Twelve-Week Explosive Bench Program

TAGS: Twelve-Week Explosive Bench Program, increase strength, grinder, explosiveness, david allen, 5/3/1, bench press

As my good friend Vinny Dizenzo likes to remind me, no one ever asked, “How much do you squat?” The bench press is the "el presidente" of strength movement across the country. From world record holders to sleeveless New Jerseyians, everybody is trying to improve his bench press, and whether you’re just beginning or are a veteran in the iron game, everyone can improve his bench by becoming more explosive.

You may have heard Dave and other coaches talk about falling on one end or the other of the strength-speed spectrum. Basically, this means that most people are naturally more explosive or naturally more of a grinder. Those who fall on the explosive end of the spectrum tend to either kill their lifts and make them look easy or get smashed by the weight. Those who are grinders will have lifts that are all around medium to slow speed and they'll “grind” them out. While different lifters will get different results from doing speed work, everyone will at least get something out of it. If you’ve never given a concentrated effort toward building your speed, I suggest you give it a try and see what happens.

The keys to an explosive bench press are a strong back, strong leg drive, and the ability to change direction quickly in your upper body. Here are my methods for improving all three.

Building a strong backvinny pull aparts david allen bench program 061214

When we talk about a strong back for the bench press, what we're really referring to is a strong upper back, specifically your lats, rhomboids, traps, and rotator cuff muscle. All these muscles play a major role in providing you with a stable platform to press off of. Most people can’t create quality tension in their back to enough of a degree that they can stabilize themselves and the bar enough to press quickly. This manifests itself by the bar wobbling back and forth a bunch, the bar “dropping” on to the chest, and/or the shoulders moving forward during the pressing movement.

One of the best ways that I've found to improve back strength is pausing your back work. With any row variation or pull-down variation that you do, make sure you hold and contract the muscles as hard as possible at the end of the movement. This will help mimic the bottom of your bench when you need to be flexing your back extremely hard. My favorite movements for this are chest supported rows against bands with a pronated grip, wide grip neutral pull-downs, and bench press banded rows. All these give you the ability to contract your lats extremely hard.

The ability to keep your shoulder blades pulled back into the bench is imperative in order to keep you stable as well as keep your range of motion short. Two exercises I really like that help with this are chest supported scap rows and cable scap rows.

Finally, try movements like face pulls, seated dumbbell cleans, and laying YTWs to develop the shoulder stabilizers. Also, try my favorite “Band pull-apart super series.”

david allen strong back bench program 061214

Developing strong leg drive

The key to getting good leg drive for the bench press is setup. You can watch the “So You Think You Can Bench” videos to get a good idea of what that is. Some people like tucking their feet while others like going more out front and flat. If you decide to tuck your feet, don't tuck so far back that you can’t get any heel drive. I see females with great flexibility doing this often. Many times they'll do this so that their butt won’t come off the bench when they press, but they lose all their leg drive. Instead, try tucking but spread your feet out wider, turn your toes straight ahead, and have your heels straight back. This should lock your hips down while still allowing you plenty of leg drive.

For those who put their feet out front, try spreading them as wide as possible. Turn your feet straight ahead and drive your knees out. Then when you press, press outward against the ground, spreading the floor just like you do when you squat.

All the movements that build strong hips and legs for the squat and deadlift will also apply to the bench. You can add in the “Banded Hip Series” as well for a little more work.

Another mistake I see people making is failing to put pressure into the ground throughout the entire bench movement. They'll relax their legs at some point during the descent either the entire time or right before they reverse the motion. Make sure that you're putting hard pressure into the ground from right before you lift off until you’ve complete your rep(s) and racked the bar. This creates full body stability, which is vital. You should be putting pressure into the ground right up until you begin to press the bar back up. At this point, you should “explode” your feet into the ground and continue pushing as hard as possible until you’ve completed the rep.bench setup leg drive janel david allen 061214

Developing upper body explosive abilities

The caveat to this twelve-week program is that you have to be somewhat strong already in order to do some of these movements. If you can’t bench your body weight as a guy or half your body weight as a female, I suggest sticking to a more 5 X 5 or 5/3/1 type program until you get there. I have set it up like a traditional concurrent setup where you have both a max effort day and a dynamic effort day. I've just prescribed main movements. The accessories are yours to choose. I tried to keep the equipment basic so that it could be done at any gym. If you don’t have any bands, invest in some.


The basic premise of the program is to develop more and more explosive capabilities over the twelve weeks. Incline bench and close grip were chosen because they make the range of motion longer than a regular bench and therefore you have to really push to accelerate through the entire range of motion. The floor press and two-count paused bench were chosen because you have to maintain tightness and learn to explode from a dead stop like you will in competition. I stayed away from different bars and chains because that isn't something everyone has access to. However, bands are great for developing speed. They’re also relatively cheap and easy to carry to the gym with you, so grab a pair.

Whether you’re new to strength training or looking for a way to switch it up some, I suggest you give this program a try. We've used these methods at NBS Fitness with great success. We place a lot of emphasis on building our backs up so that we have good platforms to press off of, developing a good setup to ensure that we’re in the right position to maximize our leg drive, and developing our upper body explosive capabilities with multiple movements and modalities. Give it a shot and let me know what you think.


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