How much ya bench? That’s all the bros care about. So how much does it suck that no matter how hard you try, you’ve been stuck at the same weight for months now? Feel like no matter how hard you try, you just can break through that plateau? What you need to ask yourself is: where is my sticking point? If you can answer that, you can focus on overcoming these issues, and you will find that progressing on bench press will come easy to you once again.
There are really 3 common sticking points in the bench press: right off the chest, just above the chest, and lockout.
Off the Chest: The easiest one to address is off the chest. If you find yourself getting stapled with a certain weight every time you attempt it, it’s simply because you’re not strong enough yet. Instead of getting trapped under 225lbs every time you go for it, bench 210lbs instead. Yes, two plates looks a lot prettier than a plate and change. But in order to get stronger, you need to learn to swallow your ego. Work on adding a rep or two every workout, then once you can move 210 effortlessly for 5 reps, slowly add weight, just 5 or 10 pounds, and repeat. You’ll find that, before you know it, 225 is moving for reps just as easily as 210 did.
Another thing to add to your workouts is a pause in the rep. If you’re a powerlifter, this is something you should be doing anyway, as a paused bench press is what’s judged. Pausing the rep will take a lot of momentum out of the press, making the lift harder, and forcing your body to grow and adapt to it. If you already pause the weight, pause it longer. It’s not unheard of for myself to pause a weight for 5 seconds before pressing. This will teach you to stay tight, and how to successfully explode off the chest. Just make sure it’s a weight you can actually control for the entire duration of the press. Remember, swallow that ego at the door.
Just Above the Chest: If you’re failing the movement inches above your chest, it means you need to work on strengthening your pecs and shoulders. My favorite accessory by far is the Spoto Press. Similar to a board press (but definitely more difficult), you’ll pause the barbell an inch or two above your chest (your sticking point), pause it for about a second or two, then drive it up like you would a normal press. Mastering this lift will greatly help you retain tightness in the bottom of the lift, and help to strengthen the muscles at that point in the movement.
Another accessory that will really help develop the pecs and the shoulders simultaneously is the incline dumbbell press. Pick a weight that’s heavy enough to require some effort, but something you can also do for reps of 8-10. For me, this is about 40-50% of my bench press. Be sure to bring the dumbbells all the way down for a full range of motion. To make it even harder, I love to actually pause the dumbbells on my shoulders, and explode out of the bottom of the lift. This carries over into the violent explosiveness needed in the barbell press.
Finally, something like a pec fly is great for isolating the pecs, and strengthening them exclusively, for when your triceps and shoulders are absolutely destroyed.
Lockout: Have trouble with the top half of the lift? You need to strengthen your triceps. My favorite finisher/overload work for bench press is incorporating Mark Bell’s Slingshot. The Slingshot helps make the lift easier at the bottom portion of the lift by stretching the fabric at the bottom, allowing you to “slingshot” the weight out of the hole. As the bar rises, the weight accumulates and the triceps are put on blast. Usually I’ll work with a weight that’s 5-10% over my working set max. It feels fantastic!
A close second favorite: close grip bench press. By bringing your grip in close to the edge of the knurling, and keeping your triceps tucked through the entire exercise will force your triceps to be the main movers of this press, and will really test your pushing limits!
Another accessory you can add to your routine are pin presses! You’ll need a power rack to do this successfully, and you’ll want to adjust the safeties to a height that’s above the chest, but decently below lockout. This exercise allows you to push heavier weights than you may be used to, really hammering the triceps and the pecs at the top of the movement.
And finally, incorporating actual tricep accessories will help to increase their strength.
Why should you listen to me? I’ve increased my bench press to insane levels as a powerlifter, and most recently, I’ve been able to bench press 375lbs at a bodyweight of 180lbs (seriously, watch below!). Using these accessories and incorporating these lifts into my workout has done wonders for my bench press, and I am confident it will help yours as well.