Are you stuck on your bench press? Find out how to break through your bench press plateau. If you’ve been lifting for any length of time, you might find your progress stalling. You will feel like you are doing everything right – you are putting in the work, you’re resting. Maybe you changed your program and took advice from seasoned lifters. Maybe you adjusted your technique. You still find yourself not progressing at a pace that you think would be reasonable for the effort you are putting in.
You’re in a plateau.
Don’t stress. This is common. This is some thing that every lifter will experience. Above all, don’t quit. Keep training. Read a few of the pointers below to find out how you can work through this and come out of your plateau stronger.
What is a Bench Press Plateau
If you are wondering, “why is my bench press not increasing?” let’s first address if you’re actually plateauing, or just seeing stalled progress for some reason. Sometimes when you have a few suboptimal training sessions, it can seem worse than it is.
Ideally you are following a training schedule. This would allow you to train hard and train smart, and actually track your progress. If you are following a program and not just haphazardly winging it, yet still not seeing progress, let’s look at other factors.
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Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep, lack of adequate rest, and over- or under-training can all affect your lifting progress. Every person is different and in a different phase of life, so look honestly at your weekly schedule and assess all of these factors. Consider if you also have a physically demanding job or if you have children in a busy phase of life. You might not be able to alter these things, so consider how you can optimize your time in the gym to lift enough, and rest enough.
Ensure you are eating well too. You’ll want to make sure you are eating enough calorically, and also eating enough protein. Estimates from experts who understand lifting are around 1.2-1.6 g/kg bodyweight per day. That sometimes takes some planning but is entirely possible.
Bench Press Plateau Break Through Tips
I hope your lifting career is a lifelong one! It certainly can be. And as such, it is a constant game of working hard, adjusting, and learning as new challenges present themselves.
Below are a number of ideas on how to break through your bench press plateau, ranging from technical tips, programming tips, and more.
Work your Whole Body
This one may sound counterintuitive, but to progress as a lifter, you need to work your whole body. Hopefully this is not an issue you are having, but sometimes lifters skew toward their favorite lifts and train their favorites harder.
In the long run, this will not lead to maximal growth, size, or strength.
Make sure you are getting compound lifts such as squats and deadlifts, not just leg press and isolation machines. Ensure you are doing heavy back work as well.
Think about it: some people are bench specialists, or deadlift specialists, but the elite ones don’t have gigantic weak spots. When have you seen a 700+ plus puller with skinny arms? I don’t know a big bench presser with tiny legs.
Train your whole body and you’ll be happy with your progress!
Work on Technique
The bench press is highly technical and improving your technique can increase your capacity. Several technical factors of the bench press will be unique to your body and your leverages, and some will be your preference. For example, if you have a thick chest and torso, and short arms, you are made for bench pressing. If you are tall with long arms, your bench press will have many more inches to travel.
You are given the body you are given, so in the meantime, you can choose how you would like to set up. A very narrow grip will be a harder angle to press. A wide grip allows you to be in a stronger position, and a position in which the bar has a shorter distance to travel. Most people bench at a grip wider than shoulders, but it is your choice how wide you set up.
Likewise it is your choice how much you arch in the bench press. The arched position allows for a stronger set up, increased utilization of the lower pec muscles, and again, a shorter range of motion. The arch is safe and will allow for higher bench press numbers. It is your choice how you would like to bench on the continuum between flat back benching and a high arch.
Finally, there are many technical angles you can work on such as specifics of your set up, arch, grip, and optimal bar path.
Bench pressing often improves from more bench pressing, but you’ll want to add in some supplemental lifts too. Partial reps, dumbbell work, board presses and Spoto presses can help grow your bench press.
Continue working your bench press as you have been, but experiment with adding in some of these accessory lifts. Be sure to add in triceps work as well. Stronger triceps will help with a stronger bench press.
Change It Up
Hopefully you are following a smart program that will take you through well designed progressions. This means some of your exercise parameters will change, but you will not be going through crazy, random changes each week.
For example, to change the stimulus, you might decrease your reps as you increase in the weight. The timing of this will depend on whether you are peaking for a meet or competition. If you have plenty of time away from a competition, experiment with changing the set/rep scheme, such as moving from a 5×5 to 5×3 with heavier weights. That is just one example, any how you adjust your sets and reps will obviously depend on what you are doing now.
As accessory work after your main bench work, you can add in paused reps or tempo work. These can increase time under tension, causing a different stimulus.
Pro tip: if you are working your bench press hard, don’t neglect back! Your shoulders and lifts will thank you! Get your rows and pulls in!
Find a Program
The best thing you can do for breaking up a bench press plateau, and making progress overall, is following a good program. A program will help you workin a way that challenges you, balances you (upper/lower body, pushing/pulling), doesn’t neglect any fundamental movements or lifts, and allows you to reach your potential.
Don’t waste your time and energy hopping around the gym and guessing about what to do. Reach out to a trainer who coaches what you want to learn, and use their hours and hours of study, coaching and experience to get where you want to go faster. Even if you budget for a few focused training sessions, a coach can help you.
About the author
Kathryn Alexander is a strength coach and personal trainer in Austin, Texas. She loves hiking, college football, and the feel of a perfectly knurled barbell. Read more about Kathryn here.