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
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.