There’s always been one question that regularly makes its way around every gym:
“How much can you bench?”
So much so that Mark Bell created his entire company off of that one question. It’s a question that’s as old as the gym itself. Even while the surge of Crossfit and functional fitness gyms across the world have shifted focus into other areas of fitness, the question will always remain the same.
Aside from answering that question, there are countless reasons why an individual would and should train the bench press. It strengthens the entire upper body from the shoulders, arms, chest, and even the upper back. But, rarely is the case when training one movement over and over can yield positive results for years and years. The Law of Accommodation makes sure of that. So, what does one do when their bench press plateaus in progress?
The first thing to determine is why or where the lift is plateauing. Is it a technique issue? Lack of stabilization during the eccentric portion? Weak off the chest, at the top? There is a lot that goes into the specific movement. A personalized assessment would be the best way to determine what the weakness actually is. This ensures the individual isn’t just guessing where the movement breaks down and has data to drive future programming towards that weak link. While most coaches may advise doing more accessory or mobility work, in this article we’re going to introduce ways that you can continue training the bench press hard while attacking the weakest link in the lift.
Cambered Bar Bench Press
If an individual struggles with keeping the bar stable during the bench press, the obvious issue is the lack of recruitment of the lats and upper back musculature. The first way to overcome this is to do more upper back work. Rows, pull ups, pull downs, iso holds - do them all.
An easy way to pick on this weakness and train it accordingly while continuing to bench press is simply to swap out the regular straight barbell for the cambered bar. The 12-inch camber in this bar will cause the weight to become more unstable and move slightly back and forth. This will force the individual to focus on stabilizing and pulling the bar down smooth and straight in order to complete the lift. The bar will also sway during the concentric phase of the lift, forcing the individual to focus on the correct bar path. By simply swapping bars, one can enforce proper utilization of the upper back musculature and also enforce perfect bar path and technique.
Bench Press from Pins
Bench pressing from a dead stop off of pins is a great way to build time under tension if the weak point is the middle to lock-out portion of the bench. This weakness occurs if an individual has weak triceps, or an improper bar bath such that the triceps can’t take over the top half of the press. Focusing on the top half of the bench will enforce proper mechanics of the triceps and build strength accordingly.
Place the pins just above where the weakest point is and perform the movement from a dead stop, meaning to start with bars resting on the pins, and not in the J hooks. Here, the individual has to create enough force to push the barbell off of the pins and into lockout. This is significantly more challenging as the eccentric portion of the lift is removed, taking away any stretch reflex one can accrue during that portion.
Bench Press with Bands
A method popularized by Westside Barbell is the use of accommodating resistance, such as bands, during the bench press. This method is used to increase power, or speed off of the chest, thus training specifically the bottom portion of the bench press. First, the bands cause an overload of the eccentric portion of the lift. This means the barbell will actually decelerate faster as it comes down to the chest. Then, as the bands are lighter at the bottom then they are at the top, the individual must learn to accelerate through the sticking point as the bands become more taught. When there are no bands attached to the bar, it will naturally decelerate as it nears lockout. The same is also true for the squat. Therefore training with the bands can help teach the individual to constantly accelerate through the entire movement, thus limiting the amount of natural deceleration that occurs during the regular lift.
These are just three examples of how a coach can alter training to focus on a specific weak point in a movement or lift, while continuing to train and improve the movement as a whole. The best way to determine a weakness in any lift or movement is through a personalized assessment from a professional coach.
At Central Athlete, we take every client through this very process to determine different metrics that can be improved to push the individual to their specific goal. Along with a personalized nutrition and lifestyle plan, the individual is the most prepared to take positive steps toward achieving their desired goal. Schedule a FREE strategy session with one of our professional coaches and see how we can facilitate the best training, nutrition, and lifestyle protocol to get you to your next goal.