The Chaos Bench is a fantastic variation of the bench press that is fantastic for improving shoulder health and may help up your numbers as well. This exercise goes by a few different monikers; Suspended Weight Bench, Crazy-Bell Bench, Bamboo Bar Bench. The first is probably certainly the most descriptive. The Chaos Bench is performed in the same way as a regular bench press with the only difference being that the weight, be this kettlebells, dumbbells or plates, is suspended from the barbell by bands. There’s may be a bit of subtle variation between certain coach’s interpretations, but the principle remains the same. The concept is best illustrated in this video.
Given that the weight is suspended from the bands it will bounce around as the bar is moved. The load therefore becomes unstable and chaotic, increasing the proprioceptive demand of the exercise. The general rule with any type of instability training is that you increase activation in the all stabilising muscles and decrease activation within the prime movers. In this example activation of all the musculature of the shoulder and upper back is increased. The body has to make thousands of tiny adjustments, particularly around the shoulder joint, in order keep the bar on its intended path.
Aside from the proprioceptive benefits that are applicable to everyone, for the beginner and intermediate lifter the exercise serves to teach and reinforce how to stay ‘tight’ during the bench press and maintain full control of the barbell. For the more advanced lifter it can also serve as a novel stimulus to elicit neural adaptations. The chaos bench is also a shoulder friendly pressing option for those with various shoulder afflictions who have trouble with performing the regular lift.
The set-up for the lift is pretty simple. If using kettlebells or weight plates simply thread the band through the handle/hole and hook both ends of the band onto the barbell. If using dumbbells you’ll need to choke the band around the handle and hook the end of the band over the barbell. The band suspended weight is generally used as an addition to fixed resistance (i.e. plates) rather than the sole source of resistance.
You can alter the instability of the lift in a number of manners but the basic principle remains the same, increase or decrease the amount of elastic energy in the band. To increase instability you can
- Use more weight
- Use a longer band/bands tied together
- Use a lighter band
- Increase speed of movement
- Use an asymmetrical load (i.e. the load is heavier on one side than the other)
These principles can obviously be reversed to reduce instability and make the lift easier. Instability can also be increased by using a lighter, more flexible bar. Louie Simmons of the legendary Westside Barbell invented the Bamboo Bar for just that purpose. A cheap piece of plastic drain pipe would suffice however; just ensure that the pipe is strong enough not to snap when you load it and that you adapt it to prevent the bands from falling off.
Performing the Lift:
When performing the lift, especially for the first time, you should have a spotter on hand to help you in case you lose control of the bar. The first time you try the chaos bench it will definitely take a lot of focus to keep the bar on track. Ensure that you grip that bar hard and focus on maintaining tightness throughout the body. Keep the shoulder blades pulled back and down throughout. When the body is able to do this perform this exercise efficiently the motion appears relatively smooth however expect some serious shakes the first time you try benching Chaos style.
The chaos bench is traditionally employed as a supplemental exercise but I believe it also serves as a great exercise to include as part of the warm-up to challenge the shoulder proprioceptively. It’s also a fantastic choice to throw in on a recovery/deload session. The exercise shouldn’t be used as a max effort lift; three to five sets of eight to fifteen repetitions are generally recommended. A similar loading scheme is also fine for the warm up, however intensity should be reduced.
The Chaos Bench – give it a go!