I get the question all the time. You know. The one. How much do you bench? It’s a fact—everyone wants a bigger bench. Most people I know who lift, especially athletes, want to have a strong bench press.

I can remember in high school how weak my bench was. The crazy thing was I was benching something like 3–4 times a week! Little did I know, this had a reverse effect on my bench. Another thing I really didn’t know was that doing other exercises other than benching would actually increase my bench. Who knew?

The greatest thing I discovered was that implementing different variations of body weight movements into my programs helped “supplement” my bench press. When I finally learned this in college, I went from being able to bench 225 for a measly seven reps to benching 225 lbs 17 times at my pro day NFL combine! That showing of strength still didn’t get me into the league unfortunately…

Anyways, the important thing was that I learned how to add in different body weight supplemental exercises to my weightlifting routines to increase my benching numbers. And now I’m going to let you in on how I did it with these seven different body weight ‘must do’ exercises.

1. Advanced range of motion push-ups
This is taking your regular push-up and increasing the range of motion. It will not only make you work harder through an extending range of motion but also help stretch out your pectoral muscles giving them more strength over time.

Benching alone will decrease your range of motion over time, especially if you start building up a big chest. The bar will stop once it hits your chest. With this movement, you can move more freely and let your body go through an extra couple of inches, which makes a huge difference over time. You can obviously add a bit more weight if you need to add more resistance, but I recommend being able to crank out 30 of these first before you increase the weight.

2. Pull-ups
Wait…pull-ups? Isn’t that a pulling movement? How will that increase my bench press?? Trust me. You need to have a strong back and strong lats to have a bigger bench press. Pull-ups are the king daddy of building up a nice “cobra commander” back. Think of it like this—you can’t shoot a canon out of a canoe. It just won’t work. Think of your back as the canoe and the canon as your chest and arm pressing up a 405-lb bench press. If you have a weak back, you’ll break. You want a freaking titanic supporting your canon if you know what I mean.

If you haven’t already, start adding in different variations of pull-ups. Mix your grips up and, just like with the push-ups, start adding some weight once you master hitting a solid 20 reps. You’ll be jacked not only with a bigger chest from a heavier bench but your back will match!

3. Explosive plyometric push-ups
There isn’t anything better to fire up all your muscle fibers than explosive movements like plyometric push-ups. You force all of your muscle fibers to turn on in order to move as explosively as you do with plyometric push-ups. In turn, you’ll turn on more muscle fibers when you’re benching.

I like to throw in a few sets of plyometric push-ups before I hit bench presses, especially when I hit heavy presses. Why? It fires up the muscles and gets me ready to roll! Think of it as a wake up call for all your muscle fibers in your shoulders and chest. But don’t go overboard. All you need is a few sets of about six reps. Also focus on being as explosive and fast as humanly possible. If you can’t crank out 30 solid push-ups quite yet, leave these alone until you can.

4. Reclined rows
Another pulling exercise? Yep. Pulls do your bench good. Reclined rows or horizontal rows help balance out your pulling and pressing strength. You don’t want to be unbalanced.

Again, any type of rowing movement will help you build up a nice solid “canoe.” You must have strength in your back to have a big bench. Have you ever seen a 405-lb bencher with a small back? I don’t think so. Row!

5. Ring dips
These are by far one of my favorite exercises. I love dips. These babies alone will add slabs of muscle and strength to your whole upper body. When you properly progress to these, you’ll have a set of solid shoulders and triceps.

First of all, you don’t want to have weak shoulders. This will keep you from a big bench. Think of your shoulders as the base of the pillars holding up your roof. When you have a heavy barbell across your chest, you don’t want this base to be weak. Weak base = weak pillars.

Dips are important for creating lots of strength, stability, and mobility in your shoulders and will also increase overall triceps strength, which you’ll find out is also important for your bench. Start out with regular dips on a bar. After you can knock out 15–20 repetitions, hit up some rings to increase the difficulty. From there, add weight with chains around your neck.

6. Body weight skull crushers
These are a lost art, and I have yet to see anyone else in my life do these other than in magazines. It’s a shame because not only do body weight skull crushers work the heck out of your triceps, but you work you abs as well. What’s a big bench without some nice strong abs, right?

Body weight skull crushers can be done in many different ways. I started out by using a Smith machine (yes, the Smith machine does have some use). I lowered the bar down to about hip height. Then I grabbed the bar with a regular grip facing down and performed a free standing skull crusher. The key to these is to keep your elbows in and tight. These types of skull crushers are more difficult because your abs are working extremely hard and most people lack this basic body weight strength to skull crush close to half their body weight.

Depending on your angle, you can add difficulty the closer to parallel to the ground you are. If you’re doing these for the first time, do them at a higher angle. Start backing your feet away once you start to increase strength in your triceps and abs. You’ll need both.

Body weight skull crushers are an excellent movement, especially for isolating the triceps. If you didn’t know, the triceps are responsible for the final press of your bench press. Your triceps are what extends your arms, and if you have weak triceps, you will hit a wall in the middle of your press. Have you ever got stuck halfway up on a bench press? You have weak triceps and you need to start adding in body weight skull crushers. Just take my word for it.

7. Hand walking

We’re ending with a highly primitive way of adding strength to your upper body—hand walking. It’s funny—I had an old client who really wanted to add both strength and mass to his chest. In the first few weeks of his program, we did tons of hand walking. This not only helped build stamina in his upper body, shoulders, abs, and back, but it added tons of useful strength as well. In just a few short weeks, his bench press numbers increased and we didn’t even bench in that timeframe.

Hand walking is super functional, and when added into your program like plyometric push-ups, it will help turn on lots of “dormant” muscles that are waiting to be awakened! You can do partner “wheel barrow walks” or my new favorite power wheel walks. Either way works, but you have to add them into your routine if you want to increase you numbers!

So there you have it. Add these different variations of movements into your program to help blow your bench up! Don’t go too crazy! I would use these as “supplemental” movements meaning use them in conjunction with other weighted exercises that you should currently be doing anyway such as barbell bench presses, dumbbell presses, rows, military presses, and deadlifts. When you add these in with you current movements, you’ll have a lethal program!