My Bench Press Won't Increase, What Gives? Here's What To Do
February 25th 2020
These are several strategies you can work on to increase your bench press:
- Give it time to progress, utilize slow and steady gains
- Have perfect technique and leverages
If you have been following Starting Strength, or any other strength program for a while, you might have reached a point where no matter what you do, you can’t progress on your bench press.
You might feel like you are doing everything right, but you are still stalling.
Luckily, this is a normal part of the lifting experience and is something that even advanced lifters experience.
This phenomenon is called a plateau.
A plateau is when you reach a point in your lifting career where you feel like you are unable to progress on a lift.
You may be stuck on the same weight for a week or even a month.
In order to break a plateau, we must first understand what causes it.
The cause of the plateau may be due to a couple of factors.
These factors are:
- Poor sleep
- Poor diet
- Poor programming
- Poor form
All these factors must be optimized in order for you to prevent plateauing for as long as possible.
The first thing you must do to overcome your plateau is to start evaluating all these factors and see which ones you can improve on.
The two most common factors that beginners can easily fix are poor sleep and poor diet.
Sleep is important for replenishing energy, for building muscle, and for proper hormonal balance.
Diet is very important for replenishing energy, giving our bodies the proper nutrition it needs to grow, and also for proper hormonal balance.
By going to bed earlier, or by getting in an extra protein shake, you may find you are able to lift a lot more weight the next day.
The amount of energy you have is very important in how you perform on a lift.
The next factor is poor programming.
Poor programming will cause you to plateau if your program is not giving you enough volume, frequency, or intensity in order to build muscle.
It might also cause you to plateau if the training protocol has you increase the weight too much too fast.
This is also another easy one to fix by following an effective, and proven strength program such as Starting Strength.
Poor programming could also cause you to plateau if you are not following it the way it was designed.
If you are constantly skipping days or are cutting half of your workout due to lack of time, you shouldn’t be surprised if the program is not working and you start plateauing.
So, pick a program that is suitable for you and your schedule, and stick to it.
The third factor that may be causing you to plateau is poor form.
Poor form will cause you to plateau if you are not lifting as efficiently as possible.
If every week, you are lifting with a different grip or a different bar path, it’s no wonder why you are plateauing each week.
You want your bench press form to be consistent week by week.
Altering one factor such as your grip can make the lift harder because it changes what muscles you use.
A good analogy for this is shooting a basketball.
All the top shooters have the same form every time.
They have the same form in practice, during the game, and during free throws.
As a result, they have a high chance of getting the ball in the basket.
Let’s say you are starting to learn basketball and your shooting form is different every time.
Your elbow is in this position during one shot, your wrist is like this during another, how will you become a better shooter if your form is different with every single shot.
If you want to become a better shooter, you must have the same form every single time.
The same thing applies for the bench press.
If you want to have a stronger bench press, you must be performing the bench press the same way every single time.
To fix this, you can read our articles, or watch some videos to learn how to perform the bench press correctly.
You can also add in accessory exercises to help fix your weak points.
These are the main factors in your current state that you want to constantly evaluate in order to prevent plateaus and to ensure you are progressing adequately.
It is very important to keep these causes under control because they have a big impact on how we perform in the gym.
Take, for example, you stay up late to study the day before you perform the bench press. Your body is fatigued, and your stress hormones are elevated which inhibits testosterone (primary hormone for building muscle) release.
This will have a huge impact on your performance.
That why it is so important for beginner lifters to understand these factors, and to get them in check.
Understanding these factors will help you progress far more than any other accessory exercise that you can add to your program.
But what if you have adequate sleep, diet, form, are following a proven program and are still plateauing?
What could be the cause then?
The reality is, even when you have all these factors in check, it will still take time for you to progress because of the reality of muscle building.
Giving it time to work
Let’s just get this out of the way, if you are expecting your bench press to explode upward, there is very small chance of that happening.
What is more likely to happen is that you can dedicate several months of training smartly and injury-free.
From your dedication and hard work, you can slowly increase your bench press.
This is not a few weeks of effort though many Instagram lifters may want you to believe.
For a lot of people who are not on a caloric surplus, this is not even a few months of effort.
This takes long term planning and learning how to build strength, not test it for your ego.
Technique is key
Here is a video explaining some technique cues you can work on:
The overall message?
Your technique can be a lot better even though you have been strength training for one year.
There is a lot about bench pressing you have not unveiled.
So, stay hungry for information and always experiment and question your sources.
The reality of muscle building
You could be plateauing because you simply need more time.
Building muscle takes time.
Even if you are doing everything properly, it will take time for your body to build the muscle required to lift more weight.
Think about it this way, until now you might have been progressing 5 lbs every week on the bench press.
In one year, if you continue to add 5 lbs to your bench each week, you will add +260 lbs to your bench!
If you started at one plate (135 lbs), you will reach almost 400 lbs in one year.
There is no way for someone to increase their bench by this high of an amount in such a short period of time.
It is not physically possible.
A more realistic time frame is that the person progresses until they reach a plateau, and then their progress starts to slow.
Let’s say you can progress from 135 lb to 225 lb by adding 5 lbs per week.
Once you reach this point, it starts taking you 2 weeks to add 5 lbs.
And then after 275 lbs, it starts taking you a month to add 5 lbs.
This is a more realistic notion of how your strength will progress over time.
You might think you are plateauing, but if you have all the other factors under control, you might just be reaching near your genetic potential.
Look at this graph to get a better idea of the plateau process.
Plateauing is a normal part of every program is something that even experienced lifters face.
Building muscle takes time. Most lifters never reach 400 lbs in their bench press, even after training for more than 5 years.
If you are expecting this progress in 1 year, you should check your expectations.
So, once you reached the point where it takes longer and longer to increase your bench press, what can you do to ensure you are still making progress?
What you can do to ensure progress is to continuously work on your form and to focus on increasing the size of your muscles.
By continuously honing your form, you will be able to maximize the amount of energy you are using to lift the weight.
You can accomplish this by adding in accessory work such as paused bench press, pin press, incline bench press, etc. to train your weak points.
You can check out our article on bench press accessories here.
By increasing the size of your muscles (pecs and triceps), you are increasing the amount of force your muscles can generate allowing you to bench more.
You can do this by performing high repetition exercises targeting the chest and triceps.
Here are some strategies advanced lifters can implement to achieve these goals.
Strategies for advanced lifters to improve their bench
For advanced lifters looking for ways to improve their bench, I would put my efforts on the spoto press and the floor press.
Both exercises will improve your form on the regular bench press, as well as increase the size of your chest and triceps.
The spoto press
The spoto press is an exercise that helps improve the amount of control you have when performing the bench press.
It is basically a paused bench press but the pause occurs 1-2 inches above your chest. This is to ensure that you aren’t resting the weight on your chest. Perform this with a 2-3 second pause.
This exercise requires you to have adequate strength and control to hold the weight in the position for a short duration of time.
In addition, this exercise takes out momentum which you might be using while performing the bench press, ensuring that most of the force is generated from your muscles.
Perform this exercise with high weight and with low repetitions just like for the standard bench press (ex: 3 x 5).
The floor press
The floor press is another exercise that works to increase the size of your muscles and improve your form.
The floor press is simply a bench press performed on the floor rather than on a bench.
By doing so, you are decreasing the amount of leg drive you are using in your lift.
This ensures that all the force you are using to lift the weight is being generated from your chest and triceps.
This exercise also improves the amount of control you have when the bar is descending because you don’t want to slam your elbows into the ground.
This is called the eccentric phase of the bench press, and it is during this phase that more muscle damage can occur, allowing you to build more muscle.
This exercise should be performed in high repetitions in order to maximize the amount of muscle you are building.
Both these exercises serve to improve your form during the regular bench press and to increase the size of your muscles.
With that being said, what are some good programs to follow for those looking to bring up their bench?
Recommended program for those trying to increase their bench
For those looking to increase their bench press, I recommend following Jonnie Candito’s advanced bench press program.
Jonnie Candito is a well-known powerlifter in the fitness industry and has released a variety of programs designed to help you achieve what he has achieved, a 350 lb bench press.
This program is what Jonnie followed after he stalled one entire year making 0 progress on his bench press.
By following this program, he was able to increase his bench by 30 lbs without gaining a single pound in weight.
Simply input the amount of weight you are currently lifting, and your goal weight and the program calculates the weight and rep schemes for you.
Another bench press program I would recommend is Sheiko’s Bench Only Program.
Boris Sheiko is a renowned Russian powerlifting coach who has made several programs for lifters of all levels and purposes.
His bench only program is filled with high volume bench press and bench press accessory exercises designed to help you increase your bench press.
Similar to Jonnie’s program, Sheiko’s program prescribes the amount of weight to lift, and the rep scheme making it easy to follow.