Q&A: Why is My Bench Press Progress Slow?

by Robert Maxwell

I’ve been lifting weights for a while now, and have been making good progress in the squat and deadlift. I was always weakest in bench press though, and it’s still my slowest progressing lift. Why is this, and is there anything I can do about it?

I can sympathize with you on this one, because bench has always been my weakest lift of the main 4 as well. In fact, many trainees find their bench progress to be slowest. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong, but you might be. The first thing to examine is your technique. If you’ve been benching wrong the whole time, in a way that puts your body at a mechanical disadvantage, it makes sense that your progress in this movement has been slow. I won’t try to correct your bench press form in this answer, since I’d need to carefully examine footage of your training to even attempt to do so. I can address some common bench press technique issues, though. 


One that I’ve struggled with myself is touching the bar too high on the chest, and flaring elbows out too far as a result. Not only does this make it harder to press heavy weights, but it puts your shoulders at risk of injury, too. As a general rule, the barbell should touch at least below your nipple line, and depending on how you’re built, perhaps lower than that. Assuming your form is correct, the next most likely suspect for poor bench press progress is nutrition. Chances are this isn’t the culprit in your case though, because you’ve been progressing well in the other lifts: squat, deadlift, and overhead press. If your progress in these was also poor, I would strongly suspect insufficient food intake - especially protein. If you’re eating enough of the good stuff and lifting correctly, your training program becomes the next point of examination. What sort of progression are you following? What does your volume of sets, reps, and bench press frequency look like? It’s possible you’re either over training or under training the bench press. I can’t tell you exactly the number of sets and reps that would constitute either, because this varies from person to person. But if you tend to get injured a lot during bench, or often feel fatigued before you even finish your set, you may be over training. If you haven’t been dealing with annoying injuries or fatigue, and aren’t benching more than once a week, under training might be your problem. Determine if you fit in one these categories, then try adjusting your training volume accordingly. Also, try switching up your weights and rep ranges now and then. Sometimes giving your body a new angle to progress from can get you back on track. Proper rest is another vital aspect of good strength progress. If the quantity or quality of your sleep is low, your bench numbers will be, too. But again, this probably isn’t your problem, since you’re progressing well in other aspects of your training, which you likely wouldn’t be if your sleep were poor.



Now the part that might be tough to swallow. If you’re already doing all this stuff and still progressing poorly, you might just be a weak bench presser. This isn’t nice to hear, but it’s a well documented fact that some guys are naturally stronger in some lifts than others. It comes down to the way you’re put together – especially the length of your limbs and muscle insertion points. That said, just because you’re not naturally fantastic in the bench press, doesn’t mean you’ll never be good at it. Keep training with good technique, eat enough good food, recover adequately between sessions, and you’ll make progress. Stick with it long enough and you’ll doubtless bench some impressive weights. Slow progress is still progress!


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