Josh Bryant is one of the best bench press coaches in the world.
One of the keys to his success is he knows how to use the right supplemental 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!
- Part 1: Improving Your Bottom-End Strength
- Part 2: Improving Your Lockout Strength
- Part 3: Sample Training Routines
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you Josh Bryant’s favorite bench press supplemental exercises for building a world-class bench press.
Bench press supplemental exercises are variations of the competition bench press. These exercises are used to improve your pressing strength off your chest or near the top of the lift.
Some of Josh Bryant’s favorite supplemental exercises for improving your strength off the chest include the dead bench, the Spoto bench, the paused bench and the ultra-wide grip bench.
Here is a perfect video demonstration of the Spoto bench:
The Spoto Bench
For this exercise you pause the bar 1 inch off your chest and then press the weight back up to lockout. This exercise forces you to stay tight and use nothing but your muscles to decelerate the bar and press it back up.
Josh likes to use this exercise with anyone who likes to cheat by bouncing the weight off their chest.
Josh also likes to use supplemental exercises to attack sticking points near lockout. Some of his favorites options include the band bench press, the chain bench press, the slingshot bench press and functional isometrics.
Here is Josh Bryant himself giving a perfect demonstration of the bench press with bands:
The Bench Press With Bands
The bands make the exercise feel much harder at the top of the exercise. This makes the band bench press perfect building your lockout strength and your triceps pressing power.
Josh likes to perform anywhere from 1-3 bench press supplemental exercises per workout.
Here is how Josh organizes likes to structure his bench press workouts for someone who is training for a huge personal record. 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 1-3 heavy bench press supplemental exercises
- Step #4: Perform 2-4 lighter bench press accessory exercises
Josh always starts his bench press workouts with one top set on the bench press and a few bench press speed sets. Josh says that the competition bench press is the most important part of the workout so it has to go first.
Next you perform your 1-3 bench press supplemental exercises. These can be your Spoto presses, band bench presses or any of the other supplemental exercises that I will cover in this workout.
Finally Josh finishes the workout with 2-4 upper body accessory exercises.
Here is a complete bench press workout that Jonathon Irizarry performed while working with Josh Bryant. Check it out:
Heavy Bench Press Day
- Exercise #1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 set of 3 reps
- Exercise #2: Speed bench press (competition grip), 5 sets of 3 reps
- Exercise #3: Reverse band bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3 sets of 2 reps
- Exercise #4: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 sets of 6 reps
- Exercise #5: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 sets of 10 reps
- Exercise #6: DB floor flys (neutral grip), 3 sets of 10 reps
- Exercise #7: Standing rope cable pushdown, 3 sets of 10 reps
Here is the training video for this workout:
For this workout James Strickland performs 2 separate supplemental exercises: the reverse band bench press and the v-bar dips.
The reverse band bench press was used to overload his lockout strength while the v-bar dips were used to improve his overall chest / triceps strength. After his supplemental exercises James moved onto different accessory movements for his upper back, chest and triceps.
I hope you found this overview helpful. Now let’s take a closer look at Josh Bryant’s favorite bench press supplemental exercises for attacking weaknesses off the chest and near lockout.
Part 1: Improving Your Strength Off Your Chest
Most people have a weakness on the bench press right off their chest.
They get the weight moving 2-4 inches before the bar stops and comes right back down. Josh Bryant believes the best way to attack this weakness is to perform different supplemental exercises that specifically strengthen that part of the movement.
Here are some of Josh’s favorites in no particular order:
Josh Bryant’s Starting Strength Bench Press Exercises
- Exercise #1: The Dead Bench
- Exercise #2: The Spoto Press
- Exercise #3: The Paused Bench
- Exercise #4: The Ultra-Wide Bench
Let’s take a closer look at each of these exercises.
Exercise #1: The Dead Bench
The dead bench is Josh Bryant’s all-time favorite exercise for attacking a weakness on the bottom half of the bench press.
The dead bench is performed with the bar resting on safety pins 1-4 inches above your chest. Your goal is to start the bar right at your sticking point.
The dead bench is so effective because it eliminates the stretch reflex. You can’t bounce the weight off your chest!
Instead you have to use nothing but your muscles to break inertia and get the weight moving. Check it out:
“The dead bench is called the dead bench because you’re pushing up from the bottom, there is no eccentric portion to this exercise.
The buck stops here with the bench press. You’re going to have to do all the work on your own from the bottom.
Josh Bryant says that the dead bench is performed for 3-10 sets of 1 rep. You only perform single repetitions on this exercise because that is the only way to eliminate the stretch reflex.
If you start performing multiple reps then you will use the stretch reflex starting on the 2nd rep and that would defeat the whole purpose of the exercise. Check it out:
“There is no rep scheme with the dead bench. It’s always a single no matter what.
The rep scheme is different: it can be anywhere from 8-12 sets of singles in a high-volume phase or 3 heavy singles in a peaking phase.”
When you perform the dead bench it is very important that you use the same setup as you would on a regular bench press. You use the same grip, the same lower back arch, the same leg drive, the same everything.
If you keep your setup the same then you will maximize your carryover to the competition bench press. Check it out:
“You don’t want to make this a bastardized version of a bench press. You want to set up the same way as you actually bench press so that you get that direct transference.”
Josh Bryant likes his clients to start by performing about 10 singles on the dead bench with 30 seconds rest in between sets.
As their competition gets closer he slowly decreases the number of sets and increases the weight. By the end of your training cycle you will be performing very heavy singles near your 1-rep max!
This is Josh’s way of peaking your strength on the bench press so you lift your heaviest weights in competition.
Here is one example of how you could periodize your weights on the dead bench over the course of a 13-week bench press training cycle. Check it out:
Training Block #1
- Week 1: 8 x 1 @ 60%, 30 seconds rest
- Week 2: 10 x 1 @ 60%, 30 seconds rest
- Week 3: 12 x 1 @ 60%, 30 seconds rest
- Week 4: Deload
Training Block #2
- Week 5: 9 x 1 @ 65%, 45 seconds rest
- Week 6: 7 x 1 @ 70%, 60 seconds rest
- Week 7: 5 x 1 @ 75%, 75 seconds rest
- Week 8: Deload
Training Block #3
- Week 9: 3 x 1 @ 80% / 82.5% / 85%, 90 seconds rest
- Week 10: 3 x 1 @ 82.5% / 85% / 87.5%, 120 seconds rest
- Week 11: 3 x 1 up to a new 1-rep max, 150 seconds rest
- Week 12: Deload
- Week 13: Competition week!
The bottom line is the dead bench is an unbelievable exercise for improving your bench press strength off your chest.
It is the first exercise that Josh Bryant uses when he has someone who misses their lift about 1-4 inches off their chest.
Exercise #2: The Spoto Press
The Spoto press is another one of Josh Bryant’s favorite bench press supplemental exercises. This exercise was invented by Eric Spoto, the former bench press world record holder with an unbelievable 722 pound bench press!
To perform the Spoto press you lower the bar to 1 inch above your chest, pause the weight for a split-second and then press the weight back up.
The Spoto press is so effective because it prevents you from cheating and bouncing the weight up off your chest. You have to use nothing but your muscles to press the weight back up. Check it out:
“The Spoto press creates a tremendous amount of tension in your chest.
You stop an inch off your chest and that forces you to stay tight and create maximal tension.
It’s going to be pretty hard to find someone who wouldn’t benefit from the Spoto press.”
Josh Bryant believes the Spoto press is right up there with the dead bench as one of the most important bench press supplemental exercises that you can perform. Check it out:
“I think the dead bench and the Spoto bench are going to help pretty much anyone increase their bench press at some point in their training cycle.”
If you have a bad habit of bouncing the weight off your chest then you have to give the Spoto press a shot!
Exercise #3: The Paused Bench
The paused bench is a very simple bench press supplemental exercise. You just lower the weight down, pause for 1-2 seconds and press the weight back up.
Josh likes to use the pause bench press because it partially eliminates the stretch reflex and it forces your chest to work much harder during the exercise.
Josh has had Chad Wesley Smith and many other powerlifters perform the paused bench press to improve their pressing strength off their chest.
Exercise #4: The Ultra-Wide Bench
The ultra-wide grip bench press is another interesting exercise that Josh Bryant sometimes uses with his clients. The basic idea is to grip the bar with a much wider than normal grip.
The ultra wide grip bench overloads your chest in a very unique way.
Many powerlifting coaches like Louie Simmons swear by it for improving your strength off your chest. Check it out:
“Bill Seno told me to bench ultra wide (illegal grip), one inch outside of the rings. He recommended that I do a six rep max week after week.
Did it work? It took my 340lb bench at 172lb body weight, to a 515lb bench at 212lb body weight.”
You have to be very careful if you want to perform the ultra-wide bench press in your training. Josh usually uses this exercise for sets of 6-8 reps with very controlled reps.
The last thing you want to be doing is be performing a 1-rep max on this exercise!
If you perform the ultra-wide bench correctly then you will be rewarded with a bigger, stronger chest and increased pressing strength in the bottom of the bench press.
Part 2: Improving Your Lockout Strength
Some powerlifters actually have a weakness in the top half of the bench press. They explode the weight up off their chest but they can’t quite lock out their elbows in the top position. This weakness is common with explosive athletes who have a large percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers.
For this type of weakness Josh Bryant likes to use bench press supplemental exercises that overload the top half of the bench press.
Josh doesn’t like to use a lot of partial range of motion exercises like board presses or pin presses. Instead he likes to use full range of movements that also make the exercise feel harder as you approach lockout. Check it out:
How To Strengthen Your Bench Press Lockout Strength
- Exercise #1: The Band Bench press
- Exercise #2: The Chain Bench Press
- Exercise #3: The Reverse Band Bench Press
- Exercise #4: The Slingshot Bench Press
- Exercise #5: Functional Isometrics
Let’s take a closer look at each of these exercises.
Exercise #1: The Chain Bench Press
One of Josh Bryant’s favorite ways to attack a lockout weakness on the bench press is to use chains or bands.
Chains are just giant construction chains that you can add to either side of the bench press. They make the exercise feel heavier in the top half of the bench and lighter in the bottom half of the bench because the chains hit the floor in the bottom position.
Here are Josh Bryant’s thoughts on the chain bench:
“Most folks can lock out more weight than they can bench through a full range of motion.
This is because your leverage improves as you lock out the weight, so with chains resistance increases where you can handle it.
This causes a hellacious overload through the entire movement.”
Josh Bryant likes to use the chain bench press over other partial range of motion exercises like the board press because it has better carryover to the competition bench press.
You are still using a full range of motion and you can still practice your normal exercise technique. The chains also teach you to explode the weight up off your chest.
If you get lazy and hit “cruise control” halfway up then the bar will slow down and you will be in a world of trouble as the chains pull you back down.
Exercise #2: The Band Bench press
The band bench press is another one of Josh Bryant’s favorite bench press supplemental exercises.
Bands are like a more extreme version of chains. They are pulling the bar down to the ground faster than the speed of gravity and make the exercise feel much heavier at the top part of the exercise.
Josh Bryant says that bands are a double-edged sword. On the one hand they can be a tremendous way to blast through training plateaus on the bench press.
They cause a ton of eccentric stress which is fantastic for stimulating size and strength gains in your upper body. They also improve the strength of your stretch reflex.
The downside to bands is they are very hard to recover from. Many people complain that bands cause increased muscle soreness or put excessive stress on their connective tissues.
Exercise #3: The Reverse Band Bench Press
The reverse band bench press is another great way to overload your lockout strength. With this exercise the bands are literally pulling the weight up off your chest.
Reverse bands have a completely different feel from regular bands. It almost feels like the weight is floating in your hands!
Many other strength coaches like Christian Thibadeau have pointed out that reverse bands are easier to recover from than regular straight weight.
Here is Josh Bryant describing the reverse band set up that James Strickland is using in his workout:
“What this band is doing is removing 90 pounds off his chest. As he presses the weight back up the bands are going to help less and less and less. This is a great way to overload your triceps and improve your lockout strength.”
Josh is saying that the bands are making the weight feel about 90 pounds lighter in the bottom position. If James Strickland has 600 pounds on the bar then it feels more like 510 pounds in the bottom position.
Many world-class powerlifters like Andy Bolton prefer reverse bands over regular bands. They still let you overload the top half of the bench press but they are much easier to recover from.
Exercise #4: The Slingshot Bench Press
The slingshot is the brainchild of Marc Bell. The slingshot is very easy to use and acts like a bench press shirt.
As you lower the weight down the slingshot stretches and stores elastic energy. Then the slingshot helps you press the weight back up to lockout as you initiate the lifting portion of the exercise. It almost feels like you have a mini trampoline on your chest that is helping you to lift the weight!
Here are Josh’s thoughts on this exercise:
“The Sling Shot isn’t just for equipped powerlifters. I’ve used it with elite raw bench pressers like Robert Wilkerson and “Big” Al Davis as it helps them handle supramaximal weights through a full range of motion.
Additionally, stress is reduced on the chest, shoulders, and elbows, while overloading the triceps.”
As you can see Josh thinks very highly of this exercise. It lets you overload the top half of the bench press with an ultra-heavy weight without having to mess around with bands or chains.
Exercise #5: Functional Isometrics
Functional isometrics is one of the craziest training methods ever invented.
Functional isometrics is a combination of full range of motion repetitions and an all-out overcoming isometric contractions against a pair of safety pins.
First you perform 4-6 full range of motion repetitions where you hit the bar against the safety pins on each rep. Then on the last rep you press the bar against the top pins as hard as you can for 6 seconds. Your goal is to break the safety pins in half!
After your isometric rep you rack the bar and wait for your next set.
Functional isometrics are so effective because that last isometric rep allows you to recruit more muscle fibers and produce more force than regular sets.
Research shows that isometric reps help you build strength right at the joint angles that you are training. With functional isometrics that means you are overloading the top half of the exercise right before you lockout your elbows!
If you have a weakness right before lockout then functional isometrics are one of the best bench press supplemental exercises that you can perform.
Part 3: Sample Training Routines
Now we’re getting to the good stuff! Let’s take a look at three bench press routines that Josh Bryant wrote for his world-class powerlifters.
The goal of these workouts is to show you how Josh Bryant uses specific bench press supplemental exercises in his workouts to build a huge bench press. After all, what’s the point in knowing the best bench press supplemental exercises if you don’t know how to use them in a full workout?
Here is a workout that the powerlifter Chad Wesley Smith performed while training for a 500 pound bench press. Check it out:
Chad Wesley Smith Bench Press Workout
- Exercise #1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 set of 3 reps, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise #2: Speed bench press (competition grip), 6 sets of 4 reps, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise #3: Bench press (ultra-wide grip), 2 sets of 8 reps, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise #4: Dead bench, 8 sets of 1 reps, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise #5: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 3 sets of 8 reps, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise #6: DB flies, 3 sets of 13 reps, 1 minute rest
- Exercise #7: DB front raises, 3 sets of 5 reps, 1 minute rest
Note: Chad Wesley Smith did not post a training video for this workout.
Chad Wesley Smith had a huge weakness of his chest before he started working with Josh Bryant.
To attack this weakness Josh had Chad perform 3 supplemental bench press exercises: the ultra-wide grip bench press, the dead bench and v-bar dips. Chad even performed accessory exercises like dumbbell flies and dumbbell front raises to further attack this weakness.
When Josh finds a weakness on the bench press he attacks it with everything he’s got!
Here is a workout that Jonathon Irizarry performed to attack his weakness in the top half of the bench press. Check it out:
Jonathan Irizarry Bench Press Workout
- Exercise A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 sets of 2 reps, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise B1: Speed bench press (competition grip), 6 sets of 3 reps, 10 seconds rest
- Exercise B2: 30 degree incline chest supported DB row, 6 sets of 6 reps, 90 seconds rest
- Exercise C1: Bench press with bands (competition grip), 2 sets of 1 reps, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise C2: Bench press full-range functional isometrics (competition grip), 2 sets of 5 reps, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise D1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 sets of 15 reps, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise E1: DB floor fly, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 1 minute rest
- Exercise F1: Unilateral cable pushdown (underhand grip), 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 1 minute rest
**On your last rep perform a 6-8 second overcoming isometric contraction against the top pins.
Here is the training video for this workout:
For this workout Jonathon performs 3 bench press supplemental exercises: the band bench press, functional isometrics and v-bar dips. Jonathon actually supersetted the first 2 exercises.
He performed 1 set of band bench presses, rested 2 minutes, performed 1 set of bench press functional isometrics, rested 2 minutes and performed another set of band bench presses.
This is a very creative way to get the benefits of bench press functional isometrics while making sure that you don’t lose any explosiveness off your chest.
Finally let’s look at a bench press workout that the 600 pound bench presser Vincent Dizenzo performed to attack his weakness near lockout. Check it out:
Vincent Dizenzo Bench Press Workout
- Exercise #1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 sets of 1 reps, 4 minutes rest
- Exercise #2: Speed bench press (competition grip), 4 sets of 2 reps, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise #3: Sling shot bench press (medium grip), 1 set of 5 reps, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise #4: Dead bench against bands (competition grip), 3 sets of 1 rep, 60 seconds rest
- Exercise #5: Standing band flyes, 2 sets of 15 reps, 60 seconds rest
- Exercise #6: Flat DB triceps extension against bands, 6 sets of 4 reps, 60 seconds rest
- Exercise #7: Kaz press on smith machine, 3 sets of 8 reps, 60 seconds rest
- Exercise #8: Standing band pull-aparts, 4 sets of 12 reps, 60 seconds rest
- Exercise #9: Band scap retractions, 3 sets of 12 reps, 60 seconds rest
Here is the training video for this workout:
For this workout Vincent Dizenzo performed 2 bench press supplemental exercises: the slingshot bench press and the dead bench against bands.
The dead bench against bands is a particularly interesting exercise. You could argue that this exercise overloads the start of the bench press AND the lockout portion of the bench press!
Josh sometimes uses bands on the dead bench towards the end of the training cycle when you are really peaking for your competition day.
It is not something that Josh likes to use on the first few weeks of someone’s training cycle.
Josh Bryant believes the fastest way to blast through a training plateau on the bench press is to use specific bench press supplemental exercises to attack your weaknesses.
Josh uses 1-3 bench press supplemental exercises per workout and really focuses on exercises that will attack the powerlifter’s specific weaknesses.
If your bench press hasn’t improved sense Gangnam Style was a thing then maybe it’s time to start using some of Josh Bryant’s favorite bench press supplemental exercises!
Here is one more quote by Josh Bryant to pump you up even more:
“Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune or the quirks of fate. Everyone has the power to say, ‘This I am today. That I shall be tomorrow.'”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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