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Smith machine bench throws are a stroke of Jim Stoppani Genius

By Lee Thomas
Last Updated on 8th November 2020

Answer this honestly: when was the last time that you trained specifically to increase your explosiveness?

Unless you play some kind of sport, then the answer is probably "back when I did the 100m in year 9"—or maybe even "never".

strong man performing the flat bench press

Yet, if you want to build a stronger bench press (and thereby a bigger chest), a lack of power-specific training is a problem. After all, muscles are designed to be explosive—especially your fast-twitch chest and triceps. So if you always perform your reps slowly in an attempt to "feel" the muscle working, then your gains will also come slowly.

Whether your goal is bigger pecs, a higher one-rep-max or more power for your specific sport, the bench throw should be part of your Smith machine chest workout. And you'll soon find out why.

Smith machine bench press throw exercise details

  • Main muscles: Chest, triceps, shoulders
  • Supporting muscles: Lats, rhomboids, glutes, abs, forearms
  • Exercise type: Compound
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Equipment needed: Smith machine, weight bench
  • Recommended gear: Wrist wraps, elbow sleeves, chalk
  • Exercise purpose: Increase explosiveness for sports and strength training

How to do Smith machine bench throws

  1. Wheel a weight bench into the Smith machine.
  2. Load the bar with between 30-50% of your bench press one-rep max.
  3. Lie on the bench so that the bar is hovering over your lower chest.
  4. Set the safety stoppers to just above chest height.
  5. Slowly lower the bar down to your chest.
  6. Push the bar upwards and out of your hands as high as possible.
  7. Catch the bar at the top of the rep. Repeat for 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps.

Smith machine bench press throw workout tips

Use singles

male athlete bench pressing at powerlifting competition

A karate master only kicks with one leg at a time. A boxer only throws one punch at a time. And a footballer only kicks a ball with one foot at a time. Do you see a pattern emerging?

Any part of a sport or activity that requires maximum power only lasts for a very short duration.

Sprinting and powerlifting are two other great examples of this. And it's not hard to implement into your own training.

If you want to maximise your bench press explosiveness, perform Smith machine bench throws one rep at a time like this: explosive rep 1 > rest 20-40 seconds > explosive rep 2 > rest 20-40 seconds. You get the idea.

Rest longer

sporty man taking a rest during his workout

As we just established, you can get the best results from bench throws by performing singles, interspersed by 20-40 second rest periods.

However, if you're trying to improve your sustained power output, then it's wise to perform full sets of 5-8 reps instead. But how long should you rest between sets for the quickest results?

Well, scientists actually put this to the test in a 2016 study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research. They took 31 participants and made them do five sets of 8 reps with 40% of their bench throw one rep max [1].

The catch is that the subjects received a different amount of rest: some got a full 3 minutes of rest, others 2 minutes and the remaining third got just 1 minute of recuperation time. So what were the results?

Exactly what you'd suspect. The group who got only 60 seconds of rest saw their power output decrease, had higher lactate concentration (basically DOMS) and demonstrated higher rates of perceived exertion (how strenuous the exercise was).

However, there was no significant difference between the 2-minute and 3-minute groups. So to maximise your power, you want to rest at least 2 minutes between sets of the Smith machine tossing bench press.

Ignore the weight

man training hard at the gym with a heavy barbell

Have you ever put too much weight on the bar only to not realise your mistake until after the set?

I sure have. And it's a great demonstration of just how important your frame of mind is for strength development. If you genuinely believe that you can lift the weight, then you can lift it.

It reminds me of an interesting study out of Alicante. Some clever Spanish researchers took 13 hombres and made them perform bench throws with 3 different weights: 30%, 50% and 70% of their 1RM [2].

However, the smart scientists made them do it under 2 different conditions: known weight and unknown weight.

In the known condition, the lads knew exactly how much they were lifting.

But in the unknown condition, they could only guess—because the cunning researchers randomly selected one of the three weights for them.

And what the researchers found was thought-provoking...

They observed significantly higher rates of power output and force-development at all three weights when the men didn't know how much they were lifting.

No extra supplements. No fancy training programs. No expensive equipment. Just plain old mental toughness. And you can use it too to increase your power.

If you believe that you can lift the weight, then you can lift it. The human body is stronger than you think.

Lift explosively

Bald Topless Muscular Man Doing Exercises With Two Dumbbells

Regular bench pressing is terrible for power development. Why?

Because when you're lifting heavy, you by definition can't lift explosively as well.

Explosive lifting requires you to use lighter weights (30-50% of 1RM) so that you can focus all of your attention on moving the bar as quickly as possible.

This is why I told you to literally throw the bar up in the air once it touches your chest—it's the best way to develop power.

Recommended lifting gear for Smith machine throws

1. Wrist wraps

I'm not going to sugar coat it. The Smith machine tossing bench press can be quite harsh on your wrists at first. However, even a pair of relatively cheap wrist supports can make a big difference in my experience.

man wrapping his wrists before a workout

I personally use the RDX Wrist Wraps for all my pressing exercises, and I have no complaints about either the quality or about the comfort. I've noticed that my wrists get fatigued much less quickly while I'm wearing these supports. Plus, they give me the confidence to test my strength because I know that my wrist joints are thoroughly protected.

I also like that fact that Beast Gear's wraps are one-size-fits-all, meaning that you don't have to deal with the frustration of buying the wrong size.

aqf wrist wraps

I've also had great results from using the more affordable Plate Fitness Wrist Wraps.

They come with an elastic thumb loop to keep your wrists secure throughout the entire workout. And although I didn't think that they were as comfy as the Beast Gear wraps, I can vouch for their durability and construction quality—these wraps are sturdy.

2. Elbows sleeves

When I found out that elbow sleeves speed up recovery by increasing blood flow to damaged muscle tissue, buying them was a no-brainer for me.

red iron bull elbow sleeves

But lately, I've been using my Iron Bull Strength Elbow Sleeves a bit differently—and with excellent results.

I tried them on bench throws. And besides reducing my elbow discomfort, they significantly increased my explosiveness as I was pushing the bar off my chest. And when I tried bench throws without my elbows sleeves a few weeks later, my 1RM had also shot up. In this way, they remind a lot of the bench press Sling Shot, which is an absolute blast to use!

man working out with his urban lifter elbow sleeves

Anway. I also tried out the Gymreapers Elbows Sleeves and found that they offered a bit more support than the Iron Bull ones. However, they also weren't as comfy, and I felt that the build quality was a little less sturdy.

That said, the differences were all minor. And I wouldn't hesitate to recommend either pair of sleeves if you want to protect your joints and start recovering quicker.

3. Weightlifting chalk

liquid chalk sizes

It's absolutely crucial to maintain a proper grip on the bar during the Smith machine bench press throw (or during any bench press variation). Therefore, I always chalk up before my power training.

I don't use anything fancy, though. I just use this regular liquid chalk.

psychi chalk ball

It's great value. But it's also remarkably useful if you train in a commercial gym because it's very low key. In other words, the gym staff won't bother you because they won't know that you're being a rebel by using chalk!

Anyway, if you train in a more hardcore gym, then the Psychi Chalk Ball is also a good option.

It's what I use these days since I train at home, and I really like it because it comes with a handy mesh covering to reduce waste—and dust clouds.

Smith machine bench press throw muscles worked


Illustration of the pectoral anatomy

Since the pecs are around 60% fast-twitch, they respond excellently to explosive lifting. Sure, high rep flys have their place, but to use your chest muscles as nature intended, you need to press the bar off your chest as if it was on fire.


Illustration of the triceps anatomy

The triceps brachii is between 67-75% fast-twitch (depending on which source you go with), and it's one reason why explosive athletes—especially powerlifters—always have massive triceps. So please, put away your pink dumbbells and quite doing kickbacks! Bench explosively for big triceps! [3] [4]

Front delts

Illustration of the deltoid anatomy

The front delts are highly active during the Smith machine bench press throw because their primary function is shoulder flexion. This is the anatomical way of saying they "raise your arm in front of your body".

Smith machine bench press throw benefits

Stronger bench press

male athlete lifting a barbell at a powerlifting competition

Let me ask you this: when you increase the weight, does the bar move faster? Or does it slow down?

It definitely gets slower, doesn't it?

This deceleration is simply because your muscles can't produce enough power to move the bar any faster. Or, as scientists would say, to increase its velocity.

However, by getting your pressing muscles accustomed to lifting with maximum explosiveness (a la bench throws), you also get them more used to pushing past the sticking point. And that right there—getting past the sticking point—is the key to building a stronger bench press. This applies to the Smith machine chest press as well as the barbell version.

Meatier pecs

A black man with a muscular body

If I haven't lost all of the meatheads already with my study references, then let me talk briefly about how lightweight bench throws can get you a bigger, meatier chest.

How it works is like this: bench throws increase your power > power increases your strength > higher strength levels enable you to overload your muscles with more tension > more tension leads to bigger muscles.

It's that freakin' simply fellas. And it only takes 2-3 sets to achieve noticeable results.

Bigger triceps

Young Bodybuilder Doing Heavy Weight Exercise For Triceps

Besides the fitness model demonstrating the exercise on YouTube, have you ever seen anyone with big arms performing tricep kickbacks?

I think I might have seen one.

The point is that you're never going to pump and burn your way to big triceps. Think about it from an evolutionary perspective.

If a caveman suddenly found himself stuck under a rock, let's say it weighs 90kg, would it be more efficient for him to slowly push that rock away? Or would it be better for him put all his might into lifting that life-threatening rock off his chest?

It's definitely the latter.

And by training the triceps as they're meant to be trained, you can make them bigger, stronger and more explosive.

Bench throws are one of the best exercises to do this.

Powerful throwing

handball player on the beach

If you're a bodybuilder, powerlifter or just can't be arsed to read this section, then skip to the alternatives. But, if you're an athlete, keep reading. Because, boy, have I got some juicy facts for you.

Back in 2007, Portuguese researchers recruited 14 elite male handball players and tested both their ball-throwing velocity, and their concentric bench press 1RM strength (very similar to bench throws).

And what they found hammers home the importance of power training for athletes.

Peak ball-throwing velocity and bench press power were highly correlated. So whether it's handball, rugby or juggling—if you want to throw balls faster—then you need to perform strength training exercises that specifically improve your power. [5] [6]

Smith machine bench press throw alternatives

Two young fit men in crossfit gym with their personal trainer exercising with medicine balls, doing crunches.

Supine medicine ball chest throws

Lie flat on your back and retract your shoulder blades. Hold a medicine ball (with both hands) on the centre of your chest. Push the ball upwards as high as you can. Then catch the ball in the top position before lowering it back down to your chest.

Medicine ball throw ups

This fun medicine ball exercise will increase your tricep power and core stability. Lie in the crunch position and get a partner stand on your feet. Begin the exercise by performing a sit up, and as you do, throw the ball upwards as high as you can. Catch it in the top position and then lower yourself down by stretching your abs.

Just be sure to keep an eye on the ball while it's in mid-air. Otherwise, it might hit you in the face.

What's the verdict on Smith machine bench throws?

Depending on what kind of Smith machine you use, it may or may not be the best tool for bench throws. Let me explain why.

Back in 2011, American researches tested the effects of a Smith machine counterbalance system on bench throw performance (a counterbalance, in case you don't know, is the internal mechanism of the Smith machine that lightens the bar weight). [7]

man training his upper body inside the gym

In their study of 24 participants, the researchers found that a counterbalance system reduces peak force, peak velocity and peak power when compared with a Smith machine that doesn't have a counterbalance.

This disparity is likely because counterbalance systems naturally slow the bar speed down.

The easy well to tell if your Smith machine has such a system is the noise. Does it sound like a rowing machine as you lift on it? As if it's generating a small gust of wind? If so, then your machine probably has a counterweight.

It's a small difference, all things considered. And the Smith machine bench press throw is still a fantastic exercise for power development—regardless of your machine.

Lee Thomas
Ey Up! I'm Lee, a Leeds-based strength and conditioning coach who's been helping serious trainees achieve their physical potential for the past 20 years. In my time, I've been a competitive physique athlete and a national powerlifter. I hope you enjoy my exercise guides.
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