Josh Bryant’s Favorite Bench Press Accessory Exercises!


Josh Bryant is one of the best bench press coaches in the world.

One of the of the reasons Josh is so successful is he knows how to use the right accessory exercises to attack specific weaknesses on the bench press.

If you want to improve your bench press the Josh Bryant way then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: The Primary Bench Press Day
  • Part 2: The Bench Press Accessory Day

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you Josh Bryant’s favorite accessory exercises for building a world-class bench press.

Bench press accessory exercises are designed to train specific muscle groups that are used in the bench press like the chest, triceps and upper back.

Josh Bryant believes that accessory exercises are all about establishing a strong mind-muscle connection and creating a strong internal focus on the muscle performing the exercise. If you cannot feel the muscle working then the exercise is not doing its job!

Here is Josh giving some of his best tips for how you should approach your triceps accessory exercises: 

Josh Bryant likes to break up his powerlifting bench press workouts into 4 separate phases. Check it out:

The Josh Bryant Bench Press Workout Template

  • Step #1: Perform 1 heavy set of 1-3 reps on the bench press
  • Step #2: Perform 3-10 speed sets of 2-4 reps on the bench press
  • Step #3: Perform 1-2 heavy bench press supplemental exercises
  • Step #4: Perform 3-5 lighter bench press accessory exercises

Josh likes to start his workouts with 1 heavy set on the bench press, several speed sets and 1-3 bench press supplemental exercise.

For these first few exercises Josh wants you to focus on moving the weight from “Point A” to “Point B” as explosively as possible. Check it out: 

“As a powerlifter you have one objective when bench pressing: you want to move the barbell from point A to point B with perfect technique as forcefully as possible.

The focus is external on the movement you’re performing: the bench press!”

Josh Bryant says that you should finish your workout with 3-5 accessory exercises for muscles like your chest, triceps and upper back.

The focus here is completely different: your goal is to feel the target muscle working as hard as possible. You almost want to pretend you are a bodybuilder when you perform your bench press accessory exercises! Check it out:

“When we’re training our triceps we want to focus on working the target muscle. You want pure intentionality!

So it’s not just about moving the weight from point A to point B, it’s about making your triceps work as hard as possible by focusing on them.”

Let’s put this all together by looking at a full workout. Here is a bench press workout that James Strickland performed while working with Josh Bryant. Check it out:

James Strickland Bench Press Workout

  • Exercise #1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 set of 2 reps, 4 minutes rest
  • Exercise #2: Speed bench press (competition grip), 5 sets of 3 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise #3: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 sets of 5 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise #4: Prone seal row, 3 sets of 5 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #5: DB floor flys (neutral grip), 3 sets of 10 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #6: Standing rope cable pushdown, 3 sets of 10 reps, 1 minute rest 

Here is the training video:

For this workout James Strickland performs 6 exercises. He performs 3 powerlifting-style bench press exercises and then 3 accessory exercises for his upper back, chest and triceps. This is one example of how Josh Bryant likes to organize his heavy bench press workouts.

The accessory exercises are performed at the end of the workout but they are still extremely important for building a huge bench press.

I hope you found this overview helpful. In the rest of this guide I will teach you Josh Bryant’s favorite bench press accessory exercises, as well as how Josh likes to organize his bench press accessory workouts.

Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: The Primary Bench Press Day

One of Josh Bryant’s favorite strategies for building a world-class bench press is to train your upper body twice per week.

You have a heavy bench press workout early in the week and a bench press accessory workout later in the week. For example:

The Josh Bryant Bench Press Program

  • Monday: Heavy bench press day
  • Friday: Bench press accessory day

This is one of Josh Bryant’s favorite ways to organize his powerlifters’ bench press workouts. On the heavy day you perform your heavy bench press sets plus a few assistance exercises.

On your bench press accessory day you perform several different assistance exercises. Let’s start by looking at how Josh organizes his assistance exercises on his heavy bench press day.

Josh usually has his powerlifters perform 1 assistance exercise for three different muscle groups on the heavy bench press day:

  • Muscle #1: Chest
  • Muscle #2: Triceps
  • Muscle #3: Upper Back

Let’s take a closer look at Josh Bryant’s favorite bench press accessory exercises for each of these muscle groups.

Josh Bryant’s Favorite Chest Accessory Exercises

  • Exercise #1: Paused DB fly
  • Exercise #2: Chain fly
  • Exercise #3: Machine pec dec

Josh Bryant likes to use different isolation exercises like the paused dumbbell floor fly, the chain fly or the machine pec dec to train the chest.

Josh says that there is no point in doing heavy compound exercises like incline dumbbell presses for your chest. If you trained hard enough on your powerlifting-style exercises then you just need to perform a few sets of an isolation movement to finish off the muscle. 

Here is what the paused dumbbell floor fly looks like. Check it out:

The Paused DB Floor Fly

For this exercise you are going to perform a dumbbell fly while laying on the ground. You lower your arms until your elbows hit the ground, pause for 1 second and then raise your arms back up in an arcing motion.

Here is Josh Bryant describing this exercise:

“He has a 15 degree bend in his elbows and he wants to keep that exact same position in his elbows through the entire movement.

He goes down in an arcing motion, pauses for a split second and comes back up in an arcing motion. It’s like a giant bear hug.”

Josh Bryant uses this exercise with a ton of his powerlifting clients including James Strickland. Josh strongly prefers this exercise over the regular dumbbell fly for powerlifters looking to improve their bench press.

Performing the dumbbell fly on the ground has many advantages. First of all it forces you to use the exact same form on every rep. You always know how far to lower your arms because your elbows have to make contact with the ground.

This technique also forces you to use a slow, controlled motion. This is very helpful for creating that internal focus on your chest during the exercise.

Another one of Josh’s favorite chest accessory exercises is the chain fly. Check it out:

The Chain Fly

Josh Bryant invented this exercise himself. The basic idea is to perform a fly using chains rather than regular dumbbells. You just attach the chains to regular cable handles and perform the exercise.

The chain fly has many advantages over the regular dumbbell fly. The biggest advantage is it keeps constant tension on your chest during the entire movement.

Normally a dumbbell fly is very hard in the bottom of the exercise and very easy at the top. The chains are radically different: they make the exercise hard throughout the entire range of motion!

The chains also reduce the total weight in the bottom position of the exercise which is helpful for avoiding injuries.

Josh Bryant also likes to use the pec dec machine as a chest accessory exercise. Check it out:

Pec Dec Machine

The pec dec machine is frowned upon by many powerlifters but Josh Bryant believes it is a viable exercise for building your chest.

The pec dec will help you add muscle mass to your chest. Over the long run a bigger chest has the potential to be a stronger chest. Check it out:

“A bigger engine is a faster and more powerful engine.”

Now let’s look at some of Josh Bryant’s favorite accessory exercises for the triceps. During his powerlifting career Josh Bryant read about the strongman Bill Kazmeier performing lying triceps extensions with 315 pounds.

Josh said if Bill Kazmeier can do it then so can I!

Josh tried performing lying triceps extensions with 330 pounds but he tore his triceps tendon right off the bone.

Today Josh is much more careful with which triceps exercises he uses and how he performs them. Here are some of Josh’s favorite triceps accessory exercises:

Josh Bryant’s Favorite Triceps Accessory Exercises

  • Exercise #1: Chain triceps extensions
  • Exercise #2: Dead stop DB extensions
  • Exercise #3: Overhead cable extensions
  • Exercise #4: Cable pushdowns

Josh likes these exercises because they work the very triceps hard without putting a lot of strain on your elbows.

One of Josh Bryant’s all-time favorite triceps exercises is the chain tricep extension. Check it out:

The Chain Triceps Extension

This exercise is performed using a “V-handle” and powerlifting chains. If you are extremely strong then you can add a dumbbell to the mix so you are lifting a combination of chains and regular weight.

So what’s the point of the chains? I’ll let Josh Bryant answer that one for me:

“The chains make the exercise easier at the bottom where your triceps are weakest and harder at the top where your triceps are strongest.

The chains make your triceps work harder by overloading every part of the strength curve.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself! The chain triceps extension is an unbelievable exercise.

The chains take a TON of pressure off your elbows in the bottom position and they make your triceps work extremely hard in the top position as you lock out the weight.

This is very important because the triceps are most active in the last few inches of the bench press when you have to lockout your elbows.

Another one of Josh Bryant’s favorite bench press triceps accessory exercises is the dead stop dumbbell extension. Check it out:

Dead stop DB extensions

This exercise is extremely effective for establishing that mind-muscle connection in your triceps. Unlike the chain triceps extension this exercise makes your triceps work very hard in the bottom position of the exercise.

Here is Josh Bryant describing this movement:

“Were pausing the DBs on the floor. That breaks up the eccentric / concentric phase of the lift. It takes a ton of starting strength to get the weight moving.

When I was bench pressing and competing this was one of my favorite accessory triceps exercises. I’ve used this with a lot of the greats from Jeremey Hoornstra, to Al Davis, James Strickland, so on and so forth.”

Josh Bryant also likes to use different cable exercises like high-pulley rope cable extensions and cable pushdowns. Josh tends to use cable exercises for anyone who has a history of elbow problems.

The cables are slightly less effective for building triceps strength on the bench press but they do a great job of keeping the stress off your elbows.

Now let’s look at some of Josh Bryant’s favorite upper back accessory exercises. Check it out:

Josh Bryant’s Favorite Upper Back Accessory Exercises

  • Exercise #1: Seal Rows
  • Exercise #2: Chest supported rows
  • Exercise #3: Cable rows
  • Exercise #4: Pull ups
  • Exercise #5: Lat pulldowns

Josh Bryant uses a ton of different accessory exercises for the upper back. However, one of his all-time favorites is the seal row. Check it out:

The Seal Row

The seal row is basically a chest supported row where you lay down on a flat bench. You then row a barbell up until it hits the bench, pause for a split second and lower the weight back down.

Josh Bryant loves the seal row because it completely eliminates momentum from the exercise. You are forced to use nothing but your upper back muscles to initiate the movement.

The seal row also takes your lower back out of the exercise. This is important because Josh Bryant wants you to perform all of your heavy lower back exercises on your squat or deadlift workouts.

Josh also uses a ton of other upper back accessory exercises such as chest supported rows, seated cable rows, pull ups and pulldowns. Josh says the key for a powerlifter is to pick exercises that minimize cheating and do not put put a lot of stress on your lower back. 

Let’s put this all together by looking at another typical Josh Bryant bench press workout. Check it out:

James Strickland Bench Press Workout

  • Exercise #1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 set of 3 reps, 4 minutes rest
  • Exercise #2: Speed bench press (competition grip), 5 sets of 3 reps, 4 minutes rest  
  • Exercise #3: Reverse band bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3 sets of 2 reps, 4 minutes rest
  • Exercise #4: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 sets of 6 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise #5: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 sets of 10 reps, 60 seconds rest
  • Exercise #6: DB floor flys (neutral grip), 3 sets of 10 reps, 60 seconds rest
  • Exercise #7: Standing rope cable pushdown, 3 sets of 10 reps, 60 seconds rest 

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout James performs 1 heavy set on the bench press, 5 speed sets on the bench press, 2 bench press supplemental exercises and 3 bench press accessory exercises.

His accessory exercises for this workout were the lat pulldown, the dumbbell floor fly and the standing rope cable pushdown.

This should all make perfect sense by this point in the article.

Part 2: The Bench Press Accessory Day

Josh Bryant has most of his athletes rotate between two bench press workouts: a heavy bench press day and a bench press assistance day. For example:

The Josh Bryant Bench Press Program

  • Monday: Heavy bench press day
  • Friday: Bench press accessory day

Some guys like Julius Maddox will spread out their workouts across 10 days instead of 7 days but you get the idea.

Josh Bryant has 3 main ways that he designs the bench press accessory days:

  • Option #1: Light pressing exercises only
  • Option #2: Moderately heavy pressing exercises
  • Option #3: Heavy pressing exercises

Josh Bryant tries to figure out the optimal bench press frequency for each client.

Some of his clients like James Strickland will have an accessory day where they only perform lighter accessory exercises for their upper back, shoulders and triceps. They may perform 1-2 pressing movements but these will be with very light weights only.

Here is one of James Strickland’s favorite bench press accessory workouts. Check it out:

James Strickland Bench Press Accessory Day

  • Exercise #1: Machine rear delt pec dec, 3 sets of 15 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #2: Lat raise machine, 3 sets of 13 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #3: DB bench, 3 sets of 15 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #4: Lying DB pullover, 3 sets of 15 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #5: DB rolling extension, 3 sets of 15 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #6: 30 degree prone “Y-T-L” raises, 3 sets of 15 reps, 1 minute rest

**Performed with 50% of max weight

Here is the training video:

James uses his bench press accessory day to focus more on exercises for his shoulders and upper back. He does perform 1 pressing exercise but it’s with about 50% of his usual weight.

He can use about 200 pound dumbbells for the flat dumbbell bench press and he used only 100 pounds in this workout.

Another way to set up the bench press accessory workout is using moderately heavy pressing exercises for very high reps. This is the favorite strategy of the world’s strongest bench presser Julius Maddox. Check it out:

Julius Maddox’s Bench Press Accessory Workout

  • Exercise #1: JM push ups, 10 sets of 25 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #2: Flat DB press, 2 sets of 20 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #3: Standing “I/T/Y” raises, 3 sets of 5 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #4: Overhead press w/ earthquake bar, 6 sets of 15 reps, 1 minute rest

Here is the training video for this workout:

This is one of Julius Maddox’s favorite ways to set up a bench press accessory workout.

He performs 3 different pressing exercises but they are all performed with very high reps and short rest periods. This lets him get in some quality work for his chest, shoulders and triceps without beating up his body too much.

Josh sometimes has his powerlifters perform 2 heavy bench press workouts in a 7-10 day period.

This is the favorite strategy of the powerlifter Chad Wesley Smith. Check it out:

Chad Wesley Smith Bench Press Accessory Workout

  • Exercise #1: Bench press (close grip), 2 set of 8 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise #2: Seated military press, 2 set of 8 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise #3: Decline bench press, 3 sets of 12 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise #4: Seated DB external rotations, 3 sets of 10-12 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #5: DB front raises, 3 sets of 10-12 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #6: DB lateral raises, 3 sets of 10-12 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise #7: Flat DB extension, 3 sets of 10-12 reps, 1 minute rest

Chad likes to train the bench press twice every nine days. He alternates between a heavy bench press workout and a heavy bench press assistance workout.

On his assistance day Chad performs 3 heavy barbell pressing exercises followed by smaller isolation exercises for his shoulders and triceps.

Josh Bryant often likes to perform more shoulder accessory exercises like external rotations and front / side / rear shoulder raises on the bench accessory day as he doesn’t perform these exercises on the main bench press day.

Conclusion

Josh Bryant believes that accessory exercises are absolutely critical for building a world-class bench press. The key is to define your purpose and understand why you are performing them.

On your heavy bench press sets your goal is to lift the weight from “Point A” to “Point B” as explosively as possible. It doesn’t matter which muscle groups are activated as long as the bar explodes off your chest all the way to lockout!

The accessory exercises have a completely different purpose: your goal is to feel the muscle working and contract your muscle against the weight. This will force the target muscle to work harder which is what you want in terms of building muscle mass and bringing up weaknesses.

If you learn how to correctly choose and execute your bench press accessory exercises then you will be such the better bench presser for it.

Here is one more quote by Josh Bryant to pump you up even more:

“Most importantly you need to define why you’re doing this. You need to define your purpose. When you define your purpose and why you’re training and what you’re training for, everything else will fall into place.”

That is as true in training as it is in every other area of your life. As always, 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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