Bench Press to Kettlebell Press More

Here is how to set a kettlebell military press personal record within weeks.

You will be benching with a close grip. The close grip bench press is the best tool for strengthening the triceps. Its winning combination of very focused stress on this three-headed muscle and a very heavy weight used cannot be beat.

The volume required for great results is ridiculously low by kettlebell standards and the overall fatigue is a lot lower than from kettlebell presses, due to the movement’s lower coordination and overall tightness demands. Which means you can save your energy for important things like the U.S. Secret Service Snatch Test.

Vladimir Kravtsov Bench Press
Vladimir Kravtsov, Russia’s top bench presser. Photo courtesy Powerlifting USA.

A Couple of Close Grip Bench Press Technique Subtleties

First, when you have positioned yourself on the bench, place your hands on the bar as you would for diamond push-ups: the index finger and the thumb of one hand touch their counterparts on the other hand. Without losing this angle, slide your hands out until you are barely touching the smooth part of the knurling with the insides of your hands. Make sure the bar is pressing against the meaty heels of your palms and finally grip the bat.

Second, “tear the bar apart” on the way up to maximally activate your triceps. If you do it correctly, you should feel your rear delts.

Your Weekly Training Schedule

  • Day 1: Close grip bench press, other “grinds,” barbell and/or kettlebell
  • Day 2: Kettlebell ballistics, work up to an easy clean and press single or two
  • Day 3
  • Day 4: Close grip bench press, other “grinds,” barbell and/or kettlebell
  • Day 5: Kettlebell ballistics, work up to an easy clean and press single or two
  • Day 6
  • Day 7

Where it says “work up to an easy clean and press single or two,” you had better believe it. To use an example, if your best kettlebell press is 40kg x 2, your whole press session will look like this:

24kg x 3-5, 32kg x 1/2, 36kg x1

If you don’t own a 36, just press an extra single with the 32. This will feel like nothing after high volume pounding of the Enter the Kettlebell! Rite of Passage, but this is the idea. According to Drs. Verkhoshansky and Siff, “…the ‘degree of contrast’ in training… is a factor which enhances the functional responsiveness of the body.” Or, in Marty Gallagher’s words, “…institute a radical departure to what the body perceives as the current status quo…” It works both ways. When you get back to high volume pressing of Enter the Kettlebell! or Return of the Kettlebell, you will be a lot more responsive to it after your low volume stint.

In your first close grip bench workout, find your 10RM in this exercise. Do easy sets of five making big jumps between sets and resting plenty until you start noticing the weight, then add a little more, rest a lot more, and test your rep-max. For instance:

95×5, 135×5, 155×5, 175×5, 195×5 (starting to feel it), 205x9RM

It does not matter if you got 9 or 11 reps, this is close enough and this is your cycle’s starting weight.

In your next close grip bench press workout, do a couple of lighter, low rep sets to groove your technique, then do 5 reps with that weight. Rest for three to five minutes and do 3 reps. Rest for the same amount of time and put up 2 reps. Keeping the weight static and doing a triple and a double instead of a lighter set of five is a Power to the People! modification suggested to me by Jack Reape. This version has already made it into the Russian PTP edition.

The above workout will be very easy. It is supposed to be. When you are done, take 20% of the weight off and do three sets of five with as little rest between them as possible. Here is what our hypothetical girevik would end up lifting:

135×5, 155×3, 185×1-2, 205×5, 3, 2 (3-5min between sets); 165×5/3 (minimal rest between sets)

Every workout add 10 pounds to the 5, 3, 2 sets. Not 5, not 2.5, and definitely not those mini-plates. When you have reached the point where it takes all you have got to press the weight five times, next workout still add another 10 pounds, but skip the first set. In other words, instead of 5, 3, 2, do only 3, 2 reps.

Next time add another 10 and get rid of the set of 3 reps. You are down to one double. This is the end of the cycle. Skip your back-off 3×5 and in the next kettlebell workout test your kettlebell clean and press. Report your personal record on the StrongFirst forum.

Pressing power to you!

Pavel Tsatsouline
Pavel Tsatsouline is the CEO of StrongFirst, Inc.

15 thoughts on “Bench Press to Kettlebell Press More

  • When you say other grinds for days 1/4 what reps schemes do you recommend for KBs? ROTK? What about the ballistics on days 2 and 5? Swings and Snatches 100-200?

  • Pavel,

    I’ve taken almost 4 years off from bench pressing because of shoulder issues. Now, after a healthy dose of get ups and mobility work your article has convinced me to give it a try again.
    I’m wondering your thoughts – pros or cons – on using a football bar with a more neutral/anatomically friendly grip for the CGBP instead of a standard straight bar?


    • Chris, it is has been awhile since this blog went up. Please post your question on the forum.

  • Pavel,
    I had great results with No Distractions for 7 weeks. Now rested I thought of embarking on ROP after testing 5/7 with 32kg KB.
    After reading this I’m wondering if this would work with close grip floor presses?
    With no bench the floor press has been my Goto press.
    Thank you for the great programs!

    • Lars, great to hear the program worked well for you.

      Given its ROM, the floor press will not give you the same results.

  • Pavel, have read most of your books and began using your principals a few years ago after reading PTP. As a 62 year old former lifter I am doing a similar program to this. On Monday I do deadlifts, bench and chins and then on Tuesday some light KB swings and presses. Repeat the above on Thursday and Friday. Also walk, hike and bike. As an older adult, this type of training along with the blessings of the Lord have allowed me to enjoy good health and strength w/o injury. Thanks and power to all of you. Chuck Brown

  • One thing I found from doing years of these is that as the weights get over 225-275lbs it may be more comfortable to do these in a Smith machine. It takes the balance out of it (which does have some value) but allows you to really focus on the push. As you get heavier (315+), hand placement is key so reduce pressure on the wrists. It is the best way to add dramatic strength to your pushing movements.

  • Great as usual!
    I’m working on a “Beast tamer”
    My problem is the “48 kg pull-up”
    I wonder if there is any “assistance” for the pull-up that helps me like the CGBP does with the presses.

  • Supplementary triceps work is exactly what finally granted me the Beast Tamer Challenge. The press was my limiting factor, and the combination of triceps work (including CGBP) and a better nutrition protocol was exactly what I needed. Thanks Pavel!

This article is now closed for comments, but please visit our forum, where you may start a thread for your comments and questions or participate in an existing one.

Thank you.