Once you’ve learned how to conquer the mental obstacles and roadblocks that have held you on a Bench Press plateau (See Breaking Through a Bench Press Plateau Part 1), it’s time to move forward. Here is where the hard work begins.
The physical job of breaking through a Bench Press plateau starts by testing your routine and uncovering your weaknesses. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you lack muscle endurance?
- Is your form or technique bad?
- Do you simply have sticking points?
- Does the way you structure your routine create a plateau?
These questions highlight important aspects that can, individually or collectively, inhibit your progress. If you answered yes to any of them, here’s how to effectively diminish them completely.
This is a huge factor in plateaus, especially when you use a gradual or incremental program for your Bench Press. After going through a warm-up and/or intermediate set, do you find yourself too fatigued to meet or surpass your maximum weight? To avoid this, you can either make bigger jumps in the amount of weight per set or reduce the number of repetitions at the lower weight. After you’ve warmed and stretched the chest muscles, progress fairly quickly to heavier sets. (More Tips to Improve Your Muscle Endurance.)
Tried and true, old-fashioned Push-Ups are great for building endurance. On your second chest day or lighter chest week, complete 20 Push-Ups between sets. By pre-exhausting your chest, you’ll push past your normal level of fatigue. Push-Ups also engage your core muscles so you’ll get a double benefit. (Learn the Perfect Push-Up.)
Another common cause of a plateau is a mistake many athletes make: not concentrating on their feet. Have you ever seen a person struggling through a max lift and suddenly their feet pop off the floor? Your feet and legs provide a base of support for your entire body. Think of a seesaw. What happened when the kid on the other end suddenly jumped off? Yep, that’s right, your side came crashing down. The same occurs during the Bench Press. When your feet go up, the weight instantly gets heavier. Avoid this by planting your feet firmly on the floor and driving your feet into the ground, coming up on your toes when you start struggling with the weight. This stabilizes the lower body and gives you a good base to complete the lift. (Refine Your Technique.)
Everyone has individual “sticking points” during the lift, like a certain point in the motion where they get stuck or feel stronger. Think of a compete lift in two parts:
- The range from fully locked out to halfway down
- Halfway down to just above your chest
By training to cure your weakest range of motion, you’ll easily increase your lifting capacity. You can use the help of a partner, a Smith machine or a squat cage to train each range of motion safely. After you identify the lacking area, restrict the range of motion and build up your strength in that area. Include this along with full range training.
Although it’s good to follow a routine, it can sometimes stunt your growth. Say you’re still using a chest and triceps routine, and training your triceps on the same day as your chest prevents you from moving heavier weight. Triceps muscles are important in the Bench Press. If they are fatigued, they will not be able to aid the chest during the press. Choose a chest and back routine, and dedicate another day to training your arms.
The bottom line: lift safe, lift heavy but most of all LIFT! Set your goal, believe that you can reach it and then execute. Plateaus only arise when you allow challenges to hold you back.
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