6 Best Accessory Exercises For Your Bench Press

Chest 9 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

The bench press is the most common exercise in any gym.

Walk into your local training facility at 5:30 pm on a Monday and try to get a bench. I dare you.

It isn’t going to happen because everyone loves to bench press.

Mondays are famous for being International Chest Day, and for some people, Tuesday is as well.

With the help of a friend who boasts a 450lb bench press, we’ve come up with the six best accessory exercises for the bench press.

Let’s first cover the functional basics of the bench press to understand better why these accessory exercises work.

The bench Press muscles

The primary muscles involved in the bench press are the pecs, the triceps, and the anterior deltoid. Strengthening these muscles and keeping them healthy is critical if you want to bench more weight.

But only focusing on these muscles can get you into trouble. For example, overly tight pecs can create poor posture and instability.

A muscular chest and shoulders but a weak upper back can lead to shoulder pain or weakness in your bench set-up. Being great at the bench press takes more work than just benching.

The 6 best accessory exercises for your bench found here will address all of these areas.

A strong bench requires:

Shoulder stability

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body. However, this mobility comes at a price–it has a large potential to be unstable. Therefore, you must train your shoulder to stabilize heavy loads through a full range of motion.

The shoulder joint must be stabilized internally by the rotator cuff and externally by the deltoids. These muscle groups are critical to maintain shoulder stability and joint integrity when pressing heavy. Barbell benching alone does not sufficiently challenge the rotator cuff and deltoid and this is why accessory exercises are needed.

Pressing strength

A heavy bench press requires big pecs, large triceps, and strong delts. Each of those muscles must be strong individually, and they must also learn to work together. Accessory exercises similar to the bench are the best ones for teaching these muscles to work in conjunction.

Upper back strength

To press heavy, your shoulders need to be set and stay set. To keep your shoulders set on a heavy bench takes a solid upper back to fight the opposing pecs and shoulders.

Now you can see why “just bench more” is terrible advice to maximize your bench gains. Instead, a great program will help improve your bench by evenly challenging all your muscle groups. Our free intermediate program is fantastic for this and will increase your strength in more than just the bench press. 

Outside of a program—adding these six exercises to your workouts will have you smashing your previous bench press max with better form.

1. Overhead Press

The anterior deltoid (the front part of your shoulder) plays a big role in the bottom of your bench press.

The overhead press is what you want to do to beef this muscle up because it puts the front delt through an extensive range of motion. An extensive range of motion means lots of stimuli to grow, which translates to big strong shoulders.

The overhead press also hits the triceps hard, and big triceps always equal a big bench press.

2. Dips

There are a few ways to do dips, and the different variations will target some muscles more than others.

The top range of motion in the dip is primarily tricep—just like your bench press.So if you struggle with lockouts, you should focus on the top portion of your dips.

If your bench press fails near your chest, it is most likely due to weak pecs/deltoids. If this is you, focus your dip efforts on going lower—at or below 90 degrees in the elbows.

Be smart with your form and ensure you have great technique to minimize wear and tear on your shoulder joints.

3. Push-Ups

Push-ups are a favorite because they can be done anywhere. No equipment is required.

Push-ups are great because they allow you to get a high volume, and you can easily adjust the difficulty.

If you’re tired or push-ups on flat ground are tough, perform your push-ups with your hands on an elevated surface to reduce load.

If you need regular push-ups to be more difficult, or you want to work in lower rep ranges for more of a strength focus, elevate your feet instead.

4. Dumbbell Bench

Benching a ton can be hard on your shoulders and elbows. Even with perfect form, benching more than 12 total sets a week can get taxing.

The dumbbell bench is an excellent way to increase the volume on the pecs and triceps without increasing shoulder and elbow stress.

The movement freedom of dumbbells also creates the need for more stability than a barbell bench press. The dumbbell bench press will increase your stability and help you smash barbell bench PRs.

5. Cuban Presses

The only way to achieve a big bench is to be able to bench consistently. Shoulder, elbow, and wrist pains will set you back. The good news is that you can bulletproof your rotator cuff by performing the cuban press.

Cuban presses are an excellent prehab tool for the shoulders. It helps strengthen the rotator cuff and maintain mobility in the shoulders.

Do a couple of sets before your bench days with 2.5lb dumbbells for 6-8 reps to warm up the joint and prime the rotator cuff. Then at the end of your workout, perform 2-3 more sets. Don’t fatigue your shoulders with this before you bench. Save the shoulder burn for the end of the training session.

6. Band Pull Aparts

Band pull aparts are the ace-up-your-sleeve when increasing your bench. Band pull aparts will increase your bench by improving your joint stability.

The only way to hit a true bench press maximum, that is, lifting every ounce of iron your body is capable of, is through perfect technique.

Perfect technique starts with perfect stability, and perfect stability starts with healthy shoulders.

You can keep your shoulders healthy with band pull aparts. They will strengthen the posterior (back) side of your shoulders, which is a necessary component for joint stability.

Bonus: do your mobility work

Unlike squatting and deadlifting, benching a ton can lead to poor posture if not balanced with back exercises and mobility work. Perform upper back foam rolling and pec stretching at least twice a week to counter the tightness that comes with bench pressing. Along with those, try the mobility technique below to keep your pecs mobile.

These are the best exercises to work on the weak points in your bench. We have organized some of these exercises and more into a program to strengthen your bench as well as your squat and deadlift.

You can check out our free program, The Seriously Strong Intermediate Program, by clicking on the link below.

Check out the Serious Guide to the Bench Press for more information on the bench press.

Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.