T Nation

Bench Press Programming


My 5 rep max for the bench press has progressively gone downhill over the last year or so. I started with SS for 3x5 of 217 @ 210 lbs and now I'm somewhere around 1x5 of 200 @ 176 lbs while on Madcows 5x5. While I totally understand cutting is going to hinder any strength gains, I'm still around 19% bf and my other lifts have continued to increase. Below is a form video I recently posted - since this I have widened my grip and am learning to setup my arch with flat feet.

I've read that people typically respond to a higher volume of bench press movements? Would that be a good way to go (ie add an additional set or two or even add in a back-off set)? Or would it make more sense to add in an additional bench press accessory lift for a couple sets? Ideas would be helpful - thanks in advance.


Something I noticed that I've changed recently for the better... try taking your air in before you even start to bring the bar to your chest, then hold that air in until you finish the rep. I gained a lot of stability and my bench went up a bit just from making that one adjustment.


Your problem is going way beyond your technique. From knowing very little and that you are doing well proven programs, Id say its either your lifestyle(bad sleep habits, poor diet, etc.) or inconsistency. If you need help, youll need to give more info


Try cutting back on the frequency. Do you feel strong when benching or do you feel drained like you need to take more time off in between workouts? The stronger you get the more rest you need. 7-9 days. I'd keep the closer grip inside the rings.


I get 8.5 - 9 hours of sleep a night (still feel tired throughout the day though if that matters). My diet has been really pretty good - taking in 1900 calories with 2300 every fourth day and an additional cheat meal once a week. I am getting 120-130 grams or so of protein, the rest comes mainly from complex carbs (have been really trying hard to get my good fats increased in the last week or so). I am getting my veggies in, lacking on fruits.

I don't believe it's a consistency thing as I do my bench workouts at the same consistency as my squat/deadlift workouts and those lifts have improved. I'd say on average, I'll hit 14 out of 15 workouts.

When I get to my bench press workouts during the week, it's usually more of a thing like the weight just feels heavy to me. It's not a big drop in weight/reps over the course of 2-3 weeks, but a steady decline. I've dropped the weight down 10% or so and have tried to work my way back up, but usually end up stalling out short of where I dropped down from.

It is possible that I'm just not hitting the bench press at high enough frequency - for a month or so, I dropped out one of my heavy days (have 2 per week) in favor of form/speed work b/c I was on a cut. I've recently added that other heavy day back in to see if it was a frequency thing. If you need/want any more info - please let me know.

*edit - my consistency has been a bit messed up lately as my car is broken and with work holiday parties and such, but the problem I'm describing has been going on for much longer.


Good diet? 120-130 grams of protein? I take it you're four feet tall and weigh 70 lbs or so?

Oh, you aren't? Well, there seems to be some room for improvement here...

Other than that, I never liked those 5x5 things for bench at all... Works ok for squatting, but then again, just about everything does...
Do you feel any discomfort when benching? Around the elbows or at the shoulders?

And... You're 19% bf? Where'd that measurement come from?

You also seem to be seriously lacking in the back and delt department tbh... Tris too, really... Personally, overly simplistic approaches to upper body training have never worked for me... I can pretty much do 2-3 exercises for my legs and keep getting stronger, but upper body always needed a lot more variety (not necessarily volume per movement or super-high frequency) than what a typical 5x5 routine provides.

Can you give us any more info on your issue... When exactly did it start?

If we can't find out what exactly is at fault, and going back to eating a proper strength training diet doesn't help... Then I would just start over (new program plus diet, maybe even focus on incline instead of flat, etc).

Also, dropping the weight by only 10% and working back up may work sometimes, but it's imo way too little of a difference.


Well, the protein is where it is for a couple reasons - one of which being that on a low-calorie diet I find it hard to get more in. So - I'll bring up that number.
Again, I am currently cutting at those 1900 calories. I plan to up that again after I drop a few more pounds.

I feel no discomfort when benching at all, no pain, no aches. I've never been a big fan of developing my back, only within the last year have I do really anything for it. I work my back via deadlifts, bent rows, and chin ups (you could also argue that good mornings do some back work). My upper back is definitely weaker than I feel it should be.

Bf was measured with a DEXA scan (got a friend at the college here).

As far as when my issue started? Well, I started taking training more seriously about 2 years ago (been lifting for 10 years or so). Immediately after starting on SS (2 years ago) my bench went up maybe 10-15 lbs for 3 sets of 5. After that initial increase, it continued to decline until now. I'd fail 3 workouts in a row at a weight, reset, work back up and usually do worse than before the reset - carried on like that for several resets.


I agree with Carnage that it seems like you diet is at the very least, a large part of the problem. Im not sure how much you weigh but even at 150lbs(which I doubt you are), your protein intake is lacking. And with cutting, you want to raise your intake even more, not drop down. For now, Id say start increasing you intake to at least 1gram per lb of bw to start of and see if that doesnt help. And if you are really wanting to gain some strength, I would wait on cutting. Its not helping your cause


Ah, now we're getting somewhere.

Shoot me a pm if you like, and/or pm Hungry4More about his diet (you can find him in the brotherhood of Iron subsection) and on how to lean out while getting stronger...

If possible, raise your activity level so that you won't have to eat so damn little... A sub 2000 cal diet is just a nightmare for getting in enough protein etc imo for a guy.

Edit: I had my e-mail in here but it was replaced by a pm request. I can however not answer pm's for some reason, so I guess just go and message Hungry4More for help instead.


(note: Diet is not the only issue, but it's a big part I'd say... Programming is another etc... I don't have all that much time to post on forums anymore)


Your speed day might be hurting your heavy day. I still think cutting back is the answer. Rarely is it the opposite. You are not going to lose strength benching once per week. Work up to a max single then do some reps on that day. I guarantee you will be ready to go if you give yourself enough time to heal. You will probably break a record. It's called supercompensation. Volume , Intensity and Frequency.


Programming fault: he's still doing starting strength and linear periodization. (I think)

Needs to do 5*5 for intermediates, 5-3-1, etc etc


For the record, I'm now 176 weight-wise. I'll do my best to get in some more protein. Programming-wise, I'm using a basic 5x5 program (madcow - basic outline below).

Day 1 - squat 5x5
- bench 5x5
- bent rows 5x5
Day 2 - squat 4x5
- press 4x5
- deadlift 4x5
Day 3 - squat 4x5, 1x3, 1x8
- bench 4x5, 1x3, 1x8
- bent rows 4x5, 1x3, 1x8

Basic nutrition info - 5'6" 176 lbs (down from 223 :slight_smile: ) roughly 18-19% bf
- maint. calories estimated to be 2300
- taking in 2300 M, 1900, T,W,R,S,Su, cheat meal on F- not sure where i'm at cal wise (2750-3000 maybe?)
- trying to do roughly 300-500 calories cardio 4 or so days a week (machine-counted for what that's worth)
- protein intake varies (sad to say) from maybe 85-150 a day
- fats - just started looking at these, was at maybe 15 g/day with very little unsaturated fats - trying to get more like omega 3s mainly
- being on such low calories I basically have to eat "healthy" to stay somewhat satisfied, so it's low in extra sugars/saturated fats.

I'm eating what I am based on a book (power nutrition - by kleiner i think) - suggested 400 below maint and cardio to burn any extra (and thus keep my metabolism higher).

*edit - not sure if it matters, but I'm not putting up big weights (bench press) - I hit 195 for 5 on thursday and will be trying for 200 for 3 on monday.


Man, I dont know who told you about this diet you are on but it's fucking garbage at best. 85-150g a day of protein? Thats 340-600 calorie difference? Every day? Where are the rest of your calories coming from? Carbs? Youre getting 135 from fats. So, on your lowest day you are taking in what, 300g of carbs? That isnt low. You will not get stronger this way. If you car so much about body fat and calories, dont ask fucking questions about bench pressing... or get on a better diet.


I wouldn't have asked the question if I knew everything :stuck_out_tongue: But, seeing as how I'm human, I'm far from it. Yeah, the days where my protein is low are most-likely due to an increase in carbs. Keep in mind that I shoot for protein, but carbs tend to satisfy me more (and thus with a low-calorie intake, I do what'll keep me satisfied until I can eat again).

As far as me asking a question about my bench press, I honestly thought it was a technique issue and not a diet issue.

I agree with `Qe4` simply cut back on frequency ( & volume ) until gains are forthcoming.

NO tried/proven programme is worth a toss if it does not fit within YOUR individual recovery ability !

Personally , I feel that a programme of 2-3 training days every 7-9 days is adequate for strength gain. Consisting of something like ;

            1; Heavy squat / close grip bench 

               3 days recovery

            2; Assistance work ( pulldowns / rows / cleans / side laterals / rear laterals etc .. no leg or tricep work )  

               3 days recovery

            3; Light squat / bench press ( comp style )

               3 days recovery 

            4; Deadlift

               3 days recovery  

            back to W/O 1; 

    Such a routine would see you maximise recovery whilst allowing for skill training by way of lower effort bench/squat days .

    Nutritionally ; Simply aim for a well balanced diet , I would advocate a diet of approx 60% carbs 25% protein and 15% fats.

    Carbs are a neccessity for high muscular effort as without glycogen within our muscles they will not/do not function optimally ( ie; we are weaker ) & in powerlifting/strength training carbohydrate is just as ( if not more ) important than protein. 

    Remember ; nutrition only assumes relevance within the context of having first employed the proper training methodology ! 

     Best wishes , T.


I dont see how you expect to increase your bench on such a low calorie / protein diet. Your body is probably struggling to survive, let alone get stronger muscles! Its impossible. choose what you want, a bigger bench or a smaller waist. The two dont correlate much


Doing cardio four times a week on about 2300kcals a day and wanting to increase bench and decrease fat?

You should be happy your squat and deadlift is progressing, I need 3000 to maintain me and I wouldn't expect many gains of anything.

Drop a session of cardio, clean up your diet [start with 200g of protein, suppliment omega 3's and get more healthy fats from nuts etc, use moderate to low GI carbs except pre/post workout] .. maybe take calories up to around 2500 a day if you're still doing a lot of cardio. If you're eating well and consistant and training hard, you should lean up with only one or two sessions of cardio not that I remember you saying what you're doing for cardio.

If you cant get more protein in, protein shakes are the answer. two shakes, two scoops in each, you've doubled your baseline protein intake by drinking some water.

You havn't said what "basically eating healthy" is. I dont remember seeing your average meal breakdown of the day. What, and how much, you eat is way more important than what program you're following, or if you need to do some ME or speed benching. Or if you need to run 4 times a week. Or.. well you get the idea.

Someone correct me if any of that is wrong.


IMO/experience , There is little/no need to increase protein intake above 1 gm per Lb of bodyweight. Such intake is suffice for a natural trainee ( even those who are wishing to gain ) .
I agree in terms of reduction in cardio ( at least until gains in resistance/reps used are forthcoming ) as anything which affects ( prolongs ) recovery adversely will obviously impact on progress.

A basic healthy diet , of slightly above maintenance level of calories ( approx 500 for gain ) in the form of 60% carbs 25% protein and 15% fats coupled with a brief yet intense training regime that falls within ones recovery ability ( chartable by progress , ie; if the intensity/effort is high enough but no progress = not enough recovery or workouts too frequent )   

Recovery , recovery , recovery !!!!!