Why Do I Get Stuck at the Bottom of My Bench Press?

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There are many muscles used during the bench press, but your pecs are typically the weak factor if you’re struggling to press out of the hole. The same can also be said for your lats, which are the main antagonistic muscle group when benching. Firstly, ensure that your bench press form is correct. You should work on speed and power bench press with approximately 50-60% of your one-rep max. Additionally, you should also perform isometric pauses at the bottom with approximately 80-90% of your one-rep max.

Your Pecs Are Weak

A Man Performing Bench Press

Most people immediately blame their shoulders or triceps when it comes to struggling with the bench press.

No-one particularly wants to admit that they have weak pecs for some reason.

However, if you’re getting stuck at the bottom of the bench press then the first place to look is at your pecs.

In truth, your triceps are working much harder during the upper range of the bench press.

Therefore, in order to get the bar away from your chest you are mainly using your pecs and your front delts.

With that being said, if you are having issues pressing away from your body this is an indication that the largest muscle group, i.e. the pecs, is what’s causing your problem.

Basically, there’s only so much work the front delts can do in order to get that weight of your chest.

So, it would appear that your pecs are weak in relative comparison to your other upper body muscles.

This can often happen if you lack variety in your chest training (more on this in a moment).

In fact, I know of many people who perhaps bench press a couple of times a week, and this is the only “chest work” they do all week.

In truth, even though the bench press is a wonderful exercise, it isn’t the best movement for overall pec strength and muscular development.

So, your stalled bench press could be a sign that you need to work harder on your pec muscles.

Your Lats Are the Problem

As I’ve mentioned, even though the bench press is mainly viewed as a pec exercise, there are many other muscles involved in the movement.

One of these muscle groups, which most of us pay little attention to when benching, is the lats.

Regardless of how much weight you’re benching you should always engage the lats.

The lats are the main antagonistic muscle group to the pecs, so they’ll always have some involvement whenever you train your chest.

Firstly, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve engaged the lats correctly prior to benching.

This should form part of the scapular retraction during the set up.

Some other cues to ensure that you’ve engaged the lats include:

  • Gripping the barbell as tightly as possible.
  • Pulling the bar out of the rack as though you’re doing a pullover.
  • Imagine trying to stretch the bar by pulling your hands apart.
  • Bring your chest to the bar as opposed to bar to chest.

I would also suggest that you focus on lat strength and muscular development, as this could be the issue.

In fact, many lifters have a weakness in the lats when compared to their pecs.

It’s often said that you should pull twice as much as you push.

However, this is rarely the case, as the pecs are the “show” muscle that we can see, and so they typically garner more training attention.

With that being said, a healthy dose of barbell and dumbbell rows can do wonders for your bench press.

Check Your Bench Press Form

Many of us view the bench press as simply lying down on a bench, lowering a weighted bar to your chest, pressing back up, and repeat.

But, in truth, there are so many more form cues to ensure you’re getting the best out of the movement.

I’ve already mentioned retracting your shoulder blades and engaging your lats.

In addition to these you should also place yourself perfectly on the bench.

This means that you’ll want to make sure you’re lying centered on the bench and that your eyes are directly under the bar before you unrack it.

You’ll also want to ensure that your wrists are straight and that your knuckles are pointing directly at the ceiling.

Additionally, you’ll want to keep your glutes squeezed tight and ensure that your elbows remain underneath the bar throughout the entire movement.

And let’s not forget having your feet in the ideal position to provide leg drive when required.

So, as you can see, there’s many opportunities to provide a leak in power and strength when benching.

Work on Bench Press Speed & Power

Okay, so far I’ve discussed the main reasons why you get stuck at the bottom of the bench press.

Now, it’s time to provide some fixes for this issue.

One of the best ways to work on this is through speed and power bench pressing.

By this I mean working on the explosiveness of pressing out of the hole.

The easiest way to achieve this is to concentrate for a few weeks on power.

You’ll want to keep the reps and weight you use fairly low.

So, an ideal scenario would be to train for 3-4 reps at about 50-60% of your one-rep max.

I would suggest that you train for 5-8 sets and have at least one power bench pressing session a week.

Therefore, week one you could aim for 5 sets of 4 reps at 50% of your one-rep max.

The aim here is to slowly lower the bar down towards your chest and then explode into the pressing movement with as much force as possible.

From week two onward look to add slightly more weight, while sticking to the same sets and reps.

The third week you can keep the weight the same, but perform more sets, perhaps something along the lines of 8 sets of 3 reps.

Then on your fourth week increase the weight to 60% of your one-rep max, while going back to the original 5 sets of 4 reps.

You should find a fantastic increase in power within a 4-week period, which should help you immensely when pressing out of the hole.

Use Isometrics For Bench Press Strength

Another option would be to use an isometric pause at the bottom of the movement.

So, you are literally lowering the bar to your chest, or just an inch or two above, and then holding the weight for a count of 3, before exploding back up again.

Obviously, this should involve a slightly lighter weight, as you’ll be testing your muscle and strength by pausing in the bottom position.

I would suggest benching with around 80-90% of your one-rep max, while once more keeping the reps low.

Your aim is to gradually increase the weight, as well as the length of time you hold the pause.

So, you could start off with 4 sets of 3 reps at 80% of your one-rep max, while pausing for 3 seconds at the bottom.

Once again, you’ll want to perform a whole bench press session this way, and progress week-to-week for around 4 weeks.

Isometric pauses are not as popular as they once were, but they are a superb way to increase muscle, strength, and power.

Use Other Chest-Focused Exercises

I’ve spoken of having some variety in your chest training.

And doing so can actually help your bench press a great deal.

I’ve mentioned that the most obvious cause of getting stuck at the bottom is having weak pec muscles.

So, it makes perfect sense that if you train the pecs with a variety of exercises you can increase muscle and strength.

You can also incorporate speed and power into these other exercises, which should help you when bench pressing out of the hole.

Therefore, explosive push ups and deep parallel bar dips with a pause at the bottom are ideal alternatives.

Plus, I’ve always been a huge fan of dumbbell chest exercises, especially the incline dumbbell chest press.

You’ll generally find that hitting your chest from a variety of angles with a number of different exercises can do wonders for your bench press.

Final Thoughts

I hope you have a better understanding of why you get stuck at the bottom of your bench press.

The first place to look is at your pecs, as they may be the weak point in your bench press.

You’ll also want to ensure that your lats are engaged and trained just as much (if not more) than your pecs.

Furthermore, make sure you set yourself up properly to bench by following the various bench press set up cues.

You can then work on speed and power, as well as isometric pauses, while bench pressing.

Finally, ensure you get some variety into your chest workouts and train the pecs from numerous angles.

Another issue, which I have discussed and you can read about, is why your front delts take over whenever you train chest.

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