Bench press glass ceiling

  • maxferguson

    Posts: 321

    Jul 04, 2013 3:41 AM GMT
    I started lifting again this January after about 1.5 years out of the weight room (still did cardio/moderate plyometrics during that time) and started squats on my first day back at around 135 lbs. Last week, I pushed 225 lbs (same rep count). It's the same story for power lifting, triceps, calves, dumbbell chest flies and most every exercise I do. I can improve at every exercise and reliably lift heavier and heavier over time....Except bench press. My arch nemesis.

    I cannot seem to lift above 165 lbs no matter how diligently I work at it. I've been able to increase the rep count moderately, but the minute I through on 5-10 extra pounds on either side (10-20 total), I hit the glass ceiling. I can barely pump out 2 reps, compared to the 8-10 I can get without the extra 10-20 lbs. Has anyone else had this problem before?

    I suspect it might be an issue caused by overlooking smaller muscle groups that provide the base level of strength in a bench press motion (i.e, sort of how scapular stability supports broader shoulder strength), but I can't figure out what it is. I'm also very good about chest flexibility. Ideas?
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    Jul 04, 2013 6:44 AM GMT
    Wait, you add the extra weight after doing some high rep/low weight sets?
  • maxferguson

    Posts: 321

    Jul 04, 2013 6:53 AM GMT
    Typically, I'll warm up with 145 and about 15 reps. Then the next two rounds I'll take it up to 165. I can usually get about 12-10 reps on each of those rounds respectively. Then for my fourth round, I try take it up another 10-20 but that's where I hit the wall and I can really only muscle out 2-4 with solid technique. If I take that extra weight off (back to 165), I could probably do 8-10 reps for several more rounds, so I'm not convinced that it's an endurance thing yet, although I haven't ruled it out.

    I'm just wondering how to break through that plateau and move onto the next logical set of weight increases.

    The only other thing I can think of was when I was still swimming, I was a distance swimmer and my natural rhythm for a strong 1500m pace found me breathing only on the right. I think this might have contributed to a muscle imbalance in my pectorals (it was never really visible, but I could feel it).

  • camfer

    Posts: 892

    Jul 04, 2013 2:44 PM GMT
    Some gyms have 2.5 pound plates for just this issue. You can also buy some 1 pound plates yourself. Most gyms don't have a set. With these extra weights, you can go from 165 to 167 to 170 to 172, and finally 175. Even a little progress is better than no progress, right?
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    Jul 04, 2013 3:12 PM GMT
    I was dealing with the same problem for 1.5 years. Couldn't seem to increase my max bench press weight. Then, I moved to a different city, changed my diet (started eating more carbs), changed my work-out routine (ie. drastically reduced the amount of cardio I do) and started using more dumbbells. All of a sudden, without even trying, I started benching a little bit more.

    I don't think I'll ever be able to bench drastically more weight. I definitely think there's a preset maximum (depending on one's body type & height) for each of us. You maybe close to yours.
  • MadeinMich

    Posts: 1624

    Jul 04, 2013 3:22 PM GMT
    Do 5 reps of the bench press at your absolute max weight 5 times (sets) with 3-5 minutes rest in between each set. Add 5 lbs of total weight on the dumbell every 2 weeks.

    What this does is slowly eases your body into bigger weight. Because you're resting so long in between sets you probably won't get any more bigger but you will see greater strength. It may take you a few months to get greater strength. At your rate it will probably take 6 weeks to get to 180 lbs (excluding the bar).

    Once you reach your desired bench weight, to increase in size/mass you should start only resting 30 - 90 seconds in between reps. Try doing drop sets as well for mass. When you're ready to go up in weight again go back to doing 5 sets with 5 reps of max weight, adding on additional 5 lbs every 2 weeks.

    Another trick that might help is doing standing or sitting bent over deltoid flys. This gives your rear deltoids a pump that will aid your bench a few seconds later. Do this with light weights 15 - 25 lbs. See video below.


    I hope this helps.

    [url][/url]
  • MikeW

    Posts: 6061

    Jul 04, 2013 3:54 PM GMT
    Obviously there are several strategies for dealing with a plateaux like this. I hope you report back what you try and how it worked out.

    I'll give you a couple more.

    Find out what your max weight is at different partial rep ranges.

    To do this with bench press you need a squat rack. Put a bench in the rack and set up the cross rails so when the barbell is across the rails, it is just below your maximum reach while lying on the bench. Now load up the bar. Don't be afraid to load it up with 300lbs or more. Get in place on the bench and press up to lift the bar off the rails.

    Now, obviously, either you can lift the bar or you can't. If you can, put more weight on. If you can't take some weight off. Do this until you find the weight you can loft and hold but only for a few seconds. This is your max weight at this rep range. Make note of it.

    Now repeat this at each of the different rail heights, moving down toward your chest. The beauty of this is there is no chance of injury or fear of dropping the bar or getting stuck under it so you're free to put you're all into it.

    What you'll discover is you are stronger at different *points* in the full range bench press. For me (and most I assume) the weakest point is at the lowest position. This is the weakest link in my bench press. So I have to ask myself, what exercises will help build strength in *this* rep area?

    One way to do it (for example) is to use a bar that has either chains or elastic bands attached. One has to sacrifice some plate weight but the upside is that these add either weight or tension to the bar as it is pressed upward, making the press more of a challenge through the whole range of motion.

    I'm still a beginner but I'm a firm believer that when it comes to working through plateaus, where there's a will there's a way. It just take some analysis or perhaps a bit of out-of-the-box thinking.
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    Jul 04, 2013 3:54 PM GMT
    Get a spotter and start doing negatives with over-exaggerated weight. If you're stuck at 225, go to 285 with a spotter and have them help you come down SLOOOOOOW with that weight. Should work after a few workouts.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jul 04, 2013 4:27 PM GMT
    Do serious rear deltoid work (as mentioned above) and try the techniques guys above have mentioned. Research sarcoplasmic and myofibrilar strength techniques.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jul 04, 2013 4:27 PM GMT
    TomatoTomato saidGet a spotter and start doing negatives with over-exaggerated weight. If you're stuck at 225, go to 285 with a spotter and have them help you come down SLOOOOOOW with that weight. Should work after a few workouts.


    Yeah this. Also I've heard the advice to take a break - dial it back for a week or two and then go at it again. Also try using dumbbells instead for a while at a lower weight. The training program at our gym kind of revolves around a training cycle of varying percentages of 90% of our one rep training max. The idea being that you don't want to overtrain - and we re-work ourselves up to a one rep max every 12 weeks trying to improve on our one rep maxes.

    Next week is testing week and today was bench press day:
    Bench press 3 reps @ 70%, 3 reps @ 80%, 3 reps or more @90% of training 1RM

    Also a lot more detail here:
    http://stronglifts.com/5-ways-to-increase-your-bench-press/

    and here: http://www.muscleandstrength.com/expert-guides/strength
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jul 04, 2013 4:48 PM GMT
    Your body has adapted to the movement & weight of your bench press. The suggestions above using negatives has worked for me (when I used to to bench presses).

    Take time off from the bench press and focus on incline dumbbell flyes. Also dips.

    Your triceps, shoulders, back muscles and forearms all contribute to the bench press. Work all of them.

    Return carefully to the bench press after two weeks of these alternative exercises. You'll be in a slump for about a week and then bounce back faster with the ability to add more weight.
  • honestsweat

    Posts: 183

    Jul 04, 2013 6:47 PM GMT
    Tip #1: eat more.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jul 05, 2013 5:12 AM GMT
    I get your pain. I've hit a glass ceiling with my squat and its really pissing me off cause I've tried alternating reps, volume etc and nothing has worked. I've recently started trying some stuff I got off google though oddly - try googling stalled bench press. I did that with squats and got a lot of hits and after reading for hours decided to try the most popular choices and so far I'm really feeling positive about it - it'll take a few months to know for sure though.
  • maxferguson

    Posts: 321

    Jul 05, 2013 7:21 AM GMT
    MikeW saidObviously there are several strategies for dealing with a plateaux like this. I hope you report back what you try and how it worked out.

    I'll give you a couple more.

    Find out what your max weight is at different partial rep ranges.

    To do this with bench press you need a squat rack. Put a bench in the rack and set up the cross rails so when the barbell is across the rails, it is just below your maximum reach while lying on the bench. Now load up the bar. Don't be afraid to load it up with 300lbs or more. Get in place on the bench and press up to lift the bar off the rails.

    Now, obviously, either you can lift the bar or you can't. If you can, put more weight on. If you can't take some weight off. Do this until you find the weight you can loft and hold but only for a few seconds. This is your max weight at this rep range. Make note of it.

    Now repeat this at each of the different rail heights, moving down toward your chest. The beauty of this is there is no chance of injury or fear of dropping the bar or getting stuck under it so you're free to put you're all into it.

    What you'll discover is you are stronger at different *points* in the full range bench press. For me (and most I assume) the weakest point is at the lowest position. This is the weakest link in my bench press. So I have to ask myself, what exercises will help build strength in *this* rep area?

    One way to do it (for example) is to use a bar that has either chains or elastic bands attached. One has to sacrifice some plate weight but the upside is that these add either weight or tension to the bar as it is pressed upward, making the press more of a challenge through the whole range of motion.

    I'm still a beginner but I'm a firm believer that when it comes to working through plateaus, where there's a will there's a way. It just take some analysis or perhaps a bit of out-of-the-box thinking.


    This is a very clever idea. I also like the negatives idea. What else I might do during this to help figure out where my weak points in the motion are is put symmetrical pieces of physio tape across my pectorals beforehand. That way I can get a better sense of where any possible muscle imbalance needs to be worked on. I will get back on this in a bit. Thanks, guys!
  • maxferguson

    Posts: 321

    Aug 16, 2013 3:43 AM GMT
    Hey guys! I've been tinkering with a few different things and I'm starting to make progress icon_biggrin.gif I can't say I've shattered the "ceiling" yet, but I've certainly cracked it.

    The first thing I did was find my weak spots with doing what MikeW recommended. Then I isolated them with some more focused exercises. The next thing I did was rather than increase the weight as the sets progressed, I started out at a much higher weight and maxed out the reps and did drop sets (take the weight down a bit, max out the reps again, and so on). As for general 8 rep max I'm now around 185. The most I was able to do with that weight a couple months ago was 2-3 reps or so. Thanks, guys!
  • MikemikeMike

    Posts: 6932

    Aug 17, 2013 9:20 AM GMT
    TomatoTomato saidGet a spotter and start doing negatives with over-exaggerated weight. If you're stuck at 225, go to 285 with a spotter and have them help you come down SLOOOOOOW with that weight. Should work after a few workouts.


    good advice here OPicon_idea.gif
  • athlete220

    Posts: 19

    Aug 20, 2013 4:18 PM GMT
    Part of it is finding out where you weakness is in your forms. If you are having issues with the press out of the bottom, try working in pause benches where you pause for a second or 2. make sure to go lighter because this will fatigue you quick. If you are having issues half-way up or with the lock out, it's a tricep issue, hit the triceps hard. A couple of things that can help are close grip bench, floor presses, board press (if you have access to it), skull crushers, JM Presses. Don't forget to hit incline presses with the bar and dumbells. Also, make sure to hit your back with tons of rows. Adjust your working sets reps, work single, doubles and triples, also use 6-10 reps to work hypertrophy on your accessory work. Tons of ways to improve your bench and break through the "Glass Ceiling"
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Aug 20, 2013 4:47 PM GMT
    When I hit a plateau I do "negatives". Instead of lifting the weight, I lower the weight and my training partner pulls it off me. So try some a few sets of negatives.