3 Isometric Bench Press Routines!


isometric bench press

Bench press isometrics are one of the fastest ways to blast through upper body strength and size plateaus. These isometric muscular contractions involve pressing a barbell into a fixed set of safety pins. This is a powerful training method that activates a ton of dormant muscle fibers and gets you on the fast track to screaming fast gains!

Introduction

  • Part 1: What Are Isometrics?
  • Part 2: How Do You Perform Isometric Bench Presses?
  • Part 3: The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Bench Press Isometrics
  • Part 4: 3 Types Of Isometric Routines
  • Part 5: Isometric Training For Size
  • Part 6: Isometric Training For Strength
  • Part 7: Isometric Training For Size And Strength
  • Part 8: Summary

In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you everything you need to know about destroying strength and hypertrophy plateaus with bench press isometrics.

First we’re going to cover the science of bench press isometric contractions. Don’t worry, all of the explanations will be simple and easy to understand.

Once you understand the science behind bench press isometrics I’m going to give you three of the most effective bench press isometric routines ever created!

These isometric training routines are used by some of the world’s top strength coaches such as Josh Bryant and Charles Poliquin to build big, strong athletes in record time. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this cutting-edge information.

Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: What Are Isometrics?

Most muscular contractions are associated with movement. For example, concentric muscular contractions occur when you are lifting a weight while eccentric muscular contractions occur while you are lowering it.

Isometrics fit none of these categories because they describe a muscle that is contracting without moving! This may sound impossible but I assure you muscles can contract this way.

For example, go push as hard as you can against a brick wall. Your muscles may not be moving much but they are definitely working hard!

In reality there are two types of isometric contractions: overcoming isometrics and yielding isometrics.

Overcoming isometrics involve applying force to an immovable object. In my experience overcoming isometrics work best for the bench press so this will be the focus of our article.

Another type of isometric is called yielding isometrics. Yielding isometrics involve preventing another object from moving.

For example, if you are performing standing barbell curls and insert a 3-second pause in the mid-range position where your forearms are parallel to the ground then you are performing a yielding isometric contraction.

Yielding isometrics work well for flexion-based exercises such as chin ups and bicep curls. They are less effective on the bench press so we won’t be talking about them any further in this article.

Part 2: How do you perform isometric bench presses?

This is a great question! After all, how exactly are we going to create a scenario on the bench press where we apply force to an immovable object?

The short answer is that you are going to press into a set of safety pins with a barbell. The safety pins will prevent the barbell from moving regardless of how much force you apply!

For example here is a video of world-class bench presser Al Davis performing an overcoming isometric bench press:

It is hard to tell but Al Davis is pressing as hard as he possibly can into the safety pins! He is literally trying to break the safety pins in half!

If you don’t believe me then I recommend you watch this video again with the sound turned up. You will quickly see (hear?) what I mean!

There are a variety of ways to perform this type of isometric contraction into the safety pins.

Some training methods use an empty barbell while others have you load the barbell with a normal amount of weight.

Some routines feature isometrics near your chest while others feature isometrics near the lockout of the bench press.

All of these details will be covered in great detail in part 4 of this article! 

Part 3: The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Bench Press Isometrics

There are many, many benefits to using isometric contractions in your bench press routines. I will cover some of the most important ones here.

If you want to learn about all of the benefits of isometric muscular contractions then you may want to consult this article.

Advantage #1: Increased muscle fiber recruitment

This is probably the single most important benefit of isometric training – it maximizes the number of muscle fibers that you can recruit during a set!

For example, the scientific literature has repeatedly demonstrated that you can recruit 15% more muscle fibers during a maximal overcoming isometric set than you can during more traditional sets.

This is a massive number! It means that you are activating and fatiguing muscle fibers that you can’t use during normal sets!

Of course when you return to more traditional training protocols you will still be able to activate many of the muscle fibers that you first activated during isometric training.

If your goals include getting bigger and stronger then recruiting more muscle fibers in your training should be a big priority!

Advantage #2: Eliminating Weak Points

It is very common for powerlifters and other strength athletes to have either a weak point or a “sticking point” in the bench press.

For example, there may be a single point in the lift where the lifter’s bar speed slows down considerably and they consistently miss the lift.

It is very difficult to attack these weak points with more traditional training methods.

Even as a lifter gets stronger he usually continue to miss a lift at the same spot, whether that is 4 inches off their chest or 2 inches below lockout etc.

Isometrics are amazing for eliminating bench press sticking points because you can perform extra work for the exact point in the lift that you are weak!

For example, if you typically miss on the bench press half-way up then you can set the safety pins at this exact position and train this specific weakness!

The research shows that you get the most benefit from bench press isometrics at the precise joint angles that you focus on in your training.

If you can eliminate these weak points then your progress is sure to shoot through the roof!

There are of course a couple of disadvantages to overcoming isometrics that you should be aware of.

Disadvantage #1: Isometrics Can’t Be Performed As A Stand-Alone Training Method

This idea is a little bit complicated.

Basically if all you were to do for an entire workout is perform sets of bench presses into safety pins (like Al David does in the video above) then you won’t make any progress.

Isometric training has to be combined with traditional lifting in some capacity. Fortunately there are at least a couple of easy ways to do this.

The first method involves alternating sets of overcoming isometrics with sets of regular lifting. This is the strategy that Josh Bryant usually uses with his powerlifting and bodybuilding clients.

Another option is to pre-fatigue your muscles with partial range-of-motion lifting immediately followed by an overcoming isometric contraction.

This technique usually goes by the name “isometronics” or “functional isometrics” and was a favourite of Charles Poliquin.

As long as you combine the isometric contractions with more traditional lifting then you are going to get great results.

Disadvantage #2: Isometric Training Is Difficult To Recover From

Isometrics are very demanding on the central nervous system.

This is understandable as you are recruiting significantly more muscle fibers during an all-out isometric contraction than you are during either concentric or eccentric repetitions.

Activating all of these new / extra muscle fibers takes a toll on your body. This isn’t necessarily a problem as long as you take some precautions.

I agree with Josh Bryant that you should not perform bench press isometrics for more than 3-6 weeks at a time.

After 3-6 weeks they become less effective and you will just be eating into your body’s recovery reserves. Isometrics should generally be reserved for lower-rep intensification phases.

For best results I recommend you use some higher-rep accumulation routines for a few weeks before and after your 3-6 weeks of isometric training. 

For example:

  • Weeks 1-3: accumulation phase #1
  • Weeks 4-6: isometric routine
  • Weeks 7-9: accumulation phase #2

Of course there are many other ways you could organize your long-term programming.

However, in my experience most trainees get their best results “sandwiching” an isometrics bench press routine in between two accumulation-style routines.

This is true regardless of whether you are training for size or strength. 

Part 4: 3 Types Of Isometric Routines

In my experience there are three types of isometric training methods that you should consider using in your training:

  • Method #1: Iso-Dynamic Tri-Sets
  • Method #2: Isometrics For Powerlifting
  • Method #3: Isometronics

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these superior training methods.

Method #1: Iso-Dynamic Training

Iso-dynamic training is a fantastic way to use isometrics to train for hypertrophy. They are of great interest to bodybuilders and other physique athletes.

Iso-dynamics are a combination of overcoming isometrics and more traditional lifting.

The “iso” refers to the isometric contraction while the “dynamics” refers to traditional concentric and eccentric lifting. Hence the name “iso-dynamics” 🙂

Usually the overcoming isometric contraction is performed first in a tri-set. The second and third exercises would feature more traditional sets in moderate to high rep ranges.

The idea is to perform the overcoming isometric contraction first in the routine so that you can recruit more muscle fibers in your second and third exercise.

You may even find that you are stronger than usual on the second and third exercise because more of your muscle fibers are firing than usual!

Method #2: Isometrics For Powerlifting

In the video world-class bench presser Jeremy Stickland is alternating sets of regular bench presses with overcoming isometric contractions with 2 minutes rest between sets.

This isometrics training method is the brainchild of Josh Bryant.

Josh has consistently used overcoming isometrics to help powerlifters break records in the bench press and deadlift.

These are usually used in peaking cycles where a powerlifter spends 8-12 weeks peaking his 1-rep max strength for a competition.

The basic idea is to alternate between overcoming isometric sets and regular bench press sets.

For example, an athlete may perform an overcoming isometric set, rest 2 minutes, perform an explosive set of bench presses with a slightly sub maximal weight, rest 2 minutes, then repeat the process. 

Method #3: Isometronics (AKA Functional Isometrics)

The idea behind isometronics is to perform 4-6 partial range of motion repetitions immediately followed by an all-out overcoming isometric contraction against the pins.

After the overcoming isometric contraction you lower the weight down to the bottom pins and attempt one final partial range of motion repetition.

This sequence is absolutely brutal!

Isometronics were first used in the 1950s to help Olympic weightlifters bust through training plateaus in the overhead press.

Back then the strict overhead press was actually one of the 3 competition lifts for Olympic Weightlifting. Of course the other two lifts are the snatch and the clean and jerk.

In 1972 the strict press was dropped from competition and isometronics largely fell out of favor.  This is strange as isometronics are fantastic for BOTH strength and size gains!

You will need two seperate sets of safety pins in order to use this method. This may involve purchasing your own safety pins if your gym does not have an extra set.

Part 5: Isometric Training For Size

Finally we’re getting to the good stuff! This first routine features iso-dynamic lifting and is designed to increase the size of your triceps.

As a general rule of thumb I recommend you perform this routine about once every five days. For example, a 3 days per week upper / lower split or a Poliquin-style split would be excellent choices.

You could also get away with training each body part once per week if you wanted as this is a rather severe system. Check it out:

Iso-Dynamics Bench Press Routine

  • A1: Close grip bench press overcoming isometric***, 3 x 6 second hold, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Close grip bench press against bands, 3 x 6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Decline DB extension, 3 x 12, 3/0/1/0, 4 minutes rest

***Perform an overcoming isometric with an empty barbell. The pins should be set up 2 inches below lockout in a power rack.

You can click right here for the training video for this workout.

This is an awesome isometrics hypertrophy workout invented by the strength coach Josh Bryant. For this workout the isometric bench press is performed as part of a tri-set for the triceps.

First you perform the isometric bench press with the safety pins set just below lockout. Your goal is to press into the safety pins so hard that you break them in half! This is an incredible tool for recruiting more muscle fibers in the triceps.

After the isometric bench press you move onto 2 full range of motion triceps exercises: the close grip bench press against bands and the decline DB extension.

Josh recommends that you perform 3 of these tri-sets in total and rest for 4 minutes in between each round of the tri-set. After 3 rounds of this tri-set your triceps will be begging for mercy!

Part 6: Isometric Training For Strength

This second training routine is designed for powerlifters wishing to peak their strength on the bench press.

You are going to perform 3 weeks of heavy training, one week of deloading, and finally hit a big bench press PR on week 5.

I recommend you perform this exact routine no more than once every 5-7 days.

If you want to train your upper body twice in one week then make sure that your second training day is less demanding. Remember, you want to be completely refreshed and ready to go for your main bench press day!

Week #1

  • A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 3**, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press overcoming isometric***, 2 x 6 second hold, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Bench press CAT set*****, 2 x 4, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Bench press overcoming isometric****, 2 x 6 second hold, 120 seconds rest
  • C2: Bench press CAT set*****, 2 x 4, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Dead bench press, 8 x 1, 1/0/X/0, 30 seconds rest
  • E1: Wide overhand grip cable pulldown, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E2: Flat DB fly, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F2: Flat DB extensions, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Use 87% of your estimated 1-rep max

***performed 4 inches above chest height with an empty 45 pound barbell

****Performed 4 inches below lockout with an empty 45 pound barbell

*****Use 70% of your 1-rep max

Week #2

  • A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 2**, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press overcoming isometric***, 2 x 6 second hold, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Bench press CAT set*****, 2 x 3, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Bench press overcoming isometric****, 2 x 6 second hold, 120 seconds rest
  • C2: Bench press CAT set*****, 2 x 3, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Dead bench press, 6 x 1, 1/0/X/0, 30 seconds rest
  • E1: Wide overhand grip cable pulldown, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E2: Flat DB fly, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F2: Flat DB extensions, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Use 92% of your estimated 1-rep max

***performed 4 inches above chest height with an empty 45 pound barbell

****Performed 4 inches below lockout with an empty 45 pound barbell

*****Use 80% of your estimated 1-rep max

Week #3

  • A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 1**, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press overcoming isometric***, 2 x 6 second hold, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Bench press CAT set*****, 2 x 2, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Bench press overcoming isometric****, 2 x 6 second hold, 120 seconds rest
  • C2: Bench press CAT set*****, 2 x 2, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Dead bench press, 4 x 1, 1/0/X/0, 30 seconds rest
  • E1: Wide overhand grip cable pulldown, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E2: Flat DB fly, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F2: Flat DB extensions, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Use 97% of your estimated 1-rep max

***performed 4 inches above chest height with an empty 45 pound barbell

****Performed 4 inches below lockout with an empty 45 pound barbell

*****Use 90% of your estimated 1-rep max

Week #4 (deload week)

  • A1: Bench press (competition grip), 3 x 1**, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Wide overhand grip cable pulldown***, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Flat DB fly***, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated cable row (v-handle)***, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: Flat DB extensions***, 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Use 70% of your estimated 1-rep max

***Use 70% of the weight you used for week 3. Do not change the repetition ranges! Stick with 2 x 7-10 with the reduced weight.

Week 5: break your all-time best 1-rep max bench press!

Here are some sample training videos for this powerlifting bench press routine: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2, exercise D1, exercise E1, exercise E2, exercise F1, exercise F2.

Part 7: Isometric Training For Size And Strength

I have to admit I have a bit of a soft spot for isometronics. In my experience they are probably the most effective bench press isometrics routine that you can perform.

They work incredibly well for both size and strength! In fact isometronics made my list of the 11 greatest bodybuilding training methods of all time! 

As I mentioned earlier you will need a second set of safety pins to perform this routine. This is a small investment to make if you are serious about getting results.

Check it out:

  • A1: Bench press bottom position isometronics, 3 x 4-6**, 2/0/X/2, 240 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press bottom position isometronics, 3 x 4-6**, 2/0/X/2, 240 seconds rest
  • C1: Bench press bottom position isometronics, 3 x 4-6**, 2/0/X/2, 240 seconds rest
  • D1: Bench press (full range-of-motion), 1 x 6-8, 4/0/1/0, 240 seconds rest
  • E1: Decline EZ bar extension w/ chains (close grip), 3 x 6-8, 3/2/1/0, 120 seconds rest rest

**Complete 4-6 partial range of motion reps. On the last rep press into the top set of safety pins for 6-8 total seconds. You are trying to break the pins in half on this isometric contraction! After 6-8 seconds lower the weight back down and attempt one more partial rep.

Here is the training video for this workout:

 

 

When I write isometronics routines for my clients I often use antagonistic body part supersets. This has the advantage of improving your overall performance on the isometronics sets as well as increasing your overall training density.

For example, here is what a chest and biceps isometronics workout might look like:

  • A1: Bench press bottom position isometronics, 3 x 4-6**, 2/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press bottom position isometronics, 3 x 4-6**, 2/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Unilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Bench press bottom position isometronics, 3 x 4-6**, 2/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest
  • C2: Unilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Bench press (full range-of-motion), 1 x 6-8, 4/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D2: Unilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 1 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E2: 60 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Complete 4-6 partial range of motion reps. On the last rep press into the top set of safety pins for 6-8 total seconds. You are trying to break the pins in half on this isometric contraction! After 6-8 seconds lower the weight back down and attempt one more partial rep.

**Complete 4-6 partial range of motion reps. On the last rep press into the top set of safety pins for 6-8 total seconds. You are trying to break the pins in half on this isometric contraction! After 6-8 seconds lower the weight back down and attempt one more partial rep.

And here is what a chest and back isometronics workout might look like:

  • A1: Bench press bottom position isometronics, 3 x 4-6**, 2/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Shoulder-width supinated grip chin ups, 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press bottom position isometronics, 3 x 4-6**, 2/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Shoulder-width supinated grip chin ups, 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Bench press bottom position isometronics, 3 x 4-6**, 2/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest
  • C2: Shoulder-width supinated grip chin ups, 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Bench press (full range-of-motion), 1 x 6-8, 4/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D2: Shoulder-width supinated grip chin ups, 1 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E2: T-bar row, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Complete 4-6 partial range of motion reps. On the last rep press into the top set of safety pins for 6-8 total seconds. You are trying to break the pins in half on this isometric contraction! After 6-8 seconds lower the weight back down and attempt one more partial rep.

In my experience an isometronics routine works best with the antagonistic body part supersets but it will still work great if you are training chest by itself.

Part 8: Summary

isometric bench press

Using isometrics on the bench press is one of the most effective ways to bust through upper body strength and size plateaus.

If you are after size gains then either the isodynamic routine or the isometronics routine will work great.

If your goal is general strength gains then my favourite choice is the isometronics routine.

Finally if you are looking to peak your bench press strength then the isometrics for powerlifting routine is for you.

Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes the body will follow.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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