Why Is My Bench Press Not Improving? (All The Answers To Smash Through Plateau)
The holy grail for many who train is to have a well-defined, aesthetically pleasing, chiselled chest. The bench press a compound exercise that engages multiple muscle groups, offering a host of benefits from improved upper body strength to enhanced bone health.
However, many individuals find themselves hitting a plateau, unable to increase their bench press weight or reps. If you’re asking yourself, “Why is my bench press not improving?“, you’re not alone.
This article aims to shed light on the common reasons for bench press stagnation and provide actionable tips to help you break through your bench press plateau.
Why Is My Bench Press Not Improving?
The main reason your bench press isn’t improving could be a lack of intensity during workouts. You need to consistently challenge yourself with heavier weights and more difficult exercises to keep progressing. Additionally, incorrect form or technique could also be hindering your progress. Make sure you’re using a full range of motion and paying attention to form cues from a qualified coach or trainer. Finally, if you’re not giving yourself enough time to rest and recover between workouts, your body won’t have the chance to properly adapt and grow stronger. Make sure you’re following a well-designed training program and allowing yourself adequate time to rest between sessions.
Let’s now take a detailed look at each of these points so you can make sure you are doing everything right and giving yourself the best chance to see some gains in your bench press.
Understanding the Bench Press
The bench press is more than just lifting a barbell while lying on a bench. It’s a complex exercise that requires proper form, technique, and understanding of the muscles involved.
The bench press primarily targets the pectoralis major, or the chest muscles. However, it also engages a host of other muscles, including the anterior deltoids (shoulders), triceps brachii, and the latissimus dorsi (back). This makes it a compound exercise, meaning it works multiple muscle groups at once.
The benefits of the bench press are numerous. It helps build upper body strength, contributes to bone health by stressing your upper body bones, and can even aid in improving push-up performance.
However, to reap these benefits and continually improve your bench press performance, it’s crucial to understand and execute the correct form. This includes proper foot placement, grip width, and back positioning.
In the next sections, we’ll delve deeper into the common reasons why your bench press might not be improving and how to address these issues. Stay tuned!
Common Reasons for Bench Press Stagnation
Loose Set-Up: The Importance of Getting “Tight” for the Bench Press
A common mistake many lifters make is having a loose set-up. A loose set-up can lead to instability, reducing the amount of weight you can lift and increasing the risk of injury. Getting “tight” for the bench press is crucial. This means engaging your muscles before you even lift the bar off the rack. It provides a stable base of support, allowing you to push more weight. To get tight, squeeze your shoulder blades together, brace your core, and ensure your feet are firmly planted on the ground.
Improper Foot Position and Wrong Grip
Foot position and grip are two aspects often overlooked in the bench press. Your feet should be flat on the ground, providing stability and allowing you to generate power from your lower body. A narrow or wide grip can affect which muscles are primarily engaged during the lift. A grip that’s too wide puts excessive strain on your shoulders, while a grip that’s too narrow overemphasizes the triceps. Find a grip width that allows you to effectively engage your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Loose Back Syndrome and Lack of a Plan
A loose back or lack of back engagement can lead to a weak bench press. Your back, especially your upper back, provides a stable platform from which to press. Engage your back muscles by squeezing your shoulder blades together throughout the lift.
Moreover, not having a structured workout plan can lead to stagnation. A good plan progressively increases the weight or volume over time, helping you to continually challenge your muscles and make gains.
Overtraining and Its Effects on the Nervous System
Overtraining is a common pitfall for many eager lifters. While it’s important to challenge your muscles, not giving them enough time to recover can lead to stagnation or even regression in your lifts. Overtraining can tax your nervous system, leading to decreased performance. Ensure you’re taking adequate rest days and not always lifting at your maximum capacity.
The Role of the Upper Back in Bench Press and the Impact of a Weak Upper Back
The upper back plays a crucial role in the bench press. A strong upper back provides a stable platform for you to press from, helps keep your chest up during the lift, and aids in controlling the barbell. If your upper back is weak, it can limit your bench press performance. Incorporate upper back exercises like rows and pull-ups into your training regimen to build strength in this area.
The Impact of Failing Too Often and Not Benching Often Enough
Failing too often, or always trying to lift to failure, can hinder your progress. Lifting to failure can be a useful tool, but it shouldn’t be the norm for every workout. It can lead to excessive fatigue, impair recovery, and increase the risk of injury.
On the other hand, not benching often enough can also lead to stagnation. The bench press is a skill, and like any skill, it needs to be practiced regularly. Aim to bench press at least twice a week to continually improve your technique and strength.
How to Improve Your Bench Press Performance
Proper Bench Press Form and Technique
Proper form and technique are paramount when it comes to improving your bench press performance. Here are some key points to consider:
- Foot Placement: Keep your feet flat on the ground, underneath or slightly in front of your knees. This provides stability and allows you to generate force from your lower body.
- Grip: Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. This allows for maximum engagement of the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
- Elbow Position: Keep your elbows at about a 45-degree angle to your body. This reduces the strain on your shoulders.
- Bar Path: The bar should move in a slight arc, from your lower chest at the bottom to above your shoulders at the top.
- Back Engagement: Keep your shoulder blades squeezed together and your back arched. This provides a stable platform to press from and helps engage the chest muscles.
Understanding Exercise Programming
Understanding exercise programming is crucial for continual improvement in the bench press. A good program will include a mix of heavy days (for strength), volume days (for muscle growth), and light days (for recovery). It should also include accessory exercises to strengthen the muscles involved in the bench press, like the triceps and upper back.
The Importance of Rest Days and Avoiding Overtraining
Rest days are just as important as training days. They allow your muscles to recover and grow stronger. Aim for at least one full rest day between bench press workouts.
Avoid overtraining by listening to your body. If you’re feeling excessively fatigued, struggling to complete your usual workouts, or noticing a decrease in performance, it might be time to take an extra rest day or reduce the volume/intensity of your workouts.
Training the Entire Range of Motion
Training the entire range of motion in the bench press is important for balanced muscle development and improved performance. This means lowering the bar all the way to your chest and pressing it all the way up until your arms are fully extended. Partial reps can be used as a training tool, but the majority of your reps should be full range of motion.
Increasing Bench Press Frequency
Increasing your bench press frequency can lead to improved technique and faster strength gains. If you’re currently benching once a week, try increasing to twice a week. Remember to adjust the volume and intensity of your workouts to accommodate for the increased frequency.
Chest Workout for Maximum Gains
Here is a sample workout routine that can help improve your bench press performance. This routine includes a mix of bench press workouts and accessory exercises to strengthen the muscles involved in the bench press.
Remember, it’s important to start with a weight that’s challenging but allows you to complete the reps with good form. As you get stronger, you can gradually increase the weight.
Day 1: Heavy Bench Press Day
- Bench Press: 5 sets of 5 reps
- Overhead Press: 3 sets of 8 reps
- Bent Over Rows: 3 sets of 8 reps
- Tricep Dips: 3 sets of 10 reps
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Volume Bench Press Day
- Bench Press: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Pull-ups: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Skull Crushers: 3 sets of 10 reps
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Light Bench Press Day
- Bench Press: 3 sets of 15 reps
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Seated Cable Row: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Tricep Pushdowns: 3 sets of 15 reps
Day 6 & 7: Rest
Feel free to adjust it based on your current strength level, available equipment, and personal preferences. Always remember to warm up before your workouts and cool down afterwards. And most importantly, listen to your body and give it the rest it needs to recover and grow stronger.
Why is my bench press so weak?
There could be several reasons why your bench press is weak. It could be due to improper form, lack of upper body strength, not training the bench press frequently enough, or not following a structured workout plan. It’s also important to ensure you’re eating enough and getting adequate rest to fuel your workouts and recovery.
How long does it take to improve bench press?
The time it takes to improve your bench press can vary greatly depending on factors like your current strength level, your workout program, your diet, and how consistently you train. However, with a good program and consistent effort, you should start to see improvements within a few weeks.
How can I drastically improve my bench press?
Improving your bench press drastically involves several factors. These include perfecting your form, increasing your training frequency, incorporating accessory exercises to strengthen the muscles involved in the bench press, following a structured workout program, and ensuring you’re eating enough and getting adequate rest.
Improving your bench press is a multifaceted process that involves more than just adding more weight to the bar. It requires a solid understanding of the exercise, proper form and technique, a well-structured workout program, and adequate rest and nutrition.
Remember, the key to improvement is consistency. Keep showing up, keep pushing yourself, and over time, you’ll break through your bench press plateau.
Whether you’re a beginner just starting out or an experienced lifter looking to hit a new PR, we hope this guide has provided you with valuable insights and practical tips to help you improve your bench press performance. Now, it’s time to put these tips into action and start making those gains!
Is your bench press not improving? Have our tips been beneficial to your training? We’d love to hear your feedback, so please share your thoughts in the comments section below.