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When it comes to strength training there’s an inevitable wall we all hit where our gains become frustratingly slow. Since it’s one of the more popular lifts, the bench press plateau is the mother of all strength walls you have to break through.
To cross over to new gains you’ll need to identify your specific weakness with the lift, and implement specific exercises to address those issues.
Here’s how to break a bench press plateau and improve upper body strength.
Point Of Failure
A bench press plateau seems like an all encumbering obstacle, but they actually come in many variations. Some people can’t get the bar off their chest, and others can get it off their chest but can’t lock out.
You’ll need to identify where you’re failing on the lift, and implement some of the following resolutions.
Top Of The Range
If you can get the bar off your chest but can’t lock out, you’re failing at the top of the range and need to focus on partial reps or ascending weight movements.
You can develop top of the range strength by using quarter reps in that range. Using 70-80% of your max bench press weight, you’d lower the bar for a quarter rep and press back up.
Staying in this top of the range quarter rep will help you develop lock out strength and after several weeks can help you break through your plateau.
Reps With Chains
You’ve probably seen people doing presses and certain lifts in magazines with big bulky chains attached to the ends of the bar. Yeah, it looks super cool, but it’s also for developing specific strength.
The chains are resting on the floor at the bottom of the rep, and as you press the bar away from the floor the chains are lifted and increases the weight. The further you are into the rep, the heavier the chains get. Not the most common exercise you’ll see in a gym, but it’s incredibly effective for top of the range strength.
Bottom Of The Range
If you’re at the other end of the bench press plateau, and failing at getting the bar off your chest you’ll need to focus on bottom of the range partial reps and deadening the weight with pause reps.
A spotter is more necessary with bottom of the range exercises, because it increases the likelihood of reaching failure with a bar resting on your chest. Lift with caution, my friend.
Using 70-80% of your max bench press weight, you’d lower the bar and press out for a half rep without locking out. Your triceps and shoulders will fatigue more than usual with half reps, because they aren’t given an opportunity to rest during the lockout phase.
One of my favorite exercises is bench press pause reps. You just feel like a badass when you let several hundred pounds sit on your chest and press it off.
Most people will be able to push out several reps near their max weight, but be smart about it. The heavier you lift, the more you’ll need a spotter.
Lower the bar down to your chest, and let it rest for a count of three seconds. Then explode and push the weight of your chest for a full rep, including the lockout. Ideally you’d want to work with weight that let’s you push out 4-6 reps, but I’ve had good gains with higher and lower reps.
It’s a pretty fun exercise when you get the hang of it.
See Also: 5 tips to get bigger legs
The bench press is a chest exercise, but it also draws power from supplemental muscle groups. Adding more strength to those areas will increase the liklihood of breaking through your personal bench press plateau.
Here’s some exercises you should be doing, but avoid high rep bodybuilding routines and focus on trying to add strength.
– Close Grip Bench Press
– Skull Crushers
– Heavy Barbell Shoulder Press
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