Bench Press Going Down? Why Your Gains are Stalling & How to Get Back on Track (Fast!)

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The most common gym-related question to determine someone’s manliness is probably, “How Much Do You Bench Bro?”

So, there’s nothing more frustrating than performing bench press regularly, but finding that your numbers are actually going down.

This is obviously not great for progression, and definitely not great for the ego.

Allow me to explain what’s going on here.

The most common reason your bench press has gone down would be that your training lacks any variation. You bench press the same reps, the same sets, at the same time every single week. Basically, your body has adapted to the stress, and the muscles are no longer being worked as well as they initially were. Other things to consider are whether you’re recovering well enough, if you’ve lost weight, and how often you bench press. Furthermore, how often you press a load above your head, e.g. shoulder press, may also have an impact.

Your Bench Press Training Lacks Variation

I’m never quite sure where the “standard” workout came from.

You know what I mean – the first time you ever enter a gym you typically perform 3 sets of 10 reps of every exercise.

It’s only once you start to educate yourself, learn how your body reacts, and take on advice from others that your training protocol may change.

Now, I’m not knocking the good old 3×10, but it’s important to realise that the body adapts fairly quickly to exercise.

And by this, not only do I mean the bench press, but any exercise.

This is typically why most of us at one time or another hit a plateau in our training.

That being said, hitting a plateau could also mean that this is the maximum capacity at which your body can work a particular exercise.

But, in truth I don’t think many of us get anywhere near to this point.

The human body is far more capable than we give it credit for.

So, when it comes to the bench press it’s probably time to re-evaluate how you train the movement.

Mike Mentzer: "The body adapts. Don't let it get comfortable. Shock it, surprise it, and keep it guessing with varied exercises and intensities."

Correct me if I’m wrong, but Monday seems to be “bro day” no matter where you go.

Basically, for every guy, everywhere on the planet, Monday is chest day.

Okay, I exaggerate, but hopefully you get my meaning.

How to Vary Your Bench Press Training

So, the easiest “variation” would be to actually train chest on a completely different day.

I will say that you need to be careful which day, as you don’t want the previous day’s training to impede on your bench press.

As an example, if you’ve trained your shoulders, or triceps, or even both, the day before, you’re probably not going to be bench pressing to the best of your ability.

So, choose wisely.

You should also look at varying your reps and sets on a regular basis.

Author's Notes - Try varying your training protocol each time you train bench press. Very Heavy & Low Reps - 5x5, 3x3, Moderately Heavy & Medium Reps - 3x10, 4x8, Light to Moderate & High Reps - 3x15, 2x25

I know that we all measure progression by simply trying to lift more weight, or do one more rep, than the week before.

However, if your bench press isn’t increasing, has stalled, or even gone backwards, a little variety could be just the key.

And funnily enough, you may even find that reducing the weight on the bar, and performing more reps, will actually help you to eventually lift more weight.

So, if you’re currently pumping out 3 sets of 10 reps every Monday morning, it’s time for a change.

Why not try 4 sets of 15 reps on a Wednesday one week.

Then the following week you can hit 5 sets of 5 reps on a Tuesday, and so on.

Your Recovery SUCKS!

When I speak of recovery, I’m basically talking about everything you do when you’re not in the gym.

However, I would say that one of the main culprits that halts progression, and can even see your bench press numbers go down, is poor recovery.

I would include how you eat, what you’re drinking, how you’re sleeping, other daily activities, how you relax in the evenings, what your home life is like, your relationships, basically the whole shebang.

For me, I think it’s actually extremely hard to overtrain for most of us.

But, it is definitely possible to under-recover.

Ronnie Coleman: "If your bench press is dropping faster than a bag of rocks, check your ego, not the weight."

In fact, I’m all for high frequency training, and hitting certain exercises and movements multiple times a week.

And I definitely include the bench press as one of those exercises that you can do a few times a week.

That being said, if your recovery isn’t on-point you’ll definitely struggle.

And this of course could be why your bench press has gone down.

So, it’s probably time to take a good, hard look at these various areas of recovery.

Are you eating enough?

Do you take on adequate fluids on a daily basis (water of course)?

Are you getting at least 7-8 hours of “good” sleep every single night?

Is there anything currently happening in your life that is causing you undue stress or anxiety?

If you can fix these things then you should start to notice significant improvements in your bench press, and your overall training.

Have You Lost Weight? (Even Water Weight)

Did you know that the lift most affected by losing weight is the bench press?

You would think that it was more likely that the squat or deadlift would be severely impacted by weight loss.

I mean, they are typically more demanding on the body and the Central Nervous System than the bench press.

However, as it turns out it’s the bench press that will suffer the most if you lose weight.

Plus, even if this is just water weight, so in effect you maintain your muscle mass, your bench press numbers can go down quite dramatically.

Why Does Losing Weight Affect Bench Press? - Your chest is smaller, the bar has further to travel, so the range of motion is increased. Extra body fat provides cushioning for your joints, so less fat means that bench press will feel harder on your joints. If you've lost weight it's likely you may be eating less, which can make recovery more difficult.

Perhaps, you’re currently in a cutting phase.

Then again, maybe you’re trying to lean out.

It could even be that you’ve upped your cardio and conditioning workouts.

So, it may be time for you to jump on the scales and see what’s going on.

As I say, just because your squat and deadlift numbers haven’t been affected, this doesn’t mean that you haven’t lost weight.

Furthermore, even losing water weight over just a day or two can have an impact on your bench press.

So, if you are someone who generally does chest on a Monday, your weekend activities may hold a clue for you.

How Often Do You Bench Press?

Okay, I’ve spoken about the importance of recovery, but also of the fact that it’s hard for most of us to overtrain.

However, just to be contradictory, this can work both ways.

If you are bench pressing every single day in an attempt to up your numbers, I actually see nothing wrong with this.

That is, as long as you are varying your intensity, and indeed the lifts you are performing.

That being said, this is never a permanent solution.

If you want to increase your bench press, you should only look to “specialize” with the lift for a few weeks at most.

Then it’s time to take your foot off the gas pedal, potentially have a week off from bench pressing, before returning to it once more.

Then again, if you’re only bench pressing once a week (on a Monday no doubt) then as I say, your body may well have adapted to this.

So, it could be time to up your bench press game and perform the movement more regularly.

Basically, you need to find a happy medium.

How Often Do You Shoulder Press?

Now this is going to sound weird, but trust me it will help.

How’s your overhead pressing work going?

For many of us, if we want to increase reps or load on a particular exercise, then we work that exercise more often.

And this of course makes perfect sense.

However, this is often done at the expense of training other exercises or muscles.

That being said, overhead pressing can have a huge impact on how well your bench press goes.

So, I’m talking about the military press, push presses, dumbbell shoulder presses, etc.

An Athletic Woman in the Gym Performing a Single-Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Basically, your bench press strength corresponds to shoulder size and strength.

Therefore, if you get stronger in the overhead pressing movements you will find that your bench press will dramatically increase too.

And this can actually happen without even training the bench press.

So, take a look at your training, and see if you happen to be training shoulders less in an attempt to increase your bench press.

This could actually be the answer as to why your bench press numbers have reduced.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does it Take to Break a Bench Press Plateau?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how long it takes to break a bench press plateau. 

Individual factors and approaches play a huge role. 

However, here’s some valuable insights to help you estimate your own timeframe and provide guidance for busting through that plateau.

Factors That Influence “Breakthrough”

Severity of the plateau: Is your progress stalled completely, or are you still seeing slight improvements at longer intervals? A complete stall might take longer to overcome than a plateau with occasional progress.

Jim Wendler: "Overtraining is the thief of gains. Listen to your body, take rest days, and come back stronger."

Cause of the plateau: Identifying the root cause (improper form, overtraining, inadequate nutrition, etc.) is crucial for choosing the right strategies and accelerating progress.

Your training experience: Experienced lifters might need more advanced techniques and longer adjustment periods to see significant gains, while beginners may see faster progress with basic tweaks.

Your body’s genetics and recovery abilities: Individual differences in muscle fiber composition, recovery rate, and hormonal response can impact the speed of progress.

The consistency and accuracy of your training and recovery: Sticking to your program, optimizing form, prioritizing sleep and nutrition, and managing stress all contribute to faster breakthroughs.

Lou Ferrigno: "A plateau is just a detour on your road to progress. Analyze, adjust, and push through."

General Timeframes to Consider

4-6 weeks: This is a typical timeframe for seeing noticeable improvements with a well-designed training program after hitting a plateau, assuming other factors are optimized.

2-3 months: If you’re addressing a specific issue like form correction or nutritional adjustments, it might take a few months for the new approach to fully impact your bench press.

6-12 months: For complex plateaus involving multiple factors or deeper physiological adaptations, a longer timeframe might be needed, but consistent effort will eventually lead to progress.

Other Factors to Consider

Patience is key: Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. Plateaus are normal, and consistent effort will eventually pay off.

Focus on form and technique: Perfecting your bench press form will not only boost your strength but also prevent injuries and maximize your training efficiency.

Optimize your nutrition and recovery: Ensure adequate protein intake, balanced calorie intake, and prioritize sleep for optimal muscle growth and recovery.

Experiment and adjust: Don’t be afraid to try different training approaches, exercise variations, and recovery techniques to find what works best for you.

What Are the Best Exercises to Improve Bench Press?

Improving your bench press isn’t just about piling on weight.

Incorporating the right exercises can work wonders for your gains.

Plus, I’ve already spoken about the importance of variation in your training.

Here are some of the best exercises to supercharge your bench press, targeting different muscle groups and movement patterns.

Barbell Bench Press (King of the Chest)

The “king” for a reason, the barbell bench press is a compound exercise that hits your chest, shoulders, and triceps all at once.

Mike Mentzer: "The quickest way to a weak bench is to chase a big number without respect for form."

Focus on proper form: Grip shoulder-width apart, retract your shoulder blades, keep your core engaged, and lower the bar in a controlled manner to your chest.

Variations: Incline/decline barbell press, close-grip bench press, floor press.

Dumbbell Bench Press (Isolation and Control)

Dumbbells allow for independent arm movement, promoting balanced development and preventing strength imbalances.

You can also control the range of motion for each arm, maximizing muscle activation.

That being said, be wary of the weight, as generally most people won’t dumbbell press as much as the barbell bench press, although there are exceptions to this “rule”.

Variations: Dumbbell incline/decline press, single-arm dumbbell bench press.

Weighted Dips (Tricep Powerhouse)

Dips are fantastic for strengthening your triceps, a crucial muscle for pushing power.

Use weight belts or dip stations with added weights to progressively overload your triceps.

Variations: Assisted dips, decline dips, single-arm dips on benches.

Overhead Press (Shoulder Strength and Stability)

Back to the importance of overhead pressing once more.

Strong shoulders stabilize your upper body during the bench press and contribute to pushing power.

Use barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells for overhead presses, focusing on controlled movements and good posture.

Variations: Arnold press, seated overhead press, landmine press.

Cable Flyes (Chest Definition and Control)

Cable flyes offer continuous tension throughout the range of motion, sculpting your chest muscles and improving mind-muscle connection.

You can adjust the cable angle and handles to target different parts of your chest.

Variations: Pec deck flyes, incline/decline cable flyes, single-arm cable flyes.

Bonus Tips

Don’t neglect your back: Pull-ups, rows, and lat pulldowns strengthen your back muscles, which provide stability and prevent injuries during bench press.

Core work is crucial: A strong core helps stabilize your body during bench press and transfers power to your upper body.

Progressive overload is key: Gradually increase the weight, reps, or sets over time to keep challenging your muscles and stimulating growth.

Prioritize proper form over ego lifting: Using lighter weights with perfect form will yield better results and prevent injuries than going heavy with compromised form.

Warm-up and cool-down: Dynamic stretches and light cardio before your workout prepare your muscles, and static stretches afterward aid in recovery.

Can Stress Affect My Bench Press?

A Man's Clenched Fist Punching and Breaking Apart the Word "STRESS"

Absolutely! Stress can definitely affect your bench press, and in more ways than you might think. Here’s how:

Physiological Effects

Hormonal Imbalance: Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that breaks down muscle tissue and hinders protein synthesis, both crucial for muscle growth and strength gains.

Reduced Energy Levels: Chronic stress can drain your energy reserves, leaving you feeling fatigued and impacting your performance during workouts.

Muscle Tension: Stress can tighten your muscles, particularly around the shoulders and upper back, limiting your range of motion and power during the bench press.

Psychological Effects

Focus and Concentration: When stressed, your mind is preoccupied with worries and anxieties, making it difficult to focus on maintaining proper form and technique during the bench press.

Motivation and Confidence: Stress can sap your motivation and confidence, leading to apprehension and hesitation when attempting heavier weights.

Sleep Disruption: Stress often disrupts sleep patterns, which is essential for muscle recovery and rebuilding. Poor sleep further contributes to fatigue and decreased performance.

Impact on Performance

Reduced Strength and Power: All these factors combined can result in a noticeable decrease in your bench press strength and power output.

Increased Risk of Injury: Improper form and muscle tension due to stress can increase your risk of injuries during the bench press.

Slower Progress: Chronic stress can hinder your overall progress and slow down your journey towards achieving your bench press goals.

Tips for Managing Stress and Boosting Bench Press

Stress Management Techniques: Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga to manage your stress levels effectively.

Prioritize Sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night to optimize your recovery and energy levels.

Maintain a Healthy Diet: Consume a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein to fuel your workouts and support muscle growth.

Seek Support: Talk to a therapist or counselor if you’re struggling with chronic stress to develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Focus on Form and Technique: Prioritize proper form over heavy weights, even during stressful periods. This will minimize the risk of injury and ensure you’re targeting the right muscles.

Take Rest Days: Don’t overtrain. Schedule rest days and active recovery sessions to allow your body to recover from the stress of workouts.

Key Learning Points

  • If your bench press has stalled or is going down it’s likely that your training lacks variety. So, it makes sense to change the weights used, sets, reps, and even the day of the week you perform bench press.
  • Your bench press will suffer if you’re not eating or drinking enough, and not getting ample sleep. Recovery is essential when training.
  • The exercise most affected by weight loss is the bench press. So, if you’re struggling with the movement check whether you have lost weight.
  • Although recovery is important, if you want to get better at any exercise it make sense to perform it more often. So, to see increases in bench you can definitely perform the movement more than once a week.
  • Get stronger at overhead pressing movements and you’ll notice that your bench press also improves.

I’ve spoken a lot about using shoulder presses to improve your bench press. However, you’ll want to check our what I have to say about performing the overhead press and bench press on the same day.

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