From time to time we all hit a wall in our progression and it can be quite frustrating and even devastating to our motivation and morale. A bench press plateau is nothing abnormal or strange at some point in time it happens to all of us.
It’s just the natural way of things that you can’t keep going and improving forever doing the same old things. In order to keep growing, our bodies and muscles need to be constantly challenged.
All you need to do in order to break through the vicious plateau is to make a few changes in your routine, improve different aspects of the bench and just keep going on until you overcome it.
To help you on your journey to once again start improving in your bench, we have made this list of the 5 best ways to break a bench press plateau.
1.Bench press variations and alternatives
One of the best ways to break a bench press plateau is to forget about bench pressing all together for a while. Yes, you heard it right! Instead of fanatically concentrating on the classic barbell bench press trying to overcome your plateau, replace it with a similar exercise that incorporates all the same muscles. Using a bench press alternative or a variation of the exercise is great for that.
Using an alternative exercise to replace the bench press as your primary chest lift can have many benefits, such as:
It’s mentally refreshing. A large factor in the bench press plateau can be your mindset. Avoiding the classic barbell bench for a while can give you a small mental restart needed to get your mindset right again.
It allows you to train your chest from another angle. By opting for a different exercise, you can work your chest muscles from different angles. This helps you work on your weak points and also train and put extra load on those parts of your chest muscles that the barbell bench press neglects.
You can focus on your weak points. As I mentioned in the previous point, using an alternative exercise allows you to really focus on your weak points in the bench press. For example, if your weak point would be getting the barbell off your chest (the initial lift) then you might want to use an exercise that focuses on your pec muscles more or has a longer range of motion.
Fight muscle imbalances. Maybe your bench isn’t developing because one of your pecs/ sides is weaker than the other? Using exercises like the one-arm or alternative arm dumbbell press can really help to fix any possible chest muscle imbalances you have.
Change in the range of motion. You can choose an exercise with a greater or lesser range of motion. An increased range will work your chest muscles harder and it can help you increase the stretch of the musculature needed for the bench. Also, a lower range of motion can help you overcome some weak points you have in the lift, or be great for your joints.
What are the best bench press variations to overcome your plateau? Well, there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of different bench press variations and alternatives to choose from. The most important aspect of choosing a replacement exercise is that it would target and involve all the same muscle groups as the classic bench press.
Now for the exercises themselves, I think the best alternative to go for would be the dumbbell bench press. First of all, going for dumbbells would give you a total break from the barbell BP. Secondly, the dumbbell press has plenty of different variations of its own to choose from. Thirdly, the motion of the exercise is a lot longer than with a barbell, allowing you to work your chest muscles more.
2. Are you bench pressing enough?
Just bench press more and do it frequently! This sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Well, to be honest, it actually isn’t as simple as that, because it depends on a few things.
For a lot of people, especially beginners the problem does indeed lie in the fact that they aren’t benching enough. So the first thing you should do is ask yourself how often do you already bench press? Are you benching once a week, twice, or even three times a week?
To improve your pressing and to overcome your bench press plateau you should try to optimize for at least two to three bench press days a week, or possibly even more, depending on your physique and your fitness level. You should also add some bench accessory days or at least exercises in your weekly workout routine.
But you shouldn’t go overboard with benching! More isn’t always better. For example, if you would bench every day, you would probably do a lot more harm to both your body and your bench press than good. Because your body and especially your chest muscles need time to recover from your workouts. Overtraining your chest and bench will just lead you to even bigger stagnation and possibly even to injuries. So you should try to find that golden zone or frequency that suits your body best.
Now the second thing to consider is that at what volumes are you training? Does your workout consist of just a few sets of bench press, or are you working at a much higher volume? To gain strength and build muscle you need to put enough load and strain on your chest muscles. Your chest muscles are a large muscle group that can handle and recover from high workout volume pretty well. So make sure you are working your chest muscles enough!
In conclusion, yes, the bench press does respond to larger training volumes and frequency better than some other lifts. And to improve in it you should be training it more frequently and at sufficient volumes. But you still have to remember that just like all of your muscles, to avoid overtraining, your chest needs time to recover from training.
3. Improve your Bench Press Form
Bench pressing might be one of the most popular exercises to do in the gym, but it definitely isn’t the easiest to perform. At first sight, it might seem like a simple movement. You just unrack the weight, lower it to your chest, and then push it up again. Well, it really isn’t that simple.
It’s actually quite a technical movement, and it has quite a lot of different nuances to master in order to do it with proper form and technique. There are many technical elements to consider such as:
- How you unrack the bar?
- Are you using the proper grip?
- Are you breathing right?
- Are you lowering the bar correctly?
- Is your starting position right?
- Are you using your feet to drive through?
There are many more key points to consider, so analyze your form thoroughly or even better, let an expert in the subject take a look at your technique and help you find any possible errors you could fix.
Mastering the right form and polishing your technique are two great ways to help you burst through any stubborn plateau and help you take your pressing game to a new level.
4. Play around with your sets and repetitions
Quite often a bench press plateau can be the result of using the same boring set and repetition ranges over and over again. Most commonly people are fixed with a certain repetition range they think is best for strength gain or muscle building, for example, the 4×8 range.
Well, there is nothing bad or wrong about the 4×8 specifically, but using the exact same rep range can just run dry. Your muscles need a bit more diversity otherwise they will just get used to the workouts, and you won’t grow and improve.
So a great way to resolve this is to change your rep and set ranges up a little and incorporate different repetition schemes into your workout.
Here is a list of different sets and reps to try to break your bench press plateau:
- 5×5 – The 5×5 refers to 5 sets of 5 repetitions each. It’s probably one of the most popular ways of strength training out there. In the 5×5 method, you perform all your sets and reps with a fixed weight. For choosing the weight and progressing you have two good options. You can either start with a lower percentage of your one-rep max, for example, 50%, and gradually increase the percentage with each workout, or you can start with about 80-85% of the weight and slowly try to add more weight as you go.
- High repetitions – Using high repetitions (anywhere from 20+) can be a very effective way to increase your bench and break that nasty plateau. Usually, high rep ranges are used more for improving endurance and muscle hypertrophy, but if used right, they can make a huge difference in your strength level as well.
- Low repetitions – Using a low number of repetitions with a large weight is pretty much the basics of strength training. Studies have shown that they tend to work best for gaining strength. The ideal range here would be between 1-4 repetitions with about 90% of your one-rep max.
- Explosive sets – Increasing your explosive chest strength can be super beneficial for your bench. With explosive sets, you should keep your repetition range somewhere between 3 and 6, and your rest time between sets should be about 3 minutes (because your fast-twitch muscles need longer time to recover). When doing the movement itself, you should try to push the barbell off your chest with as much speed and explosivity as you can.
- Pyramid sets – There are many different types of pyramid sets out there. The idea of pyramid sets is quite simple – For the first set, you start with a higher number of repetitions and lower weight, and for each of the next set, you lower the number of repetitions and increase the weight. You can also reverse this and go down the same way. An example of a pyramid set: 1 set 50 kg x 10, 2 set 55 kg x 8, 3 set 60 kg x 6, 4 set 55 kg x 8, 5 set 50kg x 10.
- Drop sets – Drop sets are great and quite hard. In drop sets, when you finish a set of an exercise, you immediately drop the weight and go to failure after that, you drop the weight again and go to failure … and so on, for however many reps you like to perform. They are best used for the last set of an exercise.
- Supersets – A superset is when you perform a set of exercises A, and then after you complete that set immediately switch to exercise B. A good example of the bench press would be if you do a set of bench and then switch to push-ups.
There are literally dozens and dozens of other possibilities and ways you can change your rep game up, just don’t be afraid of trying something new and challenging yourself in a new way.
5. Don’t forget to do your accessory exercises!
Another great way to deal with a stuck bench press is to add more exercises to your workout routine that either mimics the bench or targets your chest and other muscle groups associated with the bench press.
Bench strength doesn’t only depend on how strong your chest is, it’s a complex exercise that incorporates many different muscles and strength aspects. A strong bench press requires a great deal of shoulder strength and stability, a lot of pressing strength in your chest and triceps, and to top all of that off, a really strong upper back.
Weak accessory muscles can bring your bench down even if you are using a perfect bench press training routine and have an awesome form and a great overall benching technique. So be sure to work on those accessory muscles and to incorporate accessory exercises into your routine.
Here are a few great accessory exercises to incorporate into your workout routine to help you blast through your bench press plateau:
To target your chest:
- Floor press
- Pause bench press
For your triceps:
- Close grip bench press
- Skull crushers
For your back:
- Weighted pull-ups
- Bent over rows
- Lat pulldowns
For your shoulders:
- Overhead press
- Push press
- Lateral raises
The final thing you should do to overcome your bench press plateau is to analyze your current routine and really take an in-depth look at what you have previously been doing to improve your bench. Try to look for any planning errors or other things you might have been doing wrong and think of what and how you can improve them. After that, there is no stopping you, and you can finally start improving again!
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