You need to know how to break through a bench press plateau.
You’re going to encounter at least one of these during your own training. They could last weeks, months, or even years. A better idea of what it is and how you can address it is going to be important to stop you stalling.
It’s easier to push past a bench press plateau with proper guidance. Today we’re going to give you all the information and tools you need to get back to bench press progress. By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped to keep making bench press gains forever.
- When Is a Bench Press Plateau Really a Plateau?
- 10 Effective Tips for Busting Bench Plateaus
- 1. Frequency: do you just need to bench more often?
- 2. Partials and pauses: strengthening your weaknesses
- 3. Slow-eccentrics: control, technique, and building stability
- 4. Variety (and why it’s often more important than load or reps!)
- 5. Switching to Dumbbells
- 6. Varying your rep ranges for better muscle growth
- 7. Power training
- Things You Need to Focus on Outside of the Gym
- What is the Take-Home Message?
When Is a Bench Press Plateau Really a Plateau?
The definition of a plateau is a “relatively stable level, period, or state”.
When you look at your own training you don’t want this kind of plateau in your bench press progress. It’s not progress; it’s better than back-sliding, but plateaus are not the gains you are working for.
However, it’s easy to over-react to a few bad sessions and think you’re plateauing. Often, it’s not a huge deal.
Obviously, there’s a difference between a short-term plateau because of other changes. For example, if you’re losing weight than a plateau is less of a problem because the relative performance will improve as you lose weight.
You could also look at when you’re fatigued on purpose, or in response to some changes in life, as a plateau. Training under fatigue doesn’t mean you’re plateauing; it’s just training towards a period of rest and ‘peaking’.
A plateau is unintentional and it’s not in response to something you expect to produce a plateau. You can’t train your way through losing tons of weight, for example, as you are likely to lose strength no matter what. Covering the basics: don’t mess it up
10 Effective Tips for Busting Bench Plateaus
What sort of technical and programming changes can you make to push through a bench plateau? That’s what we’re going to discuss first since it’s just changing your training around to better suit your goals.
If everything else is on point, then making one or more of these changes could be the key to getting past your bench press plateau.
1. Frequency: do you just need to bench more often?
For many people, the best way to get better at benching is to simply bench more often. Most beginners aren’t benching often enough to maximise progress so it’s easy to stall.
If you’re pressing less than 3 times a week, you’re probably in this group of people. Many Elite powerlifters train the bench press in the 3-5 times a week region, using lighter or accessory days to keep the shoulders healthy.
We recommend performing 2-3 bench pressing days and 0-2 accessory days per week. The more often you train a movement, the more practice you get for your technique and you will be surprised how effectively you can recover and grow.
On the other hand, if you’re benching everyday then you’re probably stagnating because you’re doing more work than you can recover from. This isn’t usually the case, but if you’re doing this then we’ve found the problem!
2. Partials and pauses: strengthening your weaknesses
One of the easiest ways to miss lifts is to have a weak ‘sticking point’. You’re only as good as the weakest part of your lift so it’s always worth figuring out where you fail. Once you’ve figured out the limiting factor in your own bench press you can start to strengthen it.
Starting here can help break through a bench press plateau, as it’s usually the bit that is holding you back. Improving the sticking point usually means addressing one of two areas: breaking the bar from the chest, and halfway through the rep.
Partial reps – such as the pin press – allow you to strengthen the movement without the bottom of the movement. This can be useful for improving strength and coordination at any point in the lift, especially if you’re used to bouncing the bar off of your chest.
Equally, paused reps can build confidence and strength in any position, if used properly. You have to actively control the weight – a paused bench press with the bar just laying on your chest won’t help you get back on track with your bench press progress!
The Spoto press is a popular tool for strengthening the bench press, too. It is a paused bench press but specifically just off the chest. This is one area where most people go wrong and – by focusing on it – you are likely to improve your bench technique significantly.
For the pin or paused bench press, make sure to control the weight throughout and use the spot you are weakest at. You’ll need to focus on proper stability and lower the weight, but you can progress these movements over time and they will carry over to your regular bench press.
3. Slow-eccentrics: control, technique, and building stability
If you’re not sure where you’re weakest or you’re struggling to feel confident when lowering the bar, slow-eccentrics are great. Not only do they offer significant chances to build up your technical familiarity, but strengthen both sides of the body involved in the bench press.
It’s as simple as using an intentionally slow, controlled descent to the chest. This slower descent also reduces the involvement of the stretch reflex and strengthens tendons. These add up if you’re looking to build confidence, work capacity, and build closer control over the movement.
If you want to get out of a bench press plateau, this kind of slow and deliberate practice can be really useful. If you’ve never worked with slow-eccentric training before, start with 3-5 second lower periods and weights around 60-75% for reps.
4. Variety (and why it’s often more important than load or reps!)
In some cases, variety is more important/useful than changes in reps or load. Studies have already shown that the stimulus of changing your exercises can be a huge boost to your performance, as well as general muscle and strength.
Changing some of your bench press sessions from flat bench. Something as simple as incorporating more incline bench press or floor press. Adjusting the type of pressing in your training provides a different stimulus and – thus – chances for more progress.
Equally, breaking down the muscle groups into chest and triceps can be useful. Dips are a great exercise for building full-range chest and shoulder strength, while dumbbell shoulder press, cable tricep extensions, and other exercises can build up tricep strength to push through plateaus.
5. Switching to Dumbbells
If you’re only barbell bench pressing then it might be time to shake things up.
We already know that stability is one of the keys to better heavy lifting, and dumbbells are a great way to drill this kind of change. They also provide a totally different stimulus and you can progress them consistently if they’re new to you.
This won’t be a revolutionary change to your training, but it can spur new growth when you’re experiencing a period of stalling. Even swapping out one bench session for dumbbells could make enough of a difference to get you back to progress!
We recommend starting with the classic flat dumbbell press, but also consider adding in incline and decline variations. Just like with the barbell bench, these provide a different stimulus and could be what you need to keep making gains.
6. Varying your rep ranges for better muscle growth
If you’re trying to get through a bench press plateau, think about how you’re practicing the bench press. Adding greater variety to the rep ranges you use can be really useful; the more range between your reps, the better.
This means that bench pressing shouldn’t just be sets across (which often don’t work optimally anyway). Rather, it makes more sense to do 2 sets of 3, 2 sets of 8, and 2 sets of 12. This increased rep range variety seems to produce better results – even when matched for volume.
Working your muscles through a greater range of reps builds better energy systems efficiency and supports better long-term progress. If you’re struggling with a bench press plateau, this type of variety could produce new results and get you through any stalling you might experience.
7. Power training
There are some areas of bench press performance you might be overlooking. While everyone knows that power training (like box jumps) can improve your squat, you probably aren’t using power work for the chest and bench press.
This kind of rapid force development is really useful for all exercise. It builds your ability to push through the rep, improves overall muscle unit activation, and is specifically useful for changing directions.
Exercises like med ball chest throws are a great example. Equally, you could use exercises like clapping push ups (from flat or incline, to make things easier). These both develop power from the chest and triceps without using huge loads.
This kind of higher-velocity movements offers a great way of improving your overall performance in the bench press and other movements. Developing power through combining strength training with lighter movements for speed/power is a great choice.
You can also tackle this with speed bench presses from the pins. For example, try supersetting bench presses at 60-70% with med ball throws.
Things You Need to Focus on Outside of the Gym
There’s nothing we can tell you to make you better at bench press if your plateau is the result of bad recovery. While your training might determine how good you get, it’s also secondary to your lifestyle factors when it comes to results.
You could train perfectly but if your diet and sleep are off, you’re going to stay in that plateau forever. You can’t out-train a bad diet and there’s more interaction between training and nutrition/sleep than most people think.
If you’re serious about making bench press gains then you need to spend more time in the kitchen or in bed. There’s no way around these crucial factors and you should be prioritizing them since a horrible bench plateau could just be the result of bad nutrition or sleep.
8. Diet: the backbone of breaking bench press plateaus
This one is simple: if you’re not eating enough – and of the right things – you’re not going to progress. Plateaus are easy when you’re not giving your body the fuel it needs to best support long-term progress.
Protein is the first choice because it’s literally what muscles are made of. The amount of protein you need can vary significantly based on your bodyweight and your lifestyle, but getting the right amount is key. When in doubt, just get more – it’s not going to hurt you, and it could help you recover/progress better.
Here’s a quick guide from Examine.com that gives some rough guidelines on the amount of protein you should get:
For example, under-eating carbohydrates is a good way to ruin your progress. This reduces your ability to stimulate recovery and growth – which is why it’s important to prioritize them in your diet once you’ve gotten enough protein in. Try to get 4-6g of quality carbs per kg of bodyweight.
On top of all of this, you need to think about your vitamin and mineral intake. These key nutrients are essential for your health and deficiency is one of the fastest ways to run yourself into a bench press plateau.
9. Sleep is not optional!
In the same way protein is one of the most important things in your recovery and growth process, sleep is also crucial.
You can’t be healthy if your sleep habits aren’t healthy. It’s that simple; the way your body recovers and grows requires proper rest. Sleeping less than 8 hours a night is a huge problem and if that sounds like you, it’s no wonder you’re dealing with a bench press plateau.
There’s no point asking how to break through a bench press plateau if your sleep schedule isn’t in line. Get 8-10 hours of high-quality sleep (undisturbed, in a cool dark room) and then see how your training and results respond.
This one super simple change could be all it takes to break that bench press plateau – but combined with the others, it is an essential habit to get into!
10. Overload events: are you ready to level up and progress slower?
Perhaps the best reason to plateau your bench is that you’ve gotten better. The better you get, the more difficult it is to get that next few kilos on the bar – no matter how hard you work.
If you’re using a system that you’ve been using for a while, it might just be that you’ve gotten too good for it. You can’t progress as often as an intermediate/advanced lifter, so that linear progression just might not be the right choice for your bench press.
You should take a step back and look at how you’re training and if it fits your experience level and strength. If you’ve made a lot of gains with a program then it might not work for you still – it could just be time to level up and work on a longer time between PRs.
If you’re wondering how to get past your bench press plateau, one possible answer is changing your training plan altogether. As you improve, your training plan needs to take more time between new personal records, or you will stall.
What is the Take-Home Message?
Bench press plateaus can really drag on and demotivate you. If you’re sick of these long periods of stagnation, try some – or all – of these changes.
Breaking through a bench press plateau isn’t an easy process but it gets easier when you know what you’re doing. It’s going to take hard work and lots of repetitions, as well as dedication to diet and sleep, but you can make your progress sustainable and improve far more rapidly.
Try these changes and let us know how they work for you. If they’ve helped you break through a bench press plateau, we’d love to hear about it – or anything else that’s worked for you!