The Slingshot is a tool that powerlifters use for bench press training.
The Slingshot is primarily used to handle heavier loads for the same or more repetitions compared with the raw bench press. If you’ve already been benching consistently for a couple of years, then the Slingshot is a tool that every bench presser should try at least once. I use the Slingshot 2-3 times per year in training cycles where I’m trying to overload the movement. While I could use other overloading exercises for bench press, the Slingshot allows me to perform the movement alone (with no training partners) and with relative ease.
There are four types of Slingshots that you can buy based on how much tension you want. My recommendation is the Original Slingshot, which will suit most people who want to overload the bench press. You can expect to lift 10-15% more weight using the Original Slingshot (Click for the current price on Amazon and sizing chart).
In this guide, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about getting started with the Slingshot. I will explain why and when you should use the Slingshot, the types of Slingshots, and how to implement it into your training.
What Does a Slingshot Do For Bench Press?
The Slingshot was invented by powerlifter Mark Bell, who holds a 545lb raw bench and 854lb equipped bench.
He originally created it as a tool to allow lifters to press more weight safely and without pain.
The slingshot is an upper body device that wraps around your elbows and allows you to handle about 10-15% more weight in the bench press. In other words, the Slingshot is a tool for overloading. Unlike other overloading methods for bench press like using boards, the Slingshot allows you to move the weight through a full range of motion.
As you bring the barbell down during the bench press, the Slingshot creates elastic tension on your chest, which allows you to use more weight than you normally would for the same number of reps.
Because the bar load is partially supported by the elastic tension, the Slingshot can also reduce the amount of stress on the shoulders and elbows when the bar is on your chest.
Let me be clear: the Slingshot is not a magic cure for training through injuries.
However, if you find that your shoulders and elbows get beat up throughout the year, then the Slingshot might be a good tool to implement to reduce some of the stresses at the level of the joint while benching.
Personally, I like to use the Slingshot when I’m increasing my bench fress frequency. If I’m transitioning into a program where I’m going from benching 2X per week to 3X per week, then using the Slingshot is a great tool to help me transition to higher amounts of volume while keeping my shoulders and elbows healthy.
The Research Behind Using a Slingshot For Bench Press
There have been a handful of studies conducted that examine the response and effectiveness of the Slingshot.
Muscle Activation & The Slingshot
In a study by Dugdale et al. (2019), the slingshot was found to reduce the muscle activation of the tricep through all rep ranges. This is because the triceps don’t get fatigued as quickly as a raw bench press.
Essentially, the slingshot is taking over the work that the triceps would otherwise do. So theoretically you should be able to perform a greater number of reps before your triceps fatigue.
This demonstrates that if you’re trying to get stronger triceps to help facilitate the lock-out portion of the bench press, then you would need to train to fatigue using the Slingshot on most occasions to get the appropriate level of tricep activation.
When I use the slingshot, I like to take a prescribed load (i.e. 70%) and do as many reps as possible for two sets.
Training to fatigue is not always practical though, so if you were looking to overload the triceps for your lock-out then using boards would be another training tool you could use.
Increasing 1 Rep Max Strength & The Slingshot
The researchers from that same study concluded that the Slingshot significantly increased 1 rep max strength while using the Slingshot — participants were able to lift 17-24kg more than their raw bench press.
This was because participants were able to drive the bar faster through their natural sticking points.
So, if you’re looking to get practice at handling heavier loads, then the Slingshot is definitely an effective tool.
The evidence is still short on whether increasing your 1 rep max Slingshot strength will transfer to increases in your 1 rep max raw bench.
However, we know from practice that handling heavier loads by using overloading methods can be a psychological benefit to some lifters (i.e. ‘feeling the weight in your hands before attempting it raw’).
Biomechanics & The Slingshot
Another interesting conclusion from the study was an enhanced motor pattern while using the Slingshot.
The researchers compared the biomechanics of people using the Slingshot versus raw bench press. They found that the elbow position of the Slingshot group to be more mechanically advantageous in driving the bar through their sticking point.
My guess for why this occurs is because the Slingshot will require you to tuck your elbows as you bring the bar to your chest. The proper elbow position for the bench press is to have your elbows either directly in line with the barbell, or slightly in front. You definitely don’t want your elbows flaring behind the bar.
Therefore, the Slingshot might be an effective external cue to ‘tuck the elbows’, which would allow lifters to practice the correct motor pattern.
Muscle Hypertrophy & The Slingshot
We know from research that there is a relationship between volume and hypertrophy (muscle growth).
A study by Niblock & Steele (2017), showed that using the Slingshot in training does allow individuals to perform a greater amount of volume using either similar or more weight compared with raw benchers.
In other words, handling a similiar amount of sets & reps with more weight, or using the same weight for more sets & reps.
If an athlete can handle more volume then there may be the potential for greater hypertrophy adaptations. However, this link has not been proven with adequate evidence, and more research needs to be conducted.
Types of Slingshots
There are four different types of Slingshot: Original, Reactive, Full Boar, and Maddog.
For the most part, the differentiating feature between each of these Slingshots is how much tension you’ll get while benching.
This is my top pick.
If you have over two years of bench press experience or bench press over 300lbs then the Original Slingshot is your pick.
The Original Slingshot is designed for people to lift around 10-15% more weight than their raw bench press. It will be a solid overloading tool in your bench press training.
It will fit most people comfortably and won’t have a high learning curve because the bar path will feel similar to someone’s raw bench press.
Reactive Slingshot: Best Slingshot for Beginners
The Reactive Slingshot is designed better for beginner lifters who have under two years of bench press experience or bench press under 300lbs.
The Reactive Slingshot is a bit more flexible and pliable. This means that it’s easier to put on and use because you’re not fighting as much tension as you bring the bar down.
Most women would also consider using this slingshot because it would provide adequate tension for any bench press under 300lbs.
Full Boar Slingshot: Best Slingshot for Big Arms:
The Full Boar Slingshot is designed for people who are slightly bigger in bodyweight, have bigger arms, or bench press over 300lbs.
It’s constructed with more of an ‘angled sleeve’, which will be advantageous for people who have a long range of motion or a lower touch lower on their chest (on or below the sternum).
The Full Board Slingshot also provides a bit more tension, with some lifters getting as much as 20% more overload.
Maddog Slingshot: Best Slingshot for Equipped Powerlifters
The Maddog Slingshot would be best for people who are doing equipped bench press who want to mimic what it feels like to wear a bench shirt. It’s recommended that you bench press over 400lbs raw if you are going to use the Maddog Slingshot.
The Maddog Slingshot has the most resistance out of all the Slingshots. It’s made out of double-ply material and is meant for serious bench pressers, not casual enthusiasts.
The Benefits of Using a Slingshot For Bench Press
There are six benefits to using the Slingshot:
- The Slingshot is an effective overloading tool: The slingshot can be used as an overloading tool to lift more weight for the same or more number of reps. This allows you to accumulate more training volume over time.
- The Slingshot can psychologically prepare you to handle heavier loads: Before you bench press a weight raw, you get the opportunity to feel it in your hands prior.
- The Slingshot allows you to increase your bench press frequency safely: If you want to bench press more times per week, then the Slingshot facilitates this process by reducing stress at the level of the joints.
- The Slingshot allows you to cue proper elbow position: If you need a reminder to ‘tuck your elbows’ then the slingshot is a device that requires you to maintain proper elbow position throughout the lift.
- The Slingshot allows you to produce more force through your sticking point: You’re able to accelerate the barbell faster through your sticking point, which teaches you to apply maximum force through the entire range of motion.
- The Slingshot may allow you to train through certain types of injuries: Because the Slingshot takes some of the stresses away from your shoulder and elbow joints, you might find that you can bench press through nagging pain or injuries, which is one of the primary reasons why the Slingshot was invented.
How To Use The Slingshot For Bench Press
The Slingshot slides fairly easily up each arm and sits just above the elbow. It should fit snug and comfortable, but not extremely tight.
Starting out using the Slingshot
To use the slingshot in your bench press training, I would not jump into the heavier weights to start. Rather, I would pick a set and rep range with a bar load that you would normally do raw, and perform it using the Slingshot.
This is for two reasions.
- You want to feel how much support you’re getting from the slingshot by having a common reference point for a similar set/rep/load protocol.
- You want to practice the technique of using the slingshot before putting on weight you normally wouldn’t be able to handle.
In terms of the technique, there are some differences that you’ll want to note.
First, you will feel like it’s harder to touch the bar to your chest.
This is because as you bring the bar to your chest, the slingshot will be storing elastic energy. You may feel like you need to ‘pull’ the bar down, which will require you to use your upper back musculature a bit more than you would in a raw bench press.
Second, you will need to ensure you’re tucking your elbows so that they’re slightly in front of the barbell when the barbell is on your chest.
As you tuck your elbows, you’ll find that you are able to create more tension through the Slingshot.
Last, you’ll want to make sure that you’re consistently touching the chest at the same spot each rep.
While this is also important to do while raw benching, you might find it more difficult to maintain a level of consistency with your touch point while using the Slingshot.
This is because you need to keep your upper back and lat muscles much tighter while benching with a Slingshot, and if you’re not getting the requisite amount of tightness, then it will be harder to stabilize and control the bar on your chest.
Overloading using the Slingshot
Once you’ve mastered the technique, and you’ve had a few workouts where you’re using the same loads as your raw bench press, then you can start experimenting with overloads. This would involve protocols of using 15-20% more weight than your raw bench press for the same number of reps.
It’s important that when you do start your overloading on the bench press that you have a spotter.
You might feel a sense of over-confidence because you’re handling loads you aren’t normally able to use when benching raw. However, this is precisely the reason why you need a spotter, especially in the phase when you’re still trying to master the technique while using the Slingshot.
Training Protocols For Using The Slingshot
Here are three protocols for using the slingshot for bench press:
1. Volume Overloads
Start with a raw bench and perform your base number of sets and reps that you normally would.
This could be a workout like 5 X 5 @ 70%.
Once you’re finished, do an additional 2-3 sets of 5 using more weight with the Slingshot.
For example: 1 X 5 @ 75%, 1 X 5 @ 80%, and if that feels good, finish with 1 set of 5 @ 85%.
2. Burnout Sets
Just like before, start with a raw bench and perform your base number of sets and reps that you normally would.
Let’s use the same example of 5 X 5 at 70%.
After you’re done, use the same weight with the Slingshot, but perform as many reps as possible. You’ll want to rep out to fatigue.
Most people should be able to get almost twice the number of reps, which will allow you to fatigue your triceps while not overloading the shoulders.
3. Intensity Overloads
When you’re trying to get used to heavier loads in general, you’ll want to perform lower repetitions for higher intensities.
For example, let’s say you did 2 X 2 @ 90% raw. After that, you could peform two more doubles at 95% and 100%. If that feels good, you could then start doing singles at 105% and 110%.
By feeling this supra-maximal load in your hands, you should be more confident in handling heavier weights in your raw bench press.
The slingshot is an effective tool for overloading the bench press.
My recommendation is to use the Original Slingshot as it will provide 10-15% more load than a raw bench press. It will also fit most people comfortably an doesn’t have a high learning curve unlike some of the Slingshots that have more resistance.
Dugdale, J. H., Hunter, A., Di Virgilio, T., Macgregor, L. J., & Hamilton, D. L. (2017). Influence of the” Slingshot” bench press training aid on bench press kinematics and neuromuscular activity in competitive powerlifters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.
Niblock, J., & Steele, J. (2017). The ‘Slingshot’ can enhance volume-loads during performance of bench press using unaided maximal loads. Journal of Trainology, 6(2), 47-51.