Bench Press—4 Trade Secrets

by: Josh Bryant

Jeremy Hoornstra after an epic battle with West “by God” Virginia Legend, Brian Siders

Boys in the North African Fulani tribe become men by engaging in a rites of passage ritual with a rival tribe that involves two young boys entering a ring shirtless, each carrying a cane or whip. 

From here, the boys then take turns full force striking their opponent across the back and ribs three times.The entire tribe will congregate to watch the mêlée and the winner is selected by the crowd. 

Today we will discuss a safer, American rites of passage– the bench press.

*Peter Edgette bench pressing 600 raw 

Back in the day, I was the youngest person to bench press 600 raw; in 2017, I was proudly surpassed by my student, Peter Edgette!

I have coached well over a dozen 600-pound raw bench pressers, five over 300 kg (661 pounds) and have written a best-selling book on the bench press. 

I am passionate about and love the bench press. Today, I will share with you some bench press trade secrets that will help your bench press.

Bar Path

Twenty years ago, 99 percent of powerlifters competed with the assistance of a bench press shirt.  In some instances, these shirts added over 400 pounds to a lift!

 So, back then, and still now, many equipped lifters overlook getting stronger or adding muscle mass because their primary objective is to efficiently use the shirt and leverage manipulation.

Shirted lifters touch the bar much lower at the bottom of a bench press and attempt to press the bar in a straight line, a totally different lift than a traditional raw bench press. 

Think about it.

Bench Press Tips with Josh Bryant

A raw bench press has an ascending strength curve, meaning the lift is most difficult at the bottom, a shirted bench is the complete opposite.

Shirts remove the need for producing drive with the barbell off the chest.

In the last dozen years, the clear majority of lifters have switched to raw. This is awesome! 

Unfortunately, not all the information has caught up. 

The trade secrets I am sharing with you today are specific to someone looking to increase their strength in the raw bench press.

Although there is always some variability when you bench press raw, you will descend the bar to just below the nipple line.  A cursory examination would suggest to take the shortest path possible by pressing the weight in a straight line, but with further examination by watching videos of the world’s best bench presses, it shows otherwise; these lifters push the bar back and up in a j-curve. 

Additionally, biomechanical analysis shown by powerlifter and PhD Tom McLaughlin is presented in the graph below. 

This graph compares the bar path of a novice lifter that bench pressed 245 pounds (A), champion powerlifter Mike Bridges, the owner of a 463 bench press, (B) and Bill “Kaz”Kazmaier bench pressing 605 pounds (C). The graph shows the strongest lifter, Kaz, used much more horizontal movement than the novice lifter. 

So why is this the case?

When pushing the bar back in a J-curve, the bar finishes directly over all the involved joints and working muscles (hand, wrist, elbow, triceps, chest and shoulders); this is the solid foundation to a huge bench press. Contrasted to a faulty foundation, if attempting to push the bar in a straight line, that makes the smaller forearms and triceps take the brunt of the load because the bar never becomes centered over the large working muscles.

Here are three other common misconceptionsabout building a large raw bench press: 

Wider is Better
Retired powerlifter and my client, Al Davis, had the best bench press in the world in 2011.  He bench pressed with his grip as wide as the rules allowed.  Since then, all of four of my bench pressers that have surpassed 661 use a narrow or  more moderate grip.  


A narrow grip feels much safer on the shoulders and lifters report it gives better drive off the chest. Unless you are going for a big bench press record and wider feels better, I recommend keeping your grip close to shoulder width. This will greatly lower the risk, in the risk-to-benefit equation.

See for yourself, three world-leading bench presses in one meet under Josh’s guidance.

Arms for Vanity
Well-developed arms fill out preppy polos and strike admiration in the hearts of men and desire in the hearts of women. Additionally,  big, strong biceps help stabilize heavy weights just like a tree with a big base sways less in the wind than its emaciated counterpart. 

Big, strong triceps do more than add a few right swipes to your tinder game, they are the primary mover muscle in locking out heavy bench presses.  Well-developed, strong arms develop form and FUNCTION—don’t be afraid to include some isolation movements in your bench press-building arsenal.

Focus on Lockout Strength
Bottoms up and pass the sake—wrong article, but training the bottom portion of a raw bench press is crucial because typically the most difficult portion is the bottom of the lift. All things being equal, you need to focus on building hellacious strength off your chest that will push you through to lockout.  

Even if you have somewhat of a technical breakdown, you can systematically bypass this point if you have enough speed off your chest.

Sticking points don’t exist if you blast past them.  Focus on being explosive while training and by attacking the right supplementary exercises, which can include dumbbell pause bench presses, Spoto presses, wide grip pause benches (assuming shoulders are healthy) and dead bench presses.

Definitive guide to dead benches with author, Josh Bryant.  

Final Thoughts
Get your bench press out of the outhouse and into the penthouse with trade secrets you now have access to.