The bench press is a critical exercise for almost anyone who lifts weights. It works your chest, shoulders, and triceps. The bench press is one of the lifts contested in powerlifting, and bodybuilders use it to build bigger pecs.
It’s even part of the NFL Combine, during which players have to see how many reps they can do with 225lbs/100kg. The current record is an astonishing 49 reps!
Bench pressing is also popular with recreational exercisers, and even non-lifters will want to know how much you can bench press. Because the bench press is such an important exercise, many people use it to measure their progress. If bench press performance is steadily improving, all is right in the world.
Ironically, the bench press is actually a relatively new exercise and only came into being during the early 1950s. Before this, bodybuilders did dips and push-ups for their chests, and anyone who wanted to lift weights while lying on their backs did floor presses.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and the bench press is arguably the most popular barbell exercise on the planet. But, what should you do if your progress stalls and you hit a bench press plateau?
Use the strategies in this article to bust through your training plateau and get your bench press mojo back.
Bench Press Plateau
What Is A Bench Press Plateau?
A bench press plateau describes any time that your bench press progress grinds to a halt. Ideally, you should be able to increase your weights or doing more reps week after week.
Sometimes, your progress will be fast and in large jumps. Other times it will be slower and less dramatic.
However, providing you train hard, eat right, and respect your body’s need for rest, you should see noticeable progress.
You’ve hit a plateau if your progress stalls for more than a couple of weeks. In some cases, you’ll start making progress again without doing anything; you just hit a minor speedbump. Other times, you’ll need to be more proactive to overcome whatever it is that’s preventing you from progressing.
Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to get your bench press progress back on track.
Why Does It Happen?
Progress plateaus happen for a range of reasons. It’s worth knowing the most likely causes of plateaus so you can avoid them in the first place. Remember, too, that if your bench press has stalled, your progress in other lifts may also hit a plateau.
Common reasons for plateauing include:
You may have stopped progressing because you don’t bench press as efficiently as you should. For example, if you fail to brace your abs and arch your lower back, you’ll lose power and stability, which could stop you from lifting more weight or doing more reps.
The bench press is a compound exercise, which means it involves several joints and lots of muscles working together. If just one muscle in the kinetic chain is weak, you may find that you are unable to add more weight to the bar. Common weak links include the triceps, lats, and rotator cuff.
You Aren’t Eating Enough
It takes mass to move mass, and it’s no coincidence that the biggest benchers in the world are large and muscular. You may need to build more muscle to break out of your current training rut, and that means eating more.
You Aren’t Getting Enough Rest
Rest and sleep put back into your body what training takes out. Your workouts break your muscles down, and you need to get plenty of rest and sleep for repair and growth to occur. If you are partying all night, not getting at least eight hours of sleep, or otherwise burning the candle at both ends, your progress is more likely to stall.
If you shoulder press on Monday, train your triceps on Tuesday, and then bench press on Wednesday, it’s no wonder you are stuck in a training rut.
That’s three pressing workouts in a row, so by the time you do your bench press workout, you won’t be able to perform as well as you should. A few poor-quality workouts in a row will soon undermine your progress.
How to Break Your Bench Press Plateau?
The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to bust through a bench press plateau. Use the following strategies to get your bench press moving again.
1. Bench Press Twice a Week
If you want to get better at bench pressing, you should bench press more often. Most top benchers train this key exercise twice a week, e.g., Monday and Thursday. Some even bench press three times a week, e.g., Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Don’t do the same bench press workout each time you train. Instead, use a different variation or a different set and rep scheme to prevent boredom. For example:
- Bench press 5 sets of 5 reps
- Incline dumbbell presses 4 sets of 8 reps
- Triceps pushdowns 3 sets of 12 reps
- Close grip bench press 4 sets of 6 reps
- Dips 4 sets of 10 reps
- Skull crushers 3 sets 15 reps
2. Work On Your Weaknesses
Powerlifters use assistance exercises to maintain their bench press progress. These exercises are chosen specifically to eliminate the weaknesses that could otherwise undermine your bench press progress. Common bench press assistance exercises include:
- Close grip bench press
- Floor press
- Paused bench press
- Spoto press
- Board press
- Plyo push-ups
- Bench press with bands or chains
- Dynamic bench press
Adding 2-3 assistance exercises to your bench press workouts could help fix whatever it is that’s holding you back.
3. Build a Stronger Back
While the bench press is a chest and triceps exercise, you also need a strong back to bench press big weights. Your back provides the platform for your other muscles, and if your back isn’t up to the task, your progress will soon stall. Build a strong, muscular back by training it at least as hard as you train your chest.
Rowing exercises are generally best because they work the muscles that directly oppose those used during bench presses. Good back builders include:
- Bent-over rows
- Pendlay rows
- Kroc rows
- Yates rows
- Chest supported dumbbell rows
4. Learn The Leg Drive
Bench presses are clearly an upper-body exercise. However, you’ll be able to bench more if you actively use your legs. This is called a leg drive. Using your legs increases stability, so you can focus all your energy on pressing the bar up and off your chest.
To use your legs, make a conscious effort to press your feet into the floor as you lower the bar and then push even harder as you drive it back up. Do not move your feet or allow your butt to lift off the bench. Instead, imagine you are trying to transfer power from your legs to your upper body.
5. Learn To Arch And Stay Tight
A good bench press starts with a proper starting position. You can’t just unrack the bar and hope for the best. Follow these steps to increase tension and create an arch that will allow you to lift heavier weights.
- Lie on the bench with your eyes directly under the bar. Reach up and grab the bar with your usual grip. Clench your fists tightly.
- Place your feet on the bench and lift your hips up. Drive your upper back into the bench.
- Step off the bench and place your feet on the floor while maintaining the tension in your legs. There should be a clear arch under your lower back. Lift your chest up toward the ceiling.
- Drive your feet into the floor.
- You should now feel tension throughout your body. Unrack the bar and bench press while maintaining this tension. Done right, bench presses are a full-body exercise!
6. Try Some Supplements
You’ll need a well-balanced diet to build muscle and power yourself through your workouts. Eat plenty of natural carbs, protein, and healthy fats, with little or no processed foods. There are also some supplements that could boost your bench press performance and maintain your progress:
- Fat Burner
- Protein powder
- Branched-chain amino acids
- Post-workout recovery drinks
Note: These supplements won’t do much if you aren’t training hard, getting enough rest and sleep, and eating healthily. But, if you are doing all these things, some well-chosen supplements could give you a welcome boost.
A lot of lifters really care about their bench press performance. Powerlifters do bench presses competitively, and bodybuilders and other exercisers measure their progress by the weight on the bench press bar.
However, as important as the bench press undoubtedly is, weight and repetition increases are not always linear. You may find that you improve week by week for months at a time and then really have to fight for any improvements after that.
You may even find your progress grinds to a complete and utter halt: the dreaded bench press plateau. Worse still, you could start getting weaker!
If you are stuck in a bench press rut, there are several things you can do to restore your momentum. Eating and resting more often helps, as does bench pressing more frequently.
It’s also worth analyzing your technique to make sure you aren’t inadvertently sabotaging your own progress. You may benefit from some accessory exercises to target any of the weak links that may be holding you back.
If none of that works, perhaps it’s time to take a break from the bench press for a few weeks. You may be plateauing because you are overtrained. When this happens, the only viable solution is time off.
You can still work your chest using alternative exercises, but a break from the barbell bench press could be exactly what’s needed.
After this break, you should find that you can start making progress again.