The bench press is a frustrating lift. You have the freaks who seem to be built for the bench press, and are able to push 300 pounds in (seemingly) a year's time.
And then you have...us - the bench press grinders.
We grinders have to fight for every pound, planning, plotting, tweaking our diets, refining our workouts. Even then, with all this intense attention to detail, we are lucky to add more than 25 pounds per year to our bench press.
I've been benching for a long time. A long, long time. 29 years, if you must know. During this time I've seen spurts and droughts, high times and low.
The pinnacle of my bench pressing "career" (if you can call it that) was a 382.5 pound press at the 2012 UPA Nationals. That was an amazing lift for me. It felt light and fast. Of course my next attempt, 400 pounds, was a complete bomb. It remained glued to my chest, mocking me for what seemed like eternity.
Over the years I've learned a lot about the bench press. I hope the following tips will help you overcome your current plateau, or maybe even turn the bench press into a more enjoyable exercise.
Tips for Fixing a Bench Press Plateau
Tip #1 - Track Your Progress
If you aren't doing it now, you need to track and log every workout. No exceptions. Information doesn't lie, and you need concrete information to understand if you are really in a plateau.
What do I mean by that? Simple.
Most lifters think they have hit a bench press plateau when they really haven't. If they take an honest look at their workout log, odds are they will find progress. It might be "only" 15 pounds in 3 months or "only" 25 pounds in the last 6 months, but it's still progress.
It's not a plateau.
Tip #2 - Have Realistic Expectations
This tip piggybacks on the first - you can't expect to add 100 pounds a year to your bench press. This is an unrealistic goal. It might happen during your first year of benching, but it probably won't happen again.
Here's a tip within a tip: there aren't very many raw, natural 400 pound benchers. At my first 2 powerlifting meets I had the biggest raw bench press of any lifter (my second meet was in the Masters division). I hit 365 and 382.5 pounds.
You might not believe this, but it's true...if you have a 300 pound bench press you're doing very well. Not many men hit a 300 pound bench press, despite what you read on the forums.
After reaching a 300 pound bench press you'll be lucky to add 10-15 pounds a year. Before that point 25-40 pounds a year is very good progress. Doesn't seem like much, does it?
After you get to a 175-200 pound bench press, 25-40 pounds per year might be all you get.
Tip #3 - Train Bench Press More Than Once a Week
Is he advocating overtraining?
No, training the bench press twice a week isn't overtraining if you do it right. Training for absolute strength doesn't require you to bomb and blast your pec muscles with 20 sets each training day. If you pull back your body part blitzing volume, and bring more balance to your upper body work, it will be rather easy to bench twice a week.
It may be beneficial to train in two difference manners, perhaps one day heavy benching and the next speed (dynamic effort) work. Some lifters also add in a second tricep-centric bench session, and blast close grip bench presses.
Some of you may find that more frequent benching yields results, but also creates a few extra strains and pains. If this is the case, consider upping your bench press frequency one month out of every 3 or 4. This will provide you with several months of recovery time.
For examples of very high frequency benching, check out the Smolov Junior bench press guide.
Tip #4 - Increase Your Calorie Intake
Increasing your food intake is one of the best ways to bust out of a plateau and boost your bench press. I suggest doing so hand in hand with a higher frequency specialization period of, say, 1-2 months.
Eat about 500 more calories per day than normal. It doesn't matter how you get these calories, just get them.
Over the years my biggest jumps in bench press numbers have also coincided with my biggest periods of weight increase. The more I eat, the faster my bench press seems to go up.
I am certainly not calling for you to "go sumo wrestler." If you want to get very aggressive with your food intake while using a program like Smolov Junior it might be beneficial. But in general I recommend monitoring your food intake so you don't go overboard.
Tip #5 - Improve Your Bench Press Form
In my opinion the bench press is probably the hardest powerlift to master. I have agonized for years over its nuances, while feeling strong, confident and natural on deadlifts and squats.
The truth is that most of us have sub-par bench press form. For the most part we learned our current bench press form by simply plopping our butts on the bench and just trying to push the weight off our chest. While this works, it's horrible (and generally shoulder-destroying) form. Bad form is usually characterized by:
- Arms flared close to 90 degrees.
- Back flat.
- Back relaxed.
- No lower back arch.
- No leg drive.
- No overall body tightness.
- Death grip on the bar.
I've been lifting for a couple years now and am in a 6 month plateau for bench and deadlift. 345 bench and 450 deadlift.
39 years old
I just started eating 800-1000 more calories a day , (4000) so I'm hoping that change will jumpstart some gains
My son is 15 and has been steadily training for just over a year. He is 170lbs and 5'8". He is frustrated at his bench. He maxed out at 260 6 weeks ago and made no increase this last time. He has a very good strength and conditioning coach he works with 6 days a week (4 days strength and conditioning, 2 days speed and agility). Thanks for the tips to break a plateau. I like the idea of looking at a larger span of time to see increases...he has come a long way in a year. Any other advice I can pass on?
Hi Steve, great article, im just a little confused with keeping your back relaxed and planted flat. I have read in many articles to arch you lower back and keep your shoulder blades pulled tight? is this method of arched back and blades tight just a way to push more with no strength increase? Thanks.
Defeating a sandwich, only makes it tastier.
Don't let me catch you on my earf again!
Stever - What do you mean by "Death grip on the bar"? I was taught to squeeze the bar with all I've got and to "pull the bar apart." This is what many of the top "experts" teach. Do you disagree? Thx.
I'm a 67 yr. old lifter, and former power lifter. I don't compete anymore, but still do the power routine. I justhave substituted zerchers and leg presses for lower body workouts. I just did a personal best with zercher, which was 3 sets x 5 with 240#. About 3 yrs. ago, I suffered a complete avulsion of my right tricep tendon. It was corrected by surgery, but I'm really weak on that side when I try to bench. I'm doing tons of assistance work (floor presses, reverse/close grip, etc.) but just can't overcome this. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Whats wrong with a "death grip"? My bench seems far more stable when I am purposely squeezing the bar hard.
Sorry if this is spam, but I had a question about a dumbbell workout you posted a while ago: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/dumbbell-only-home-or-gym-ful.... I'm not sure if the comment is up yet, but basically I was wondering about supersets. If I were to do 12 tricep extension and then 20 tricep dips, would that count as one set? Should all exercises be done that way? What are some good superset combinations with the exercises in the workout?
I'd be really grateful if you answered.
Ha, I used to keep a log and saw a lot of improvement. I was thinking about bringing it back just as I saw it as the first tip. Thats a sign from the powerlift Gods, thanks
Hi Steve, I keep getting stronger and stronger, but my problem is I gain a little fat with muscle, but it seems like my pecs get bigger and there is a little fat on top of them. This makes them look a little saggy/ man boobish. Even though they are solid and hard to the touch, they have some roundness to them (fat). I would like to see what variations I could do to give them more of a powerful shape. In addition to reducing calories to lose the excess fat.
Right now I mostly do flat bench, chest flys, incline BB bench, some decline bench. I can do about 33 push ups in a row without stopping also
What is your current height, weight and age?
I'm 24 years old, 262 pounds, about 6' tall exactly
hey steve can u put together a routine for me imma college athlete in my last year looking to get stronger
What is your experience level?
Dude! Show The Bearded Beast of Duloc some respect! Drop and give him 50.
Oh yea keep your arms flared 90 degrees, tear rotator cuff and never bench again, good plan
I listed that as bad form.
Some people don't pay attention to detail Steve. Thanks for the great info. I myself had a learning experience the other day while working my chest. I'm doing a 10 week muscle gainer routine that I got off M&S and it's working great! Well the other day it was chest and tricep day, and all the bench's were taken, so I decided to train my triceps first. After my tricep workout, went to start my chest workout. I laid down on the bench and could barely get the damn bar off the rack, and this was for my warmup set! Omg, I was so embarrased. Lesson learned, never do your tricep workout first when putting on mass, because you will have no power for your chest workouts. Again, thanks for the tips Steve.
At least read the article if you are going to scrutinize it..
A good plan for YOU,A Person, would be to brush up on your reading comprehension skills before make ignorant comments you tool.