Bench Press For BJJ: Should You?

March 20, 2022

“How much you bench, bro?” It’s the most common question you’ll get asked when you have any appreciable level of muscle. For the BJJ athlete, the answer should be between 1.3-1.5 kg/bodyweight, meaning if you weigh 100 kg, a 130-150 kg bench press is the standard to aim for.

The bench press develops upper body pushing strength vital for BJJ performance and should be a staple within your BJJ strength training routine.

Why is the bench press so good for BJJ? And are there more benefits than just being strong?

Is The Bench Press Good For BJJ?

The bench press is an excellent exercise for BJJ. Framing requires strong shoulders, triceps, and pecs, which are the prime movers during the bench press. Further, if it’s been a while since you’ve rolled, the soreness you experience in your shoulders and triceps the following day is a tell-tale sign of how often they are used.

Benefits Of The Bench Press For BJJ

BJJ Bench Press

Here are a few of the benefits of the bench press for BJJ.

High Neural Output

Lifting heavy loads is one way to recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers. It becomes a high central nervous system activity raising the ceiling of your strength potential. If you can better recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers, you can potentially produce more force during BJJ activities.

Develop The Chest, Shoulders & Triceps

Depending on how your program the bench press, you can target strength development with minimal gain in size or pure hypertrophy development to grow a big chest, shoulders, and triceps. These muscles help maintain your frame when defending.

How To Bench Press For BJJ

While Powerlifters are the ultimate at bench pressing, you shouldn’t copy everything a Powerlifter does to maximize the bench press. For example, the setup and use of the legs are exactly what you should take from a Powerlifter. But you should modify the grip width for BJJ. Here’s a step by step:

  • Sit in the middle of the bench where your feet will be planted so when you lie back, your head is well behind the bar.
  • Use the bar to pull yourself under the bar with your feet stuck to the floor until your eyes are directly under the barbell. This will cause an immense stretch in the quads, but it is how you will use your legs.
  • Pin your shoulder blades together and squeeze your glutes to create tension.
  • Grip the bar with a close grip (shoulder width). This will give you the best transfer to BJJ. Powerlifters use a wide grip to shorten the distance.
  • Unrack the bar like you’re performing a pullover motion. Create tension in your legs as you lower the bar to your chest. Your elbows should be 45° to your torso.
  • Explode the bar back to the starting position by pressing with your arms and pushing with your legs simultaneously.

This takes the best bits from a Powerlifting bench press with a closer grip which will be safer for your shoulders overall.

Best Bench Press Alternatives For BJJ

You’re not limited to solely the barbell bench press. There are so many great horizontal pressing variations you can use for BJJ strength training.

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Floor Press

The floor press shortens the range of motion, placing more stress on the shoulders and triceps, making it an excellent variation for BJJ. Here’s how to do it:

  • Lie on the floor with your eyes directly under the barbell.
  • Pin your shoulder blades back and have your legs straight so you can’t use them to help with the lift.
  • Unrack the bar and slowly lower it until your triceps are resting flat on the floor. Your elbows should be 45° to your torso.
  • Pause and explode back to the starting position.

One mistake to avoid is bouncing the weight out of the bottom position. It will jolt the bar out of position, and the hard ground on your triceps isn’t forgiving.

DB Bench Press

The DB bench press is often used as an accessory movement to the barbell bench press. But the barbell version can cause shoulder issues for some fighters. Dumbbells can alleviate that as you’re not fixed into one plane of motion.

Further, two separate dumbbells allow for greater involvement in shoulder stability and reducing muscular imbalances. Here’s how to do it:

  • Sit on the edge of the bench with the dumbbells resting on your thighs.
  • Fall back and kick the dumbbells to your chest. Roll your elbows to a 45° angle as you land flat, so your dumbbells are next to your chest and supported by your arms and shoulders.
  • Press the dumbbells vertically. Lower them slowly back to the starting position.

Offset 1-Arm DB Bench Press

I love this variation for BJJ and combat athletes. It’s an upper-body pressing exercise that challenges the trunk and core better than most core exercises. You have to resist the rotation of the body as half of it is hanging off the bench. Here’s how to do it:

  • Lie on a bench, so the edge runs vertically up your spine.
  • Have the dumbbell on the side that is off the bench.
  • Press the dumbbell vertically as you would when dumbbell benching.

Incline Bench Press

The incline varies the pressing angle, which is always beneficial for BJJ. It ensures you’re strong pressing from all positions. Here’s how to do it:

  • Set the seat height, so your eyes are directly under the barbell.
  • Pin your shoulder blades together and take a close grip (shoulder width).
  • Unrack the bar and slowly lower it to your upper chest. If you’re mobile enough, it can touch your chest.
  • Push with your arms and legs simultaneously while leaving your bum on the seat.

Weighted Push-Up

You don’t need a bunch of equipment to develop insane pressing strength. Many BJJ practitioners sleep on the push-up and its effectiveness. The video above shows how to load it with a weight plate yourself. However, it’s much easier with a partner. Another option is to use a resistance band to provide resistance.

  • Assume the push-up position. Have a partner place a plate on your back. Your thumbs should be under your shoulders or just outside.
  • Lower your chest to the floor with your elbows forming a 45° angle from your torso.
  • Push yourself back to the starting position, maintaining a solid plank position throughout.

Summary

The bench press is an excellent exercise for BJJ and should be used throughout your training year. However, you don’t have to use the barbell bench press solely as other horizontal pressing exercises make great alternatives when working around injuries or providing variation.

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About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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