Last updated on February 19th, 2023 at 03:33 pm
To pause or not to pause, that is the bench press question?
If only it was that clear-cut, here’s what you need to know.
Pausing at the bottom of bench press is the best way to improve strength. Plus, your pecs are most activated at the bottom of the bench press. Therefore, if you struggle to get the bar away from your chest, this points to a weakness in your pecs. So, utilising a pause will help you to get stronger and eventually bench press more weight.
Table of Contents
Paused Bench Press is Better For Strength
Firstly, I will say that whether you should pause at the bottom of the bench press or not is a matter of personal preference.
And for me, my personal preference is a resounding YES.
My reasoning behind this is that I only ever bench press for strength purposes.
Basically, I bench press in order to get stronger at the movement, and hopefully increase the weight I’m benching on a regular basis.
So, when it comes to aesthetics I would typically focus more on other chest-related exercises.
Some of my favourites include incline dumbbell chest press, dips, push ups, and standing cable variations.
This is not to say that you can’t produce an aesthetically-pleasing set of pecs from bench press alone, but I much prefer it as a strength movement.
If you are also looking to regularly lift more weight when you bench press then I suggest that you add a pause at the bottom.
The pecs are most activated at the bottom of the bench press, so they are working their hardest when you need to push the barbell away from your chest.
Plus, if you find that getting the barbell away from your chest is a struggle, this points to a potential weakness in the pecs.
It’s also interesting to note that during a powerlifting meet, competitors must pause at the bottom of the bench press before pressing and straightening their arms.
And powerlifters are some of the strongest bench pressers you’re ever likely to meet.
Touch-and-Go Bench Press is Better For Volume
The “touch-and-go” bench press is what the vast majority of lifters do in the gym environment.
As the name implies, you lower the bar until it lightly touches your chest and then immediately press it straight back up.
There’s nothing wrong with the touch-and-go bench, and it certainly allows you to get much more volume.
However, in truth, getting more volume is often nothing more than an ego trip (sorry).
With that being said, more volume can also be attributed to those who are benching more than once a week.
Your aim is to increase and improve your bench press as quickly as possible, so you specialize the lift for a few weeks.
In effect, you could be training bench press 3-4 times a week.
This is where the touch-and-go bench can be an advantage, as it is far less taxing on the Central Nervous System than the paused bench press.
Nevertheless, additional volume doesn’t always translate to increased and improved strength.
So, it really comes down to why you’re bench pressing in the first place.
You will always achieve better pec and shoulder strength development through the paused bench press.
But, you will always achieve more volume with the touch-and-go bench press.
It is estimated that most of us should be able to lift 5-10% more weight when using touch-and-go.
However, it’s important to remember that as your pecs are mainly activated at the bottom, you may not be doing much to improve your strength by using touch-and-go.
To make matters worse, touch-and-go can often be used to “cheat” the bench press.
Essentially, the bar is literally bounced off the chest and you end up using momentum to get the bar back up.
Obviously, “bouncing” has many dangers of its own, and if you don’t have proper control over the descent, you could end up injuring yourself.
Furthermore, the use of momentum should generally be avoided when lifting weights anyway.
You’re really not getting the best out of an exercise if you’re using momentum.
So, if you do prefer the touch-and-go bench, ensure that you have full control of the bar at all times, and only lightly brush your chest at the bottom.
Mix Up Your Bench Press Training
Personally, I don’t believe one you should choose method or the other, but this does of course also depend on your training goals.
But, variety is definitely the spice of life, so I see no reason not to regularly perform both versions of the bench press.
After all, most of us want to get stronger and bigger.
So, the best way to achieve this is to focus on both strength training and hypertrophy training (and even “power training” too).
But, there’s more to this.
Additionally, I also think it’s a great idea to throw some power training into the mix.
This would typically involve benching with a much lighter weight, but at a much faster pace.
Plus, by learning to control the descent and then quickly powering a bar off your chest, you can certainly improve any weakness at getting the bar off the chest.
In fact, this is generally where most people fail or stall on the bench press.
Basically, they don’t have the necessary strength (as they fatigue) to press the bar away from them.
Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to work all three training protocols, i.e. strength, hypertrophy, and power.
Key Learning Points
- Pausing at the bottom of bench press is ideal for strength training.
- Your pecs are most activated at the bottom of the bench press, so if you struggle to get the bar away from your chest this points to a potential weakness. Using a pause can actually improve on your weakness.
- If you want to get more volume into your bench press workouts (hypertrophy training) the touch-and-go method is better than pausing.
- Training for power will involve lighter weights, a faster pace, and no pause at the bottom.
- You should change up your bench press workouts and use different training protocols. Therefore, train for strength and use the pause for one session, focus on hypertrophy on your next session, and then power for the following training session.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.