A Must Read If You Have A Stalled Bench On Starting Strength

July 5th 2019

On Starting Strength, it is not uncommon to have a stalled bench press. But what can you do? And is it your fault or Starting Strength’s fault? In this article, we will go into the details of why you are stalled on your bench press and what you can do in order to never have it happen again.

Starting Strength Bench Press Stall

If you are stalled on your bench press during Starting Strength, you need to look at your form first. Look to optimize your form and slowly tweak your technique so that you can maintain tension during the entire bench press movement.

Why Am I Stalled On My Bench Press?

If you are stalled on your bench press as a beginner, you need to fix your form. Other possible reasons for a stalled bench press include not eating at a caloric deficit or not having realistic training goals.

100% Bad Form

Are you retracting your scapula? 

Are you tight on the bench press?

Are you using leg drive?

These are just a fraction of the many questions I also had to answer when I was re-evaluating my bench press form. 99 times out of 100, I had some issues with one of these questions. 

If you are a beginner in strength training, you may be unaware of these issues as well. If you had an experienced lifter guiding you through the process, you may be in luck. But it takes a lot of skill and patience in order to nail down a solid bench press form. 

It requires a certain attention to detail that many lifters do not have when they first join the gym. For a lot of lifters when the start doing Starting Strength, they just want to get stronger and increase their functional strength. Very few will think about the intricate details of how to become efficient in a compound movement.

Do not get me wrong. For some lifters, compound movements will click and their progress will accelerate. But for a majority of lifters, they will suck and will wonder if the program sucks.

Once again, let us reiterate this theme - ALL PROGRAMS WORK.

My number one suggestion is that you take a look at your bench press form and dissect your technique like a scientist. Analyze every single part of the bench press so that you know there is no room for error.

Before starting to bench press

Before you even start to bench press, you need to make sure you are symmetrical. You have the appropriate grip. According to studies done, an optimal bench press grip would be 1.5x-2x your shoulder width. So, let us keep that in mind when selecting your main grip.

Your legs should be already digging and pushing into the ground. Your scapula should be retracted and depressed. 

And all of this happens before you even move the barbell. So, you are building up an enormous amount of tension and power. This is the initial stage before a big bench.

The unrack

This is another area where many lifters lose their power and tightness. When they unrack the barbell, their shoulders get untucked, lose tightness in their upper back, or a combination of the two. 

Another symptom that can happen is that you find that you are spending too much energy unracking the barbell. This usually happens before you are too far away from the barbell. You probably heard of the cue to have your eyes on the barbell when you unrack. In reality, this is not good advice. When doing a self-unrack, I tend to have the barbell around my mouth and nose area. I found that at this position, I expend a lot less energy trying to unrack a heavy bench press working set.

The key for a successful unrack is to not lose any momentum from your initial setup. We want to make sure we are still maintaining tension throughout our whole body even after the bar is unracked. 

When doing a self-unracked, you want to try to pull the bar out instead of pushing it up and out. When you push the barbell up, you can lose some upper back tightness since you are moving your retracted shoulder in the opposite direction to have them become unretracted. Having a spotter can alleviate this issue but you should learn how to do a self-unrack. Will your buddies always bail you out when you are doing a heavy bench press?

Actually bench pressing

You should also maintain tension throughout your whole body while doing your reps. Here, some lifters allow their shoulder to round forward or they tend to ease off on their leg drive.

Make sure to make a conscious effort to remember your cues so that you can be in the best position to hit all your working set reps.

You are not gaining weight

A major part of Starting Strength formula to success is that you gain weight. (That was a joke.)

But seriously though, the biggest goal Starting Strength has to offer to novice lifter is to get them big and strong in the shortest time possible. How is that achieved?

By eating at a caloric surplus and by training with a linear progression program. Once you got your form nailed down, you can expect massive gains 

You are not realistic with yourself

If you have been progressing with Starting Strength for the last several months, followed the deloads, and are still stuck? There is no shame in realizing that you may need to try something new.

I learned this the hard way when I tried to do a linear progression style program for more than 6 years and I kept running myself into the ground. I thought the training was supposed to be tough but it left me really beaten up. Then, I saw a lot of positive training experiences from other programs and sort of changed my perception of programming drastically. Now, I run 5/3/1 but have been incorporating a lot of tactics from 5/3/1 Forever, Jim Wendler’s newest book.

But this is after months and years of training the same way. If you are only a couple of weeks in and you have already started to stall on your bench press, go back and fix your form. Read the Starting Strength manual and make sure you actually commit to the programming. Learn all the strengths and weaknesses of the program before you whine and complain that it is not working for you. 

How To Never Have A Stalled Bench Press

Programming Appropriate For Your Gym Experience

If you a beginner, a linear progression program will get you results the quickest. However, as you become more experienced, programs like 5/3/1 Forever trump linear progression. 

But do not get it twisted - you need to earn your stripes. What I mean is that if you are only 6 months into lifting weights, you cannot use Ed Coan’s personal program and expect that to work for you. Sure, he may share advice on how he was able to crush old PRs and how he trained through plateaus. 

But take his advice with a grain of salt. He has decades of training experience over you. Your main goal should be to be consistent and to make sure that you are not ego-lifting. As you become more in-tuned with your compound movements, you can begin to explore other areas of lifting, such as programming, advice from older lifters, etc. 

Eat, eat, eat.

Common theme, eh? Very self-explanatory. If you want to lift big, you need to eat big. There is no coincidence that the heavier lifters also have the biggest bench presses in the world. Depending on your goals, this can be something you want to implement in your life.

And no, this does not mean eat sweets, cakes and ice cream. You need to eat wholesome foods like steak, chicken, rice, and beef.

Be patient

Look, it is not the end of the world if you get stuck on your bench press. You need to make sure you stay calm, assess the situation and come up with a new plan. Let us say this is your first stall on your bench press with Starting Strength, what would you do? 

Follow your deload protocols and quit whining.

The advice changes when you are months or even years into Starting Strength and you have deloaded multiple times and you are still stuck at the same weight, what do you do then?

First, read the Starting Strength manual for a list of queries to do after Starting Strength. You really need to assess your entire situation and decide whether or not you want to continue with a modified Starting Strength program or do something entirely different. 

Because at this point, you have become too advanced for a novice program and your time would be better spent if you could do another program more suited for your experience level.

Final Thoughts

Strength training is not linear. Breaking a plateau is not linear. Though linear progression is the fastest way people can increase their strength and size, it is not sustainable for a long time. So, when you do get stuck on a particular lift, you need to make sure that your mind is in the right place.

Especially with a novice program like Starting Strength, I found that either lifters enthusiastically advocate the program or they despise it. Try to look past the ultra highs and the super lows and you will see that there is a lot potential for you to grow and to get stronger.

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