The bench press is an all round great lift. Bodybuilders like it as an effective chest building exercise, athletes use it to develop upper body strength and power, and powerlifters have to perform it in competitions. Not only that, but having a strong bench press just looks cool, and is a great way to show off in the gym.
When you first start bench pressing, it’s likely that you’ll get stronger from session to session, and be able to add weight to the bar every workout, just by following a simple rep scheme, such as five sets of five, or three sets of eight. However, over time, your body meaning that your progression starts to plateau.
When this happens, don’t despair – there are plenty of ways you can increase your bench press further, you just need to know what training variables might need changing.
This may come as a bit of a surprise, but one of the best ways to lift more in the bench press is to stop benching for a while. This possibly seems mad, but your body can actually get used to doing a certain exercise for a prolonged period, which can lead it to stagnate. Try dropping regular bench presses from your routine completely for a few weeks, and switch to incline benching, or use dumbbells.
Work Out Your Weak Points
Quite often, just one or two muscle groups involved in a lift can be weak, which leads you to struggle on the exercise as a whole. When it comes to the bench press, there are three main areas you might be weak in. Film yourself performing five sets of just one repetition at 95% of your single rep maximum, then watch the video back to see where your weak points are. Use the following to help you
Slow off the chest – You lack strength in your chest and anterior deltoids, as well as upper body power.
Slow at the Lockout – Weak triceps.
The Bar looks wobbly/unstable – Weak lats and upper back.
Once you’ve established what your weak points are, you can introduce supplemental exercises into your routine to help bring them up.
If you’re slow off the chest, try dumbbell pressing, overhead press variations, and speed presses. If triceps are your problem, then hammer those with close grip bench presses, pin presses, dumbbell extensions and floor presses. If you’re upper back and lats lack stability, then make chin ups, dumbbell rows and band pull aparts your new best friends.
Poor technique is another common issue when benching. Avoid “bodybuilding-style benching”, where you have a wide grip, lower the bar to your neck, and don’t use any leg drive. While this may hit your chest better, it isn’t conducive to building strength. Instead, use a narrower grip, no wider than shoulder width apart, grip the bar as hard as you can, keep your elbows tucked in, and squeeze your whole body, especially your abs, glutes and legs, as hard as you can.
You may also want to add in a separate technique day once per week, where you use light weights (no more than 60% of your one rep max), and perform up to 10 sets of five reps, focusing on keeping perfect from.
Change your Rep Scheme
Any rep scheme will work, but only for so long. If you usually do sets of 12-15 reps, try lowering this to five sets of five. Likewise, if you usually train heavy, switch to a higher rep scheme for a few weeks.
The Wrap Up
There are many ways you can boost your bench press, so there’s no need to get despondent when it stops increasing. Adding new exercises in, addressing your technique issues, and changing your programming around are all great ways to add pounds to the bar.