Overcoming Your Bench Sticking Points

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.

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3 Things I Did to Get a 315lb Bench Press

Bench, FailThat guy bench pressing 325 pounds in the picture? That’s me. I competed in a local raw bench press competition in February 2012, weighing in at an skeletal 149 pounds (I had 4% body fat, to give you an idea of how dense I was). And I pressed 325lbs. And I won best overall.

I used to think that a 225lb bench press (two plate bench press) was simply not in my cards. Then I did it. I never saw myself benching 275lb (two and a half plates). Then I did that. 3 plates? Never in a million years, I’m just too small.

Yep, I did that too.

Just recently, I increased my bench press to 375lbs in a push/pull competition, and this April (2016), I plan to set the Raw Collegiate National bench press record in the 83kg weight class.

So how was I able to reach these goals? How was I able to increase my bench press year after year, even after many have told me that I have reached my peak? Really, I can break it down to three simple, almost common sense reasons:

1) Attack  your weak points

Plateaus happened. The weight would stall for months at a time, and as the weight got heavier, the chance for stalling got greater. So what do you do? Break down the lift, and find out where it falls apart.

I’ll be writing a much more in depth post on overcoming “sticking points” in the bench press, because I feel that I’ve overcome a great deal of them myself. By lifting smart, and changing some variables, you can make the lift temporarily harder in order to make the lift easier down the road. Let me explain.

If you find that, no matter how hard you try, you always fail the lift right off the chest (as most raw lifters do), it means you need to strengthen your pecs. Do this by pausing for 3 seconds instead of 1 second, or by incorporating key accessories into your routine, like dumbbell presses and pec flyes.

Have trouble locking out? Strengthen your triceps! Make the top half of the lift harder by overloading using boards or Mark Bell’s Slingshot. Hammer them with extra tricep isolation exercises! Break them down to create the strongest triceps imaginable.

2) Increase your lifting frequency

If you’re serious about strengthening a certain lift, you need to put the time into it. I used to bench once a week, following the horribly low volume program of 5/3/1. It just wasn’t enough, and for years, my bench hovered around 315-335lbs. When I started benching twice a week, my bench press responded favorably, and jumped to 340lbs, then 350lbs. Now, my bench press has grown to be within pounds of 405lbs, my next big milestone. And I know that, given time, it will fall.

3) Fuel your body

I ate more. More chicken, more beef, more proteins and potatoes. More greens and more oats. When I got to college, suddenly I wasn’t bound to having one dinner. I could eat when my body told me I was hungry.

And my body rewarded me for this. As I took in more protein, and more healthy carbohydrates, my body repaired itself more effectively, and I had more energy in the gym. I would tear down my muscles to the point where I couldn’t even take my shirt off following a workout, and my body would get to work building stronger muscle in its place, because now it had the nutrients to do so.

Fueling your body doesn’t stop at food though. You need to provide your body adequate sleep, so that it can properly utilize those nutrients you’ve given it, and fully repair your body. Sleep is an amazing, and mysterious, part of the day, and it is when you are sleeping that your body does its best to repair itself.

So eat, eat, eat, but also, sleep!