Training

Your Three Solutions for Stalling at the Bench Press

July 3rd 2019

For many people who are just beginning to work out at their local gym, or even for those of you who frequently attend the gym or the occasional CrossFit class, it can sometimes be difficult to get stronger or reach a new personal record. Whether your motive for working out is a new, summer beach body, or you’re trying to keep a steady weight, the way in which an exercise is executed is crucial. Many lifters struggle at the bench press, claiming that shoulder pain occurs often and does not go away. A person’s form is one of the most important components of performing a bench press and must be perfected in order to make consistent progress. If this part of your workout is neglected, the risk of shoulder pain or other injuries is inevitable. The good part? It is very simple and easy to fix your form! After this adjustment is made, it will provide a base of stability and safety that will increase the amount of time when lifting the barbell. First, we will analyze what anatomically occurs during a bench press. Second, we will explain why some lifters experience more stall time than others when performing a bench press. Lastly, I will provide you with three methods that will solve your stalling issue at the bench press and hopefully lead you to your new bench press mark!

Why Did I Stall For My Bench Press?

For a beginner, intermediate or even an early advanced lifter, your bench press can stall because you do not have optimal form. Make sure you practice great technique and breathing patterns in order to blow up your bench press. In addition to that, progressive overloading will be the number one driver to get your bench press unstuck.

The Bench Press and How to Perfect It

When people think of a gym, the first exercise that comes to mind is the bench press. The bench press is one of the simplest exercises that incorporate muscles such as the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii. It is a great beginning exercise for anyone working out at the gym for the first time, or for people who want to increase muscular hypertrophy. Not only does the bench press target numerous chest, shoulder, and arm muscles, but it also offers different variations in grips for change in difficulty. This exercise also strengthens the SITS muscles of the rotator cuff (subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor, and supraspinatus), and stabilizes the scapula. 

bench press muscles

Anatomically, the bench press’s prime mover is the pectoralis major. A prime mover muscle is also known as an agonist and is primarily responsible for creating the movement of contraction. In this specific case, the sternal and clavicular heads of pectoralis major will transversely flex the shoulders on the up-phase of the bench press (Lauver 2015, Duffey 2008). The synergists, which aid in the shoulder movement, are the anterior deltoid and the triceps brachii. Specifically, the anterior deltoid participates in transverse flexion and normal flexion of the shoulders. While the lateral and medial heads of the triceps brachii assist in full elbow extension. In order to hold the body steady, some muscles act as stabilizers. The dynamic stabilizers that are noticed are the serratus anterior, biceps brachii, the rotator cuff muscles, and the posterior deltoid (Duffey 2008).

Why Do Some Lifters Get Stuck on The Bench Press Faster Than Others?

The main reason why some lifters might stall on the bench press faster than others is usually due to their form. The form establishes the foundation for the whole exercise when the weight of the barbell is propelled down towards the chest. The big difference between withstanding the weight of that barbell longer than other lifters is due to the barbell height, leg drive, and back arch. For example, if you are utilizing a close grip and are experiencing pain, it is most likely that the role of the pectoralis major and anterior deltoid is decreased which leaves the triceps doing all the work.  

Another example that results in shoulder pain (specifically known as the acromioclavicular joint), is when the barbell is placed too high on the chest. Many lifters fail to realize that these are the issues causing their shoulder pain or other injuries because their bodies cannot sustain the weight, and instead take long breaks from the bench press until the pain is gone. 

These essential components of the bench press that include the barbell height, leg drive, and back arch are required in order to provide a stable, but powerful execution of the bench press. Further discussion of how to fix these parts of the bench press is down below.

The Three Components of the Bench Press and How to Achieve Them 

1) Form

2) Type of Resistance Training

3) Breathing Technique

 

In order to properly perform the bench press, your form is important as well as a full range of motion throughout the entire exercise. First, lie down on your back on a flat bench, and grab the barbell with arms shoulder-width apart and palms facing up towards the sky. 

It is highly recommended that no change in grip or variation of the exercise to increase its difficulty be used because it will be even more challenging to focus on your form. It is better to start simple, and then once your form is perfect, start adding variations. 

Be sure to align the barbell around the nipple line or slightly lower. Next, breathe in. Then while exhaling, lift the barbell towards the ceiling so that your arms reach full extension. Simultaneously, utilize the leg drive which provides a force to counter the weight of the barbell when you bring it down to your chest.  The leg drive also contributes to stabilizing the upper thoracic arch because it creates tension from your legs to your glutes. 

Contrary to popular belief, a back arch that occurs during a bench press is completely normal. In fact, it is necessary. The shoulder blades should be stable and externally rotated so when performing a bench press the tendons surrounding the acromioclavicular joint don’t get pinched and cause impingement. This upper thoracic arch occurs by locking the shoulder blades back to allow for safety, stability, and strength.

 

The second component that one should keep in mind is the type of resistance training that the lifter is following. The principle of progressive overloading is a form of resistance training that is commonly used among athletic trainers, physical therapists, and even Olympic weightlifters. This theory conveys that there is a “need for a greater demand to be placed on the body to see continued increases in performance” (Hernandez 2016).  The process of progressive overloading was observed to be more beneficial when the frequency of training certain muscle groups was increased (Dankel et. al 2016). For instance, if your goal was to strengthen the chest and shoulder muscles, you would have to exercise those muscle groups more often such as three days per week instead of one day per week. 

At the same time, there is more than one way to skin a cat. One of the most important things any lifter can do is to follow your strength programming. Though you may feel that you can handle different stimuli, it may not be the best thing for you when developing your strength. For instance, programs like 5/3/1 Forever only have you performing compound movements once a week. In order to make sure athletes have the proper volume needed for growth, the intensity and volume for each particular day are high.

The four main ways to include progressive overloading into your exercise plan is by integrating better technique/form, heavier weights or increased frequency of exercising certain muscle groups, and then more sets/reps. Each time you emphasize this, your body should be adapting to the new resistance. Thus, if a lifter were to have a longer rest interval, around three to five minutes, it would allow for an increase in gym performance and strengthen the musculoskeletal system. In a recent 2014 study that examined the principle of progressive overloading on a group of 18 female collegiate lacrosse players over a 15-week period by performing upper body and lower body assessments, it was found that performance in bench press had improved significantly from pretest to posttest (Jones 2014). 

Here is an example of a four-week progressive overloading plan, highlighting the bench press.

This four-week progressive overloading plan had focused on increasing reps, which would enhance muscular endurance. However, other modifications like increasing the weight, increasing the frequency of the exercise, or practicing better technique could be an example of a progressive overloading exercise plan.

Week 1: 3 sets x 10 reps x 185 lbs

Week 2: 3 sets x 12 reps x 185 lbs

Week 3: 3 sets x 14 reps x 185 lbs

Week 4: 3 sets x 16 reps x 185 lbs

 

Finally, proper breathing techniques should be integrated into the workout as it is one of the main foundations for safety and stability of the bench press. This is achieved by breathing through the chest and diaphragm as the barbell is lifted towards the ceiling to establish upper thoracic tension. Simultaneously, the leg drive is used to counteract the upper force and create lower body tension.

Conclusion

To conclude, by integrating enhanced form, a different type of training technique, or breathing strategies will result in lasting longer on the bench press and stronger muscular endurance. It is also crucial that the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii is undergoing constant activation to prevent injury. Luckily, the solution to stalling at the bench press isn’t a difficult one; so now you can start working towards that new personal best! 

References

Dankel, Scott J., Kevin T. Mattocks, Matthew B. Jessee, Samuel L. Buckner, J. Grant Mouser, Brittany R. Counts, Gilberto C. Laurentino, and Jeremy P. Loenneke. (2017). Frequency: The Overlooked Resistance Training Variable for Inducing Muscle Hypertrophy. Sports Medicine 5(47), 799-805. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0640-8.

“ExRx.Net : Bench Press Analyses.” Accessed June 30, 2019. https://exrx.net/Kinesiology/BenchPress#RangeMotion

“ExRx.Net : Training Principles.” Accessed June 30, 2019. https://exrx.net/ExInfo/TrainingPrinciples

Hernandez, Dennis J. The Effect of Rest Interval Duration on The Volume Completed During A High Intensity Bench Press Exercise. (2016) Humboldt State University. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/965c/cfe37537e46223a47ce5ef6f557fef6072fa.pdf

Jones, Margaret T. Progressive-Overload Whole-Body Vibration Training as Part of Periodized, Off-Season Strength Training in Trained Women Athletes. (2014).  Journal of Strength. 9(28), 2461–69. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000571.

Muscles Worked image https://www.quora.com/Does-trying-bench-press-set-help-increase-shoulder-overhead-press

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