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Bench Press, Weak Link - Chest


Im 320lbs guy with 400lbs bench press and 280lbs OHP. I constantly improve my lifts more and more, but recently i noticed problem with my bench press. During heavy bench press I started to feel “bad” tension in my chest - especially upper chest (like chest couldnt handle the weight), and with even heavier weights my body change bench press to something like close grip bench press ( elbows tuck in way too much and all the work is done by triceps and shoulders)

After many hours of reading about technique and analyzing my previous training plans, I came to the conclusion that chest is my weak link in the bench press and most of the work is done by triceps and shoulders.
In all my training years all i did was flat bench press, i NEVER did any other exercise, i never did any dumbbell presses, flyies, incline presses, NOTHING only flat bench for like 5-8sets and it was all for my chest training. Even with 5/3/1 that i started 5month ago i keep that habit, and after main 5/3/1 bench press I’m always doing 3-5sets flat bench press as supplemental work

My main goal is strength, and i think short-term solution would be to change my grip to really narrow and take advantage of my strong triceps and shoulders. But I am only interested in long-term solution, so I want for couple of cycles focus on improving my chest to match my triceps and shoulders strength and then in the future hits big PRs thanks to strong triceps, shoulders and chest.

Here is how my upper body 5/3/1 workouts looks like for last 5 months

Bench 5/3/1
Bench press (sets/reps/weight depending on the plan FSL, BBB etc)
Lat work 5x10
Triceps 3x10

OHP 5/3/1
OHP (sets/reps/weight depending on the plan FSL, BBB etc)
Lat work 5x10
Biceps 3x10

What should I change in this plan to best fit my current goal - Improve lagging chest especially upper chest to match my triceps/shoulders strength and mass.

Thank you for your time and sorry for all my grammar mistakes

I like doing low incline bench with DBs straight after benching, say first or second pin up from flat, i do them with elbows out 3x10-12 then jump up heavier for a 4th set of 5 reps, i really feel it in the chest.

My bench is nowhere near your level, but this is what I think has helped me to keep increasing mine!

heavy slight incline dumbbell bench press as an assistance move - 5s progression would be a good template for this move in my opinion. Keep elbows out instead of tucked. Bring the weight in instead of up (mentally) on each rep. Pause in the stretch position at bottom. Add that to either bench or OHP day. once a week. Smooth reps. After you stall on this lift (can’t hit required reps in 5s progression), change up your chest assistance move to guillotine press (smith machine if you don’t have a spotter), or weighted chest dips etc… I like to change assistance moves around every 6-10 (westside approach) weeks hitting the targeted muscle/weakness thinking like a body builder. I also change rep schemes - like do the incline db presses on 5s progression, but do the smith machine guillotine presses with 10-20 reps in mind and lighter weight for 3-5 sets.

The three best assistance exercises for bench 1. One arm row go heavy big boy, straps sets of 8 around 150- 180lbs. With your elbows tucked get big push off lats, # 2 pullovers/scull crusher combination go up to 40% bench on these, go for sets of 5 to eight three to four sets, #3 hammer curls, go heavy as shit on these 4 sets 5to8 you ahould work up to around 80lb dumbbells fairly fast these aren’t strict curls cheat.!! Some close grips down sets wont hurt good luck. Anthony Clark told me best exercise for bench assistance were one arm row, pullovers, he couldn’t do one arm row 180lbs not heavy enough, had to resort to bent over rows with 6 plates (each side ) 320 huh maybe ill run into you at waffle house one these days.

I too have lagging pecs compared to my tris and delts. They started to improve during my last training cycle with lots of dumbbell work which I had never used before. This coming training cycle I will add incline presses and illegal wides - look these up they are underutilized and a trick of the old school big time raw benchers.

Thanks for all answers. As i said before my main goal is performance (and part of this is get rid of the weak links).

After some more digging, I know for sure that i will Lower TM for bench press and focus on proper form, still push final set hard but only with good technique.

Supplemental/assistance work
Here is the problem, , after AMRAP set for bench or ohp, I always did 3-5sets with lower weights and then I always say it is enough. But to be honest i think i could do more.Because i take care about others things, I sleep like a baby (8-10h + naps) and eat like a hog (even more than enough :)) + i have light desk job at home.

So I need help with supplemental/assistance work for chest and ohp that focus on improving lagging pecs strength/mass.

Simple answer; Bar Dips
Bar Dips have always been my #1 chest developer, and Wendler seems to like them too.

You sound to be on the right track. Remember to train the OHP as a movement, not the muscle; this move should improve your overall bench performance. Lots of good advice above, but if performance is the goal and not aesthetics, you can get away with heavier, lower rep work for the pecs. Pick 1 or 2 exercises and attack them with a particular assistance template; SST, BBB, and 5s pro all work great for dumbbell push/pull, chins and rows. Perhaps all you need to do is swap your BBB sets so you’re hitting chest twice a week?

I am working on what I perceive as lagging part, my chest as well, and here are my bench and OHP days:
btw - I’m 38, weigh 220 lbs. and joker set my way up to a single 330 lbs. last Thursday and stopped there. A few months ago I pushed 345 but it was sloppy.

Bench Day 5/3/1 rep maxes + LSF AMRAP superset with band pull-aparts
OHP BBB @ 50%TM superset with weighted pull ups
Slight Incline Dumbbell Press 3 sets of 6-10 reps - heavy bodybuilder style, superset with pendlay rows - same sets/reps scheme
Lateral Raises 3x 15-20 reps
curls 3x 6-8 reps
face pulls 100 total reps

OHP Day 5/3/1 rep maxes + LSF AMRAP superset with chin-ups
Bench BBB @ 50%TM superset with Kroc Rows or strict db rows (I adjust rowing style/intensity based off how I feel that day)
Weighted Dips 3x10
BB curls 3x8-10
Triceps rope press down 3x 12+ reps
Bent over rear delt raise 3x 15+ reps

My favorite quote from Jim is, and I paraphrase “sometimes it’s what you don’t do that makes all the difference.”

If upper chest is your weakness, just pick 2 upper chest exercises (one assistance move per workout) and attack the shit out of them until you stop making progress on them. Then back off or pick 2 new exercises and own the shit out of them.

Some good answers on here regarding supplementary/assistance work but i believe the answer for progress for yourself being as strong as you are is lowering your tm like you mentioned to 80% and monitoring tm after every 2 cycles. Doing this will allow you not to get as beaten up as much with higher percentage work and rotate between 5’s pro and rep pr’s/jokers for main work. I dont feel right about giving advise when my bench isnt as strong as yours (paused 155kg at 102.5kg) but just passing on what jim’s advice has been for myself and others including vincent dizenzo who is a fucking beast of a bencher (600 pounds raw).

I thank you for all the advice, really helped me.

5/3/1 is my first serious program, and overall first serious approach to lifting, and after 5 month i can say I have made great progress,

Bench: 355 -->400
Ohp: 245 -->280
Squat: 375 -->560
Deadlift: 365 -->535

Besides progress that i have made in last 5month im still believe Im not past the “newbie gains”. I know it sounds weird but in past 5 month i set PRs very easily at 80-90% workouts and I still do it (i had everything mapped out in excel spreedsheet, but i had to format my harddrive and i copied wrong spreedsheet :dizzy_face:).

I achieve this only with manipulating TM, pushing very hard last set + 3-5 back off sets + assistance (rows,abs etc), no jokers, no singles, no big volume, rarely my last set ended at 3reps, hell most of the time i was working at 5++reps range. So i have tons of tools if I hit plateu, but to be honest I do not even see any signs of plateau on the horizon.

Of course I would not change something that works great for me but above everything I listen to my body.

For example barbell row is one of my favorite exercises i just love to do it for one big amrap set (320x20), but it works “too well” for my back, and my next day deadlift or squat performance suffers, And I could not allowed that. So I change barbell for dumbbell rows that i really hate, but i dont have any problems with deadlift or squat next day now.

And now my body says that pecs (upper especially) could not handle more weights and it could end up with bad injury. So the priority for me now is to solve this problem before something bad happens

With all your help, I came to this

Bench 5/3/1
Low incline Dumbbells press 5x10
Low incline flyies 3x10
Lat work 5x10
Triceps 3x10

OHP 5/3/1
45-60degree incline barbell press 3-5s x 5
3x10 dips
Lat work 5x10
Biceps 3x10

The changes are small but significant i think. A little bit higher volume (one additional exersise 3x10) , some dumbbells work and after OHP 5/3/1 some more pecs emphasis supplemental/assistance work(incline press and dips). I think it will be sufficient to improve lagging chest.

What do you think?

On Monday I believe that you’re doing 3 exercises that target the same muscle - bench + dumbbell press + flys - I think flys are more cosmetic and far less conducive to pressing more weight. If you do the 5x10 dumbbell presses correctly, the flys are a waste of time - sometimes its what you don’t do that makes all the difference.

On the OHP day, you’re doing heavy delt work already - 5x5 incline barbell press is heavy delt work on top of OHP heavy delt work. If you’re shoulders are healthy, all good, but I would change the rep scheme up a bit and shoot for that 5x10 again with less weight - take this from a 38 year old with a fucked up shoulder. To be honest, I would do 5x10 flat or slight incline bench on OHP day, but the SST is acceptable if you can handle the percentages and stay healthy.

I like doing close grip bench after ohp and a steep almost 60 degree incline bench after bench, pausing every rep. It seems to help with strength and size. I usually do them as 10, 8, 5 and 2 sets. So cycle one would be 2 sets of 10 every week, then cycle two would be 2 sets of 8, etc. I add 5 pounds each week as well, so it winds up being 45 pounds added after cycle 3. Then I start 10 pounds higher than I did last time with the tens and start over. Hope that made sense.

At 320 I might move slow on the dips.

Where do you fail during the bench? I apologize if someone asked this and I missed it but thats where I’d start. Top, bottom, or middle?
That’s the deal-it doesn’t matter what all the suggestions say- You are thinking in terms of chest development but you started off saying your bench is stalling-

2 entirely different dilemmas.

With a 400 pound bench (i don’t care how much you weigh) you might wanna start looking into training your weaknesses as they relate to your bar path and speed- Generic suggestions like “dumbbell presses” will only get you so far-

Have you ever messed with boards?
Illegal wides and camber presses have helped me too- these can be done lighter and NOT for reps- 5 sets of 3 or something similar. Both will target the chest w/out triceps, but the illegals can mess with shoulders so be careful if you use them-

You can plug all these into the “triumvirate” template as well as a few others.

And yes- Kroc rows have been essentials for me for a long time-
But lats go without saying if you are serious about benching.
Best of luck!


Thank you for giving me a reason to not do the flyes i hate them :slight_smile:


I think you misunderstood me. All i care is to bench,squat,ohp,deadlift more and be injury free.

My bench is not stalling, i could progress more and more but when the the weights become heavier I started to feel very “bad tension” in my upper chest (as if something was going to tear off), after that when i adding even more weight, my body is changing bench press pattern to close grip bench press.
I saw one Dan Green videos about bench pressing, and he said something like this

"You dont want to flare yours elbows too much because you wont get in strength of the shoulders and triceps, but you dont want to tuck the elbows way too much, because then you will be using triceps and shoulders mostly, And you want to use your chest, shoulders and triceps in bench press,

And this is how i came to conclusion that my chest is weak and underdeveloped, but i have big and strong shoulders and triceps which allow me to bench constantly more weights.

I treat lifting as a lifetime journey so i think is more beneficial to do 3 steps back now (reset weighs/lower tm for bench) and get rid of this “weak link - chest”

No need to rework everything. Swap in some incline DB press, increase the pause at the bottom of your non-amrap bench sets and/or do two or three sets of max rep push-ups after pressing sessions.