Are you stuck in a rut? Today I will give you 8 insanely easy ways to crush any bench press plateau!
If you are reading this, then chances are you’ve been stuck on the bench press for a while.
Unfortunately for you, the bench press is one of the toughest lifts to get strong at.
I’ve dealt with my fair share of plateaus and let me tell you..they are a pain in the ass!
Naturally, I’ve always struggled with the bench press due to my orangutan arms and short torso.
Lets just say I won’t be breaking any bench press records anytime soon…
Does this mean you’re doomed to bench 60kg forever? Hell NO.
Remember this, anything worth doing is never easy!
In this article I will share 8 tips that are guaranteed to increase your bench press.
Tip #1| Fix your form
The thing you need to consider above all else is your technique for the bench press.
Staying as tight as possible is the best way to make sustained progress and remain injury free.
If you aren’t
- Retracting the scapula
- Tucking the elbows
- Keeping the wrists straight
- Using leg drive
You are leaking power!
Flaring the elbows and not touching the chest are common mistakes amongst bodybuilders.
Sure, you can make progress for a while but eventually, it WILL catch up to you.
Retract the scapula
The bench press can be extremely hard on the shoulder joint, in particular, the rotator cuff.
This is a small ball of muscle surrounding the shoulder joint, it’s main function is internal and external rotation.
By retracting the scapula you safeguard the shoulders AND reduce the range of motion for the bench press!
A win win right?
Skip to 2.08 for a quick demonstration.
Tuck the elbows
Flaring the elbows is a common mistake which causes two problems:
- It is extremely dangerous on the rotator cuff (can cause impingement)
- Produces a less optimal bar path.
Tucking the elbows is far more efficient for shoulder health and technique.
It’s also important not too ‘over-tuck’ the elbows because it creates a moment arm in the movement.
Mark Bell demonstrates this perfectly in this video.
Skip to 1.18 for a quick demonstration.
Keep the wrists straight
You should always Keep the wrists in line with your forearms and elbows.
This creates a much stronger base to press from and prevents wrist pain.
Use leg drive
Want to squeeze the most out of your bench press?
Use leg drive!
*Try this: Contract the glutes and tuck your legs underneath the bench.
Drive the barbell off your chest and forcefully push down with your legs.
2# Eat more
This seems like a no brainer right?
Being in a calorie deficit is one of the biggest contributors to a bench press plateau.
Gains in bodyweight are largely correlated with increased bench press numbers.
As you increase calorie intake you will inevitably gain some fat.
This is a GOOD THING.
Before you freak out and wave goodbye to your abs, hear me out.
The more fat you have on your body the more favourable your leverages will be for bench pressing.
Having a thicker upper back, glutes and chest will reduce range of motion which equals more weight lifted!
This is why it is extremely difficult to add weight to the bench when dieting, your leverages simply aren’t optimal.
Now, am I saying you should bulk and get fat as hell?
No, of course not.
What I am saying however is that you need to prioritise your goals.
If you are trying to get as strong as possible on the bench press, then adding a little fat to your frame can be beneficial.
On the other side of the coin, if your main goal is to stay ‘shredded’ year round then you should be recomping.
Use this calculator to establish your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) and eat 200 calories above your maintenance calories.
#3 Periodise your workouts
Ah the good old days when you could stroll into the gym and hit a PR every session!
As a novice adding weight to the bench is easy.
You lift heavy weight, recover and get stronger.
Pretty simple right?
Once you are past your ‘noob’ gains however, things get a little more complicated.
Linear progress can only take you so far, eventually you’ll need to periodise your training.
Periodisation refers to a method of organising training.
This involves cycling between training with high volume and intensity.
The most commonly prescribed form of periodisaiton is linear periodisation.
I don’t advocate LP due to it’s many flaws, I would recommend either DUP or conjugate periodisation instead.
A great example of an intermediate program is the Texas method by Mark Rippetoe (uses DUP).
#4 Increase benching frequency
If you wanted to be a champion swimmer would you only swim once per week?
We can apply this same logic to bench pressing believe it or not.
The bench press is a skill that needs to be practised multiple times per week if you want the fastest progress possible.
Bulgarian weightlifters are shining examples of this philosophy.
Bulgarian light training involves lifting 5-7 times per week and specialising in one movement.
The main benefits of a system like this are:
- Maximum specificity: By focusing all your energy on one movement you are able to become technically efficient. All your accessory work will be dedicated to increasing just ONE exercise, this has immediate carryover.
- Maximum frequency: With this system you can train a weak lift upwards of 7 times per week.
How can you apply this to your training?
If you are an average Joe (or Jane) then you probably can’t afford to train 7 times per week…
So how can you implement this into your training?
- Increase frequency to 3x week: If you are only training once or twice per week then add an extra session of benching per week.
- Be as specific as possible: Add lots of accessory work for the bench e.g. tricep work (Jm presses, skull crushers) and shoulder isolation (crucifix holds, face pulls).
#5 Add variations of the bench press
If you’ve been benching for more than 12 months you have likely developed ‘sticking points’.
What do I mean by a sticking point you ask?
Well, the definition of a sticking point is “an obstacle to progress“.
This can mean you are weak off the chest, or maybe you struggle at lockout.
These weaknesses usually manifest themselves in one rep max attempts where technique is crucial.
By addressing these individual weaknesses you can become a stronger bench presser.
You should be including many different variations of the bench press.
How you incorporate these variations in your training will depend on what split you are running and the method of periodisation used.
Exercise rotation is most compatible with conjugate + DUP in my experience.
Here is an example of what variations you should be using based on your own weaknesses:
#6 Do direct tricep work
Direct tricep work is crucial if you want a bigger bench press.
The triceps are a secondary mover in the lift and are very important for optimal lockout strength.
The biggest mistake I see people making is doing tons of high rep pushdowns to ‘feel the pump’.
Tricep pushdowns are all well and good but there are far more specific exercises that you can use.
In my opinion, JM presses are one of the best movements you can do for the triceps.
They are incredibly efficient because they combine an extension and a press into a single exercise.
Another great exercise is the EZ curl skull crusher (although I use DB’s) as they target the medial head of the tricep.
#7 The max effort method
In science and practise of strength training, Dr Zatsiorsky claims there are three ways to build strength:
- Max effort method: Lifting a maximal load against a maximal resistance.
- Repetition method: Lifting a non-maximal load to failure.
- Dynamic effort: Lifting a non-maximal load with maximal speed.
The max effort method is by far the best but is also the most intensive on recovery.
There is a big misconception that maxing out is only ‘ego lifting’ but this is a false assumption.
If you want to get as strong as possible you need to be doing sets of five, triples and even singles.
This will develop maximal neural efficiency and absolute strength.
It’s important you don’t abuse the max effort method as it can lead to CNS (central nervous system) burnout.
If you run a DUP or Conjugate periodization style then it is best to max out on the bench once per week.
For greatest strength development you can max out upwards of 5-7 times per week using the Bulgarian light set up.
I wouldn’t recommend this for novices or early intermediates, however.
#8 Mental toughness
When attempting a new max for the bench press it is easy to have self-doubts.
Your warm ups are smooth, you lift the bar with great technique… but there is still a lingering sense of doubt.
Can you do this?
“Maybe I’m not strong enough today,” you think.
You don’t realise it yet but you’ve already lost this battle.
I don’t want to come across as an expert on mental fortitude, believe it or not, I am human as well!
I suffer these internal battles every time I step foot in the weight room.
The fight between your willpower and self-doubting subconscious is never ending.
All you can do is show up and give it your best.
When attempting a new max for the bench press look at it as a small stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Sometimes it is all in the mind…
The bench press can be a tricky lift to get strong at..
Follow these 8 Tips and your bench press will sky rocket:
- Work on your form: Retract the scapula + Tuck the elbows
- Eat in a surplus: Your pressing strength is greatly influenced by your leverages, put a bit of fat on and the strength will pile on.
- Periodise: Vary your workouts and you will see greater results.
- Bench more often: Benching is a skill, practise and then practise some more!
- Include bench variations: Why stick to the bench press exclusively? Throw in some pause benching and band work to see greater general strength.
- Do direct tricep work: Strengthening the triceps is key to building a bigger bench.
- Max out: Maxing out on the bench isn’t just for an ego boost, it is the best way to get strong as possible!
- Toughen up: Don’t get psyched out by a new PR, execute the lift exactly the way you do in your warm up sets.
Try implementing some of these strategies in your workout program and test your bench a month or two later..
If any of the above tips have helped you bust a bench plateau then give the article a share and comment below 😉