How To Never Stall On Your Bench Press On 531

July 3rd 2019

Stalling on your bench press is one of the most common complaints lifters have when starting a new program. Especially with beginner and intermediate athletes, their bench press always seems to “get stuck” whenever they try to fix it. With 5/3/1, the program I am currently running, it seems relatively straight forward. That is until you hit a wall. But Jim Wendler cares about the lifting community - he progressed his programming protocols and made sure it can be applicable to all athletes. He published 5/3/1 Forever to clear up many issues in the lifting space. But he has also provided a lot of information on how to never stall and why you should never be stalling if you are on any 5/3/1 variation. 

But you are stuck now and you need to find a quick fix you break through your bench press plateau. So, let us go over the two biggest ways to not stall on your bench press if you are running 5/3/1.

How To Fix A 5/3/1 Bench Press Stall

The biggest reason why lifters stall on their bench press is that they set their training max too high. As a result, subsequent workouts get progressively harder, which ultimately leads to stalling or failed reps due to improper programming.

Stopping setting your training max so high (programming error)

One of the core principles of 5/3/1 is that you honestly assess your capabilities and performance without any emotions. In 5/3/1, you put your actual max and then the program takes 90% of that, which will be referred to as your training max.

This is important because most of your strength will be built from taking 70-90% of your training max. Lifters need to be able to perform a lot of reps with submaximal weight. So, when the time comes to perform on competition day, lifters can expect a stellar performance because their training blocks went so well. 

Faulty programming, in this case setting a training max too high, is a good way to screw your long term progress. Unlike many beginner programs, 5/3/1 sets aside some time, usually several weeks, for you to have a decent size training block to train with. During this period, no reps or sets should be missed and you can build a lot of strength.

Why does a training block matter?

If you are new to lifting, your first few programs will probably not have any training blocks for you to vary. As newer lifters, you do not have the training experience to make that decision. So, it is important for all lifters to be aware and to know how to program themselves. As your body becomes more sophisticated and efficient at the bench press, you will need to spend a bit more time with your programming. 

In my opinion, this is one of the strengths of 5/3/1. Even though the training blocks are already programmed for you, you need to be somewhat analytical in order to maximize your gains on this program. You need to not let ego get in the way and pick a training max that you can get solid reps in, for weeks at a time.


So, what happens if you set your training max too high? It is absolutely a huge mistake if you start to stall during your first 5/3/1 cycle. As you progress through the three-week cycles or other variations, you will find that you will not be able to complete the required reps mid-cycle. This is bad and a huge error on your part. Whatever the circumstance, you need to do a better job thinking long term about your progress. Either you follow the 7th-week protocol listed in 5/3/1 Forever or follow the 5 reps at 95% formula.

Submaximal training, does it work?

Essentially, you are doing submaximal training, which is nothing more than training with weights that are not at your 1 rep max. In order to increase your strength, you need to build it, not test it. With submaximal training, you are frequently training in the sweet spot of 65-85% of your 1 rep max. Usually, in this range, your form should not fairly good, if not perfect. At the same time, your speed and power should be high as well, while still being fairly challenging. With this combination of benefits, there is no doubt that submaximal training works.

However, there is a catch. Lifters must practice delayed gratification if they want to progress with their compound movements. Athletes need to exercise their patience.

Sometimes, it can suck. You feel that you are not doing enough and you have the capacity to do more. I completely understand how you feel. When I first read about sub-maximal training, I thought I could program something myself. I failed but it did teach me something - you will drive yourself mad about programming. 

So, 5/3/1 skips all migraines, headaches, and heartaches. You just need to make sure your training max is not too high and you are golden.

But there may be times where you feel that you may be close to a stall - this is where the strategies of 5/3/1 Forever come into play with the 7th-week protocol. It is essentially a test to see if your training max is too high or just right. 

What to do if I stalled after several cycles of 5/3/1?

If you only picked up the 5/3/1 program online, you are doing yourself a disservice. By getting the book or doing some more detailed research, you should never be stalled out for a lift. Sure, the lifts can be challenging but you should always be killing it in the gym. There could be some good days, bad days but in the end, every day should be a “normal” day. 5/3/1 Forever does a great job for lengthening your program, which is one of the strengths of 5/3/1. You can run it indefinitely.

So, what should you do? Lifters need to understand deload protocols and how to properly set their training maxes. For deloads, I can provide you one example. The standard 5/3/1 deload is after every three weeks. As the program evolved over the years, some athletes may take the standard deload after 2 cycles, which is fine. 

In terms of readjusting your training max, 5/3/1 Forever introduced a 7th-week protocol that does an awesome job making sure that you are not missing reps but still challenging yourself. Using an older standard, Jim Wendler recommended that you should be hitting 5 very, very strong reps at 95% of your training max. So, the question now is what should you do if you did get more than 1 rep, but you only did 2-4 reps?

According to Jim Wendler, you should readjust your training max. You may have read online that you should take only 10% off but that may not be the case for every athlete. You will take as much weight needed. You should be able to hit 5 good reps at 95% of your training max. 

Let us wrap it up

And that is it really. It is about not letting your ego get the best of you. Or if you did not pay attention to programming details, now is the best time to learn from your mistakes and avoid making catastrophic errors that will leave you broken, depressed and exhausted.

Stalling should not be in your vocabulary; it is just something that unaware lifters encounter when they did not understand how to program effectively and efficiently. You should always be training hard. So, let us get these gains. 

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