Bench Press Variations For Powerlifting: Top 9 Exercises

Bench Press Variations For Powerlifting

The bench press has many variations that exist, but some variations are better than others for helping us develop a stronger bench press. 

It’s important to choose variations that are going to be worth our time, rather than investing time and energy into a variation that isn’t going to make our bench press stronger.

In addition, the variations that we include in a powerlifting program should be specific to our areas of weakness within the range of motion – whether it’s off the chest (bottom-end strength), halfway up (mid-range strength), or at the lockout (top-end strength).

Top 9 Bench Press Variations For Powerlifting:


In this article I’ll discuss these bench press variations in greater detail.  Each of these variations target specific ranges of motion.  So the first step is identifying where you’re weak within the bench press, and then selecting the variation that targets that weak point.  

Bench Press Variations For Bottom-End Strength

The best bench press variations for those who are weak off the chest in the bench press are the variations that eliminate momentum off the chest and force us to stay tight, that focus on the positioning of the bar on and off the chest, and build size and strength in the pectoral muscles.

1. 3-Count Paused Bench Press

Count Paused Bench Press

The 3-count paused bench press is a bench press variation that involves pausing with the bar on the chest for 3 seconds before pressing it back up to complete the repetition. 

It is used to build strength off the chest by eliminating any momentum that could occur, and instead using pure muscular contraction from the chest to initiate the press.

How-To:

  • Set the pins of a rack at height where it is easy to unrack the bar
  • Lay down on the bench so that the eyes are even with the bar
  • Grip the bar at shoulder-width or slightly wider
  • Use the bar to set scapular positioning by retracting and slightly depressing the shoulder blades
  • Unrack the bar by straightening the arms and pull the bar out from the pins without losing scapular position
  • Ensure the feet are planted on the ground and are generating tension through the legs throughout the lift
  • Unlock the arms to bring the bar down to the chest with control, keeping the wrists and elbows stacked under the bar
  • Once the bar reaches the chest, pause for 3 seconds while keeping the chest high and maintaining tension through the arms and legs
  • After 3 seconds, drive the bar off the chest by pressing up and back towards the rack to the lockout position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

How To Implement It In A Program

The 3 count bench press is typically used in a strength block to build strength off the chest or early on in a peaking block (mostly for powerlifters who have to practice pausing in competition). 

It is used most often, as a main movement and is typically done for 1 to 5 reps – it would be uncommon to have this programmed for higher reps than this, and would be particularly hard to keep track of the reps while counting for the pause.

To program the 3 count bench press as its own movement in a strength block, I would structure it like so:

  • Week 1: 4×5 @ 70-75% 
  • Week 2: 5×4 @ 73-78%
  • Week 3:4×4 @ 76-80%
  • Week 4:5×3 @ 78-83%

Note: To include it in a peaking block, rather than a strength block (if you’re a competitive powerlifter), we would typically perform it with heavier weights and lower repetitions.

2. Dead Bench Press

The dead bench press is a bench variation that involves pressing from the safeties of a rack that are set at chest height, rather than from the chest itself. This variation helps to build strength off the chest by allowing us to focus more on the press itself (the concentric) rather than the lowering portion of the lift (the eccentric).

How-To:

  • Set the rack safeties at chest height or as close as possible
  • Lay on the bench with feet planted on the floor
  • Position the bar where we would typically make contact with the chest in the bottom position, with a grip
  • that is slightly wider than shoulder-width (this is a general recommendation)
  • Use the bar to set scapular positioning by retracting and slightly depressing the shoulder blades
  • Ensure the wrist and elbows are stacked under the bar, and the legs are engaged
  • Press the bar up off the safeties and back towards the face to lockout the arms
  • Return the bar back to the safeties and ensure the bar is positioned appropriately on the chest before starting the next repetition
  • Repeat the process for the desired number of repetitions

How To Implement It In A Program

The dead bench press is likely going to be used in a strength block to build consistency in that bars positioning on the chest for every repetition, to focus on concentric strength off the chest with less fatigue from the eccentric, and to learn to maintain full body tension to initiate the press.

The dead bench would be used as a main movement but could be paired with another main movement for a different lift – this ultimately depends on the number of days we’re training and the frequency at which we’re training the other lifts.

I would program the dead bench press in a strength block like this:

  • Week 1: 4×6 @ 70-75%
  • Week 2: 5×5 @ 72-77%
  • Week 3: 4×5 @ 74-79%
  • Week 4: 5×4 @ 76-81%

Note: I would avoid doing higher repetitions with this exercise because as we get more fatigued, the quality of the work will decrease and we could be reinforcing bad movement patterns.

3. Wide Grip Bench Press

Wide Grip Bench Press

The wide grip bench press is a bench variation that requires us to use a wider grip than we typically would for our regular bench press. Most recommendations will say that our grip for wide grip bench press should be 1.5 to 2 times the distance between our shoulders.  

However I think this is overcomplicating things. Instead, I would suggest starting by gripping the bar 1 to 2 finger widths wider than our regular grip.

How-To:

  • Set the pins of a rack at height where it is easy to unrack the bar
  • Lay down on the bench so that the eyes are even with the bar
  • Grip the bar at distance that is 1 to 2 finger-widths wider than normal grip
  • Use the bar to set scapular positioning by retracting and slightly depressing the shoulder blades
  • Unrack the bar by straightening the arms and pull the bar out from the pins without losing scapular position
  • Ensure the feet are planted on the ground and are generating tension through the legs throughout the lift
  • Unlock the arms to bring the bar down to the chest with control, keeping the wrists and elbows stacked under the bar
  • Maintain tension as the bar touches the chest
  • Drive the bar up off the chest and slightly back towards the face to return to a locked out position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

How To Implement It In A Program

The wide grip bench is typically used in a program for hypertrophy or strength because it is effective in building size and strength in the pecs, which play a large role in the bottom portion of the lift. 

We can include the wide grip bench press on a day of its own as a main movement (heavier weight/lighter volume), or we could include it as an accessory movement (lighter weight/higher volume) to our standard bench press.  This largely depends on how many days a week we are training, and how much volume we are giving to the other lifts.

Including the Wide Grip Bench Press as a main movement in a hypertrophy block could look like this:

  • Week 1: 4×8 @ 60-65%
  • Week 2: 4×10 @ 61-66% or weight from week 1
  • Week 3: 5×8 @ 62-67%
  • Week 4: 5×10 @ 63-68% or weight from week 3

Note: If we’re using it in a strength block as a main movement, we could do less reps and progress in weight week to week.  If we’re using it as an accessory movement, we could do more reps and progress in either weight or reps week to week.

Bench Press Variations For Mid-Range Strength

The best bench press variations for those who are weak in the middle of the bench press are the variations that teach us to continue to drive the bar aggressively once it is off the chest, that start the lift in the mid-range to isolate this portion of the lift, and that build strength in the shoulders and upper pecs.

4. Banded Bench Press

Banded Bench Press

The banded bench press is a bench variation that involves benching the weight of the bar and against the resistance provided by a band that is attached under the bench and to each side of the bar. 

The band is used to teach us to continue to aggressively drive the bar upwards throughout the entire movement because the further from the chest we get, the more resistance the band will add.

How-To:

  • Set the pins of a rack at a height where it is possible to unrack the bar while laying down on the bench
  • Wrap the band around one side of the barbell (inside the collar), under the bench, and onto the other side of the barbell (inside the collar)
  • While laying on the bench, the eyes should be even with the bar and the feet should be planted on the ground and generating tension into the legs
  • Grip the bar with the hands at shoulder width or slightly wider
  • Use the bar to set scapular positioning by retracting and slightly depressing the shoulder blades 
  • Unrack the bar by straightening the arms and pulling the bar out from the pins while maintaining scapular positioning
  • Bring the bar down to the chest with control to touch the chest lightly while maintaining tension in the upper body and legs
  • Press the bar up off the chest and slightly back towards the rack against the resistance of the band
  • Continue aggressively pushing until the arms are locked out
  • Repeat the process until the desired number of reps are completed

How To Implement It In A Program

The banded bench press is a great bench press variation to use in a strength block to increase power production throughout the entire lift, which can help us to break through sticking points.

Here’s how I would implement the banded bench press:

  • Week 1: 5×3 @ 60-63% + band
  • Week 2: 6×3 @ 62-65% + band
  • Week 3: 7×2 @ 64-67% + band
  • Week 4: 8×2 @ 66-69% + band

Pro Tip

I would recommend starting with a lighter band with around 15-20lbs of resistance, and going from there. 

If we use a band with too much resistance then we will not be able to lockout the bar even with minimal weight on the bar itself. 

I also suggest taking extra precautions when unracking and re-racking the bar, as the added tension from the band may make it harder to control the bar to and from the pins.

5. 2-Board Bench Press

Board Bench Press

The 2-board bench press is a bench press variation that involves pressing to 2 boards that are stacked and held on the chest, rather than pressing to the chest itself. This allows us to stop the movement in the mid-range portion of the bench press to focus our effort on building strength in this range of motion.

How-To:

  • Set the pins of a rack at height where it is easy to unrack the bar
  • Lay down on the bench so that the eyes are even with the bar
  • Grip the bar at distance that is 1 to 2 finger-widths wider than normal grip
  • Use the bar to set scapular positioning by retracting and slightly depressing the shoulder blades
  • Unrack the bar by straightening the arms and pull the bar out from the pins without losing scapular position
  • Ensure the feet are planted on the ground and are generating tension through the legs throughout the lift
  • Unlock the arms to bring the bar down to the board with control, keeping the wrists and elbows stacked under the bar
  • Keep the chest high and maintain tension in the arms and legs as the bar reaches the board
  • Drive the bar up off the board and slightly back towards the face to return to a locked out position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

How To Implement It In A Program

The 2-Board bench press is used most often in a strength block to work on building strength in this range of motion, rather than including it for a hypertrophy block as there are better exercises for that. 

Assuming that the lifter is benching 2 to 3 times a week, I would recommend programming the 2-board bench press as the main movement on one of these days, while keeping at least one other bench day focused on our standard bench press.

Here’s how I would program the 2-Board Bench Press:

  • Week 1: 4×6 @  70-75%
  • Week 2: 6×4 @ 74-80%
  • Week 3: 5×4 @ 78-85%
  • Week 4: 4×4 @ 82-90%

Pro Tips

The 2-board bench will be ideal for mid-range strength, but a 3-board bench will likely target the lockout more than we want if our goal is to improve mid-range strength. Both are useful variations, but they should be used accordingly depending on where our weakness in the range of motion actually is.

If we don’t have access to boards or we don’t have a training partner to hold the board on the chest for us, we can use bench blockz that attach to the bar and have the same effect as pressing to boards.

6. Incline Bench

Incline Bench

The incline bench is a bench variation that places more emphasis on the shoulders and upper pecs than a traditional bench press as it is performed at an angle. This variation helps to build strength and add muscle mass to the shoulders and upper pecs, which are important muscles for pushing through the mid-range of a traditional bench press.

How-To

  • Incline a bench so that it is at approximately a 45 degree angle with the floor
  • Adjust the pins of a rack to a height where we can easily unrack the bar while seated on the bench
  • Use the bar to set the shoulders blades into a retracted and slightly depressed position
  • Plant the feet on the floor to generate tension in the legs
  • Grip the bar by placing hands slightly wider than shoulder-width
  • Unrack the bar by straightening the arms and use the lats to pull the bar out from the pins while maintaining scapular positioning
  • Bring the bar down to the chest with control, ensuring that the wrists and forearms are stacked
  • Pause on the chest momentarily to avoid bouncing the bar off the chest
  • Press the bar back up off the chest and slightly back towards the rack, to return to the start position

How To Implement It In A Program

The incline bench is very versatile and can be used in a hypertrophy block to add size to the upper body, or it can be used in a strength block to build strength in the shoulders and upper pecs. In addition, we could successfully program it as a main movement or as an accessory movement. The way that we use this exercise depends on our goals, what phase of training we’re in, and how many days a week we’re training.

To use the incline bench as a main movement to gain muscle mass in the upper pecs and shoulders (hypertrophy phase), I would program it like this:

  • Week 1: 3×8 @ 55-65%
  • Week 2: 3×10 @ weight from week 1
  • Week 3: 4×8 @ 57-67%
  • Week 4: 4×10 @ weight from week 3

Note: To use it as a main movement in a strength block rather than a hypertrophy block, we could keep the reps lower, increase the weight, and focus on increasing the weight or quality of movement each week.  To use it as an accessory movement, we could lower the weight, increase the repetitions, and focus on adding reps or weight each week

Bench Press Variations For Top-End Strength

The best bench press variations for those who are weak in the lockout of the bench press are the variations that build strength and size in the triceps, that isolate the top-end range of motion, or that allow us to overload the lockout portion of the lift.

7. Close Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench press is a bench press variation that uses a closer grip than we would grip for our regular bench press, this is said to be shoulder-width but can vary person to person based on where they grip normally. 

The close grip bench press is used to target the triceps more heavily, which benefits the lockout portion of the bench press because the triceps are responsible for the majority of the work in the lockout.

How-To

  • Set the pins of a rack at height where it is easy to unrack the bar
  • Lay down on the bench so that the eyes are even with the bar
  • Grip the bar at a shoulder-width distance or a distance slightly narrower than normal grip
  • Use the bar to set scapular positioning by retracting and slightly depressing the shoulder blades
  • Unrack the bar by straightening the arms and pull the bar out from the pins without losing scapular position
  • Ensure the feet are planted on the ground and are generating tension through the legs throughout the lift
  • Unlock the arms to bring the bar down to the chest with control, keeping the wrists and elbows stacked under the bar
  • Keep the chest high and maintain tension in the arms and legs as the bar reaches the chest
  • Drive the bar up off the chest and slightly back towards the face while keeping the elbows from flaring outwards
  • Lock out the arms at the top of the movement using the triceps
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

How To Implement It In A Program

The close grip bench press would be programmed similarly to the wide grip bench and the incline bench because they can all be used to add size and build strength to the upper body. The close grip bench in particular is targeting the triceps, and therefore will help us with the lockout portion of the bench press. 

As I mentioned, we could program this in a hypertrophy block to add mass or in a strength block to focus on building strength. We could also choose to use it as a main movement or to add it as an accessory movement to the main lift.

I would program the close grip bench press in a hypertrophy block with the following structure:

  • Week 1: 3×8 @ 60-65%
  • Week 2: 3×10 @ 61-66% or weight from week 1
  • Week 3: 4×8 @ 62-67%
  • Week 4: 4×10 @ 63-68% or weight from week 3

Note: To implement it into a strength block we could increase the percentage, decrease the repetitions, and progress it by adding weight or improving the quality of work each week.

8. Floor Press

The floor press is a bench press variation that is performed while laying on the floor rather than laying on a bench, and for this reason is not a full range of motion – as the triceps will touch the floor before the bar touches the chest. This limited range of motion allows us to recruit the triceps more and focus on the lockout portion of the bench press.

How-To

  • Adjust the pins of a rack to a height where it is possible to comfortably unrack the bar while laying on the floor
  • Lay on the floor underneath the bar with the eyes lined up to the barbell, and keep the knees bent with the feet flat on the floor
  • Grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip (or slightly wider) and position the shoulder blades in a retracted and slightly depressed position
  • Unrack the bar by straightening the arms and pulling the bar out from the pins
  • Bring the bar down towards the chest, while keeping the wrist and elbows stacked
  • Control the descent of the bar and allow the triceps to make light contact the ground
  • Pause briefly in the bottom position to remove any momentum from the movement, but maintain tension the entire time
  • Push the bar up and slightly back to the starting position without letting the elbows flare outwards
  • Repeat the motion for the desired number of repetitions

How To Implement It In A Program

The floor press is a bench press variation that can be used in a strength block, it can be used in a hypertrophy block but there are other exercises that I probably use instead for the purpose of building size in the triceps (close grip bench). 

The floor press is mostly used as a main movement and uses weights lighter than a regular bench press despite being a partial range of motion, because it eliminates our bench arch and leg drive – which both help us to press more weight.

I would include the floor press into a strength block in the following way:

  • Week 1: 6×5 @ 65-70%
  • Week 2: 5×5 @ 67-72%
  • Week 3: 6×4 @ 69-74%
  • Week 4: 5×4 @ 71-76%

Note: If these weights are easy for you with this amount of volume (sets x reps), then increase the percentage you use. If these weights are difficult for you with this amount of volume (sets x reps), then decrease the percentage used.

9. Slingshot Bench Press

The slingshot bench press is a bench variation that involves wearing a device around your arms that has a band crossing the chest and as we bring the bar down towards the chest the band builds tension. The slingshot gets its name because it helps to propel the weight off the chest in the bench press to allow us to use heavier weights in the lockout portion of the lift. 

The slingshot allows us to overload our bench press and develop stronger triceps and better confidence under heavier loads.

How-To

  • Set the pins of a rack at height where it is easy to unrack the bar
  • Slide the slingshot sleeves up the arm until the rest just above the elbow
  • Lay down on the bench so that the eyes are even with the bar
  • Grip the bar at distance that is shoulder-width or slightly wider
  • Use the bar to set scapular positioning by retracting and slightly depressing the shoulder blades
  • Unrack the bar by straightening the arms and pull the bar out from the pins without losing scapular position
  • Ensure the feet are planted on the ground and are generating tension through the legs throughout the lift
  • Unlock the arms to bring the bar against the resistance from the slingshot, keeping the wrists and elbows stacked under the bar
  • Keep the chest high and maintain tension in the arms and legs as the bar reaches the chest
  • Using the elasticity from the slingshot, press up and slightly back towards the face to return to a locked out position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

How To Implement It In A Program

The slingshot bench press is a bench variation that is used for completing more reps at a certain weight, or using a heavier weight than normal for a certain amount of reps – typically we can lift 10-15% more than normal with a slingshot. 

We can use this to our benefit by including it in a hypertrophy block to get in additional volume; or it can be used in a strength block to increase the amount of work at heavier percentages. 

While some use the slingshot as a main movement, it is more common for it to be included at the end of the main movement to push the volume and/or intensity one step further than we could with a raw bench press.

I would do so in the following ways:

Option 1 – Volume Overload

  • Week 1: 4×5 @ 70% raw, 1×5 @ 75% (slingshot)
  • Week 2: 4×5 @ 70-72% raw, 1×5 @ 75% (slingshot), 1×5 @ 80% (slingshot)
  • Week 3: 4×5 @ 70-74%, 1×5 @ 75% (slingshot), 1×5 @ 80% (slingshot), 1×5 @ 85% (slingshot)
  • Week 4: 4×5 @ 70-76%, 1×5 @ 75% (slingshot), 1×5 @ 80% (slingshot), 1×5 @ 85-90% (slingshot)

With this method we are overloading the volume by continuing to challenge ourselves by adding extra sets at weights that we would not be able to handle if we were bench pressing raw. This method is ideal for those who want to increase their total training volume while giving the lockout more attention.

Option 2 – Intensity Overload

  • Week 1: 4×3 @ 80-85%, 1×3 @ 90-95% (slingshot)
  • Week 2: 3×3 @ 84-89%, 1×3 @ 90-95% (slingshot), 1×2 @ 95-100% (slingshot)
  • Week 3: 3×2 @ 88-93%, 1×2 @ 95-100% (slingshot), 1×1 @ 100-105% (slingshot)
  • Week 4: 2×2 @ 90-95%, 1×1 @ 100-110% (slingshot)

This method is overloading the intensity and is a great option for those who are intimidated by heavier weights, and need to increase their confidence at higher percentages.

Pro Tips 

When using a slingshot it’s a good idea to practice with normal weights before trying to overload as there is a bit of a learning curve. It’s also important to have a spotter present, because the bar can easily be misgrooved and slingshot off the chest in the wrong direction, so it’s best to have someone there to grab the bar if this happens. 

For other exercises that improve our lockout by strengthening the triceps, check out our article providing 16 Tricep Exercises To Strengthen The Bench Press.

Final Thoughts

There are many bench press variations that powerlifters use in their training, but variation that is included in the program serves a specific purpose.

 Each variation we include should be specific to our needs by targeting the range of motion that we struggle with, so that we can use it to improve the amount of weight we are able to bench press. 

It’s important to choose a variation because it’s going to address our areas of weakness, and not because it works for someone else.


About The Author

Amanda Parker

Amanda Parker has a passion for competing and coaching in both powerlifting and weightlifting. She uses her knowledge from her Kinesiology Degree, CSCS, and Precision Nutrition certification to coach athletes and lifestyle clients for performance in training and nutrition. Connect with her on Instagram.