Fix Your Poverty Bench Press

So you’re seeing steady progress on your squat and your deadlift, but your bench isn’t going anywhere? Here’s the tips you need to dig yourself out of a poverty bench press scenario.

(Looking to up your bench technique game? Check out this video!) 

1. Don’t Be Afraid To Gain Weight

This is by no means me saying you should sacrifice a healthy body weight for the sole purpose of adding 10lbs to your bench. This is also by no means saying you can’t get stronger at bench press while remaining the same bodyweight.

However, bench press tends to highly respond to changes in bodyweight for most individuals. I.e. if your BW is trending up it’s likely your bench is trending up with it. Likewise, if you are losing some weight it’s not uncommon to see bench progress stall a bit.

Gaining a solid 10 to 15lbs of muscle in addition to good programming can be a great way to dig yourself out of a bench plateau (Don’t worry about your precious six pack we can get it back later). That being said, gaining bodyweight should be seen as more of a supplement to solid training than anything else. If the only way you know how to increase your bench press is to increase your bodyweight there’s more to your training that needs to be addressed.

2. Increase Your Frequency/Volume

You’d be surprised how many days a week you can bench press without running into recovery/overtraining issues.

If you are experiencing a bench plateau the very first thing any good strength coach is going to do is add an additional bench day or two to your programming. So if you are only benching once per week you could see your frequency jump up to 2 to 3 times per week. Even if you are currently benching 3 times a week, don’t write off the possibility that you could still require more training sessions. It’s not uncommon to see higher level powerlifters programming in 4 to 5 bench sessions a week simply because that’s the amount of stimulus they need to continue to see progress.

This additional frequency obviously means your overall bench volume will increase meaning more work being done by you, better chances to induce progressive overload, and more practice/ skill development in the lift itself.

3. Remember This is A Full Body Effort 

Lifter’s tend to fixate on the fact that bench “is a chest movement”. 

Maybe if you’re a bodybuilder and that’s what you are specifically focusing on sure. But from a strength standpoint the bench press should always be a total body effort. Don’t discount how much additional power you’ll be able to generate having a nice strong back in a tight position. Or the extra boost you can get by consciously remembering to drive your feet hard into the ground the entire time you are pressing.

It’s easy to get lazy and try to muscle the weight up on the strength of your chest, shoulders, and triceps alone but always be asking yourself how your technique could be better. Are you setting your position before the bar leaves the rack? Are you remaining tight throughout the entire movement? Were you using leg drive the entire time, or did you give up on it half way through?

A good way to know you’re headed in the right direction with your bench setup/technique is it shouldn’t feel comfortable. You’re trying to generate a lot of tightness and stability here…not laying down to take a nap…

4. Add Daily Singles to Your Programming 

If you tend to do well on volume work for bench press, but things don’t pan out when it comes time to maxing your bench press…you might just need more practice.

Handling, and performing proper technique under near maximal loads is a skill in and of itself. One that, if you aren’t practicing it, probably isn’t going to get any better. If your goal is to be proficient at maxing your bench press consider programming in daily singles for your bench days.

Daily singles get programmed in before your normal training volume for the day, and can actually be used to determine the weight you use for your volume sets (Depends on the style of programming you like). Good to note, just because it’s a single, doesn’t mean you are maxing out every bench session. Singles tend to be programmed in the RPE 7-9 range and should be seen as practice with heavy weight, not an actual max test.

Not only is this a great way to develop skill in handling heavy weights, this also makes maxing your bench press a much less jarring experience. You’ll have a lot more confidence when it comes time to max your bench if you’ve already practiced this 30 sessions up to this point.

5. Consider Trying a New Grip Width

Speaking on a very general level, if you widen your grip width on bench, there’s a good chance it’ll make the movement feel easier for you.

Granted, this is not universal to everyone and is still a disputed topic when it comes to strength training (Some people will succeed better with a close grip than they will a wide grip).

That being said, there’s a reason you’ll see powerlifters attempting to maximize their grip width when it comes to bench press. The wider the grip, the shorter the range of motion. The shorter the range of motion, the less distance you’re going to actually have to make the bar move, and theoretically, you should be able to handle a bit heavier weight…theoretically.

Wide grip benching can take some time to get used to before you see any benefit out of it, and I’d highly suggest slowly creeping your grip out overtime instead of trying to jump from a close grip to a wide grip right away. If your bench press truly isn’t going anywhere, it’s at least worth the time to try playing with your grip width to see what you will respond to best, and what position is going to be the most powerful for you.

6. Save the Accessories for Other Muscles

If you’re struggling with your bench, you may be tempted to hammer in on some additional accessory work for your chest after your bench sets. However, I’d argue that time your spending on those extra chest accessories would have been better spent getting in…you guessed it…more sets of bench.

If you are looking to get some additional accessory work, however, consider training those muscles you might not immediately associate with bench press strength.

For example, often overlooked in the bench press is having a nice strong back to up your stability for the movement. So instead of some chest flies, maybe try working on some barbell rows. Likewise, bigger stronger legs could make your leg drive that much more helpful. Maybe you’ve upped your bench frequency, but how’s your leg training going?

Considering your strength across the board and how muscles other than your chest, shoulders, and triceps can help you out can go a long way to building yourself into a better bencher.


Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.