...how could a bunch of sets with a band possibly improve your Bench? Well, it does and fast. The plan is to do this every day for a week, take a day off and see how much you improve.
You will get an increase in both strength and size. I have guys do this anytime they seem to be burning out on traditional exercises and their pressing movements are stuck (this works well for Bench, Incline and the Press)
Rolling Tricep Extensions
This is a great movement for bulking the tri's. It's not a great strength builder, so stick with it as an accessory.
You have to let the elbow roll back at the bottom of the lift, your tri's will be almost parallel to the floor, then explode up. Think of it as a Lying Tricep Extension, but the elbows roll back at the bottom, then instead of just moving the weight, you almost "throw" it with speed.
Thick Bar Lying Extensions
Lying Tricep Extensions are an excellent tricep movement and have been around forever...with good reason. They've backed a hell of a lot of mass on the arms of many a weight lifter. But, with all the tricep and pressing movements we do, the wrists and elbows can take a beating.
Enter the thick bar.
Thick bars are great for a lot of reasons but in this case we're using it to take stress of the elbows and wrists. This is a great variation on the standard extension and will provide a new stimulus for growth.
Again, stick with this as an accessory lift with multiple sets of medium to high reps. Experiment with reps as low as 4 if you really are in a rut.
Band Around the Neck Cable Pushdowns
We've all done about a billion Cable Pushdowns. Every 14-year old in the gym does them, fat guys in the gym do them, and so does the guy who can't Bench worth a crap but "maxes the stack" on the Pushdown. They're a good exercise...good, not great.
But, add a band to give resistance at the top and progressively throughout the movement and now you have a real tricep builder.
Most people do Pushdowns wrong, only really putting stress on the tri's at the bottom 1/3 of the lift. Those who do them correctly still miss working the tri's through about 1/2 the exercise.
Here's what you do. Loop a band around the back of your neck/across your traps (it helps to put a towel there). Now, grab the two ends, and, with band-ends in hand, grab the handle for the Cable Pushdowns and get to work.
You'll find that the movement starts hard, ends hard. And, the band will actively pull you back to the starting position. If you're looking to build mass, "fight" the bands and prolong the eccentric.
This movement is done for multiple sets of medium to high reps. But, don't be afraid to occasionally go heavy for multiple sets of 3's and 4's.
Steven Morris is a Strength Coach in the Philadelphia and South Jersey areas and owner of Explosive Football Training. He still plays football and will only retire at gun-point. He has been lifting weights for more than 16 years and has been helping people achieve their fitness and strength goals for more than a decade.
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