There are a number of reasons why you can’t bench press your own weight. The most common of these will be down to muscle weakness, typically in the lats or triceps. You may also find that your bench press has plateaued because you don’t train the movement often enough, you always use the same number of reps or sets, or that you aren’t utilizing your other muscles correctly.
Weak Stabilizing Muscles Will Affect Your Bench
If you’re struggling to bench what you’d considered a respectable weight then the first place to look is at your stabilizing muscles.
The bench press is primarily a chest exercise, but weaknesses in the lats and/or triceps can limit what you lift.
Firstly, you probably wouldn’t think that there would be any lat involvement in the bench press, but you’d be wrong.
During the eccentric phase (lowering) of the movement your lats are working hard to stabilize the bar.
Realistically, as you lower the bar you should be retracting the shoulders blades, literally squeezing them towards each other, which will activate the lats.
So, any hint of weakness in the lats will provide less stability during the lowering phase.
And it is this that will limit the amount you can bench.
Furthermore, I would hazard a guess that if you’re struggling to bench at least your own body weight that you probably push more than you pull.
To be honest, the body typically responds better to balance.
So, it’s probably time you started to focus just as much (if not more) on your pulling exercises.
What About The Triceps?
I guess tricep weakness limiting the amount that you bench seems a lot more obvious.
In fact, irrespective of how much you can bench, your triceps will typically always give out before your chest.
That’s just the way it is.
The pecs are obviously a far bigger muscle than the triceps.
However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t train the triceps accordingly.
The triceps take up two-thirds of the upper arm, so it makes sense that you should train them twice as much as the opposing muscle – the biceps.
Can you honestly say that you do this?
Additionally, the triceps can be considered the “weak point” in various pushing exercises.
Basically, any type of chest or shoulder press.
So, once again, it makes perfect sense that if you want to improve these lifts that having stronger triceps will help.
Are You Training Bench Press Enough?
I’m not entirely sure why, but the “Bro-Split” seems to be one of the most popular gym training splits ever.
However, in truth, the vast majority of us mere mortals would actually make far better gains with a split that’s a little less bodybuilding-focused.
If you want the harsh reality, most of us aren’t strong enough to start worrying about the “Bro” training split.
When I say “Bro-Split” I’m talking about the one body part a day training, which is usually aimed at hypertrophy.
So, Chest on Monday, Back on Tuesday, Legs, Shoulders, and Arms on separate days of the week.
In effect, you’re only training each body once every 7 days (if you include rest days).
However, if you have a lagging body part, i.e. your bench press isn’t where you want it to be, well it makes sense to train the muscle group more often.
Now you’ll hear much talk about overtraining a muscle group, or the muscles not growing if you train them too often, etc.
And while there is some truth in this as an absolute beginner, this certainly isn’t the case once you have a few month’s lifting experience under your belt.
In fact, high frequency training is often viewed as a great way to bust out of a training plateau, while packing on some serious muscle.
But, only if done correctly.
I see nothing wrong with training the same muscle group, or even the same lift, 2-3 times a week (if not more).
In fact, it is highly recommended if you want to improve on a certain lift.
How to Train the Bench Press
If you’re currently performing the bench press once a week, while using the same rep and set scheme, it’s time to change things up a bit.
You can definitely increase this to twice a week to start off with.
However, it makes sense to make one of your training days a strength day and to lift as heavy as possible.
Whereas, your second training day you can focus more on volume.
Obviously, it’s initially advisable to have some rest between the two training days.
So, if you’re going to hit the bench press twice a week then Monday and Thursday is a good place to start.
Furthermore, you’re not looking to train to failure here.
I guess many of you may bench with a spotter as you try to strain every ounce of energy into lifting the bar as many times as possible.
But, you’ll probably be better off leaving a rep or two in the tank, and looking to progress with additional weight on the bar each week.
So, this may involve using your 5-rep max on a strength day, and performing 5 sets of 3 reps.
The following week on strength day you simply stick to the same reps and sets, but add the minimum amount of weight possible to the bar.
And on your volume day, take your 10-rep max and perform 5-6 sets of 8 reps.
Once again, the following week, stick to the same parameters, but add some weight.
Bench Press Fast
The traditional bench press will typically involve lowering the weight (eccentric) as slowly as possible, while lifting the bar (concentric) a lot faster.
With that being said, a study conducted in May 2014 by the European Journal of Sports Science suggests that pushing the bar up with maximum velocity leads to greater muscle and strength gains.
It seems that when you push the bar up as fast as possible you will recruit more fast-twitch fibres.
And the more muscle fibres that are activated the greater you can expect your gains to be.
In fact, it is suggested that if you lift the bar twice as fast as you usually would you can expect twice the amount of bench press gains.
Definitely something to consider if you’re still struggling to bench your own body weight.
Use Leg Drive to Bench Press
The bench press can and should actually be performed as a full-body exercise.
In fact, if you ever watch a powerlifter bench press you’ll see this in action.
One of the best ways to achieve this is by using leg drive to bench press.
And NO, before you ask, this definitely isn’t cheating.
In fact, I’m willing to bet that many of you already use some form of leg drive when benching without even realising it.
But unfortunately, you’re doing it wrong.
Something you’ll see (and probably do) quite often is that one of your legs comes off the floor towards the end of a set and you’re really trying to squeeze out another rep.
Another “attempt” at leg drive is when your butt comes off the bench.
Yet again, this typically happens when you come towards the end of your set.
However, both these attempts at leg drive are incorrect and not helping you bench any more weight.
Rather than me going into further detail, Alan Thrall, one of my favourite (and most respected) lifters explains all in the video below.
How to Use Leg Drive During The Bench Press
If you can’t bench press your own weight this is usually down to certain muscle weaknesses in the supporting muscle. More often than not it will be a weakness in the lats or the triceps. You can also improve your bench press by training the movement more frequently, but with different training protocols, e.g. heavy and low reps, light and high reps. Additionally, lifting the bar at a much faster pace and utilizing leg drive will help you to bench more weight.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.