T Nation

Bench Stalled at Pathetic Weight


So I have been doing 5/3/1 for the last 7 months and my bench really doesn't seem to be responding to it.

Here are my estimated 1rm for the last 16 weeks ( based on Jims calculator)

1- 215
2- 221
3- 220
4- 221
5- 221
6- 227
7- 228
8- 240(I think I was just really loaded up on stims and "on")
9- 222
10 227
11 233
12 227
13 214
14 225
15 220
16 226

The 3 months before this was more of the same thing - languishing between 220-230. So I have essentially made zero progress over this period.

Now this only seems to be the case with bench. For example my deadlift estimated 1rm has gone slowly from 400 to 450(this has been very consistent with very steady progress and thus far no signs of slowing).

Because of the progress on the other lifts I think it's fairly safe to say that diet isn't the issue. One thing that should be mentioned though is that I am on a maintenance diet and sitting very consistently @ 185lbs @ 5'11.

In the past(2 years ago) I've benched 265 but this was at a body weight of around 205.

For accessory work I do 2 compound exercises (one pushing one pulling) for 5 sets of 8-10. These will be 2 of the exercises recommended in the book. I will usually do these for straight sets, coming 2/3 reps short of failure on the last set. I then usually finish with either some isolation work for the arms or some light shoulder work like band pulls/face pulls etc, this work is pretty light and doesn't exceed 30 reps total volume.

I have been adding the 5 pounds to the max every cycle and once in the last 4 months I have reset my max down 15 pounds. Every time I have reset my max and started again the first week I will get around 10-12, the second 6-8, and the third 3-5. This quickly disappears though as I move the max up while not making progress. Then within 3 cycles Im only hitting prescribed reps or +1 (like today on week 2 I got 200x4).

One thing my friend brought up to me is that I'm never sore after upper body days. Even after doing the program for almost a year I can still hardly walk after the dead and squat days but this is hardly the case for upper body. I don't really think I could make myself sore without doing way more volume( or the existing volume was done at a much much higher intensity). I think this may have something to do with it. Perhaps my upper body needs more volume ?

Anyways. I'm at a loss as to what to do. I'm thinking of switching over to a Westside template for just my bench and keeping 5/3/1 for my squat and dead. I'm still curious though as to what I could be doing wrong ?

Thoughts ?



The first two things that pop out to me:

1) Diet. "Maintenance" is not ideal if strength gain is your ideal goal. If you are not gaining any body weight, and you are gaining any strength at all, I'd be pretty happy. I'm not gonna tell you what to do there, because I don't know your goals, and I'm not a nutritionist.

2)Deload. Are you doing it?

Another thing I would note, believe it or not, you do have some progress there. Week 13 was obviously crap, you are going to have those. Toss that out, and toss out the following weeks to look at the data set of week 1 through 12. Even toss out week 8 as an outlier if you please. There is still arguably an upward trend. It's not monstrous, but like I said, with a maintenance diet, even small, steady gains are a pretty sweet deal.


tmay - sometimes there is deficiency in your movement that restricts the amount of strength you can put on i a given movement. Your bench may be stagnant because you are weak in an area your may be overlooking. Or, you technique could be holding you back. Although you may be running 5x3x1 correctly, you may have reached a plateau for how your benching style.

Have you ever tried running 5x3x1 on different movements, such as floor presses or board presses? If you have been flat benching for 7 months, it may be time to change the way you are attacking your strength. Maybe rotate in a coupe mesocycles of different bench movements and then come back to the bench and run your 5x3x1 %'s again. Study your technique, see where you are missing you bench at, and come back and let us know...


I am de-loading. I just left those weeks out.

Yes, there is an upward trend. I actually graphed it.... It just seems very slow.

Good idea on switching up the main lift.


1RM calculators are hardly accurate and muscle/strength gain isn't linear. Just keep on putting in good work.


On your last 2 cycles how many reps did you get on the week 3, 1+ set for bench?


2 cycles ago on week 3 - 200 x 5
1 cycle ago week 3 - 205 x 3
latest cycle on week 2 - 200 x 4


It looks like everything is working perfectly. Bench takes time... You've gone from 215-240. Granted you said 240 was a good day but it's still a PR.

I'm going to reiterate what everyone else is saying. 531 works but it's not magic. This stuff takes time if you put 10 lbs on your bench in one year you've done well. You have put 25 lbs on in 7 months.

Quit graphing, and worrying, and start eating and lifting. Stick to your program and you will get stronger.

Like others have said strength isn't linear this is important to note. The trend will be upward but there are going to be ups and downs.

Example: I just got over strep, My squat before strep was 335x7 Last night, which was my first night back I got 335x3. I'm not worried about it because I know my strength will come back and continue to trend upward in the long run.


For me personally. I need some heavy bench work to cement the gains made from the higher rep schemes. You might want to try out some heavy singles as laid out in the 5/3/1 for PL book.


One of the modifications Jim mentioned for this was working back down after the 3rd max rep set go back down to the 1st set's weight and do max reps on that also. On the 3rd set you can also do the minimum reps but do 3 sets of that, for example on the last week instead of grinding out 2-3 reps just do 3 singles with short rest.


Same here. Check your actual max every now and then or do singles. I'm a hard gainer on the bench. It didn't seem like I was making progress, but I checked my logs. In 6 months I've added 30 lbs. That's 5lbs./ month. Did you see wendler's live spill? He mentions that you need to eat. I agree. After all, my motto is it's more fun to eat food and be strong than to be hungry and weak.



Some good suggestions. Thanks for the advice. I think I might like to look into adding some singles or doing and extra all out set at the lighter weight.


Rather than an all out extra set, I would run back down on the weights you used to work up to the max. This'll be great if you respond well to higher volume. And the weight will be harder going back down because you just did that all out set. I think there was something in one of the big 5/3/1 threads in the PL forums.


Sounds good, Thanks. I will update in a few weeks to let everyone know how it works out.


Edit: not saying this is the answer, just something interesting to think about.


Keep at it is the best advise.

Outside of that, the only "problem" with 531 is that its too simple. I'm not knocking it, I ran it for 6mo and loved/hated every day of it. The problem is that you cannot spend too much time testing different volumes, or any volume. My back does amazing with high volume, as long as I stay away from pull downs and wide grip pullups. I hit 270 paused on the bench during that. I took my volume down as a change of pace and my spotter had to help me with 245 touch-and-go yesterday.

What I'm getting at is, you may have to break the rules, just slightly. If you aren't hitting your rear delts hard, heavy and high volume, as well as your rows (once again, this is individual, I've noticed great things from high volume work in the stabilizers) you may have to add a few sets too. This is all in the assumption that you are making some imbalances.

Also, you don't need WS barbell stuff, but thats on you, you ran 531 for a full cycle. I'm currently on that right now and am seeing some decent progress. WS can be too open for some. If you're not familiar with it read EliteFTS.com 8 keys by Dave, thats a great start. Also, you can always do dynamic work in 531, making those first couple sets harder and feel more worth it I guess.

One other thing. Soreness is worthless for PLing, ya it happens, but that doesn't mean anything. You're not trying to thrash the muscle to shit, that's BBing. You're trying to create awesome neural function and worth your muscles in a different way.


Don't go for max reps each time you bench. Do more days where you just make the required reps.
My first time on 5/3/1 i always went for max reps and in four months i stalled and regressed, not a pretty picture :frowning:


Hammmer your back.

In your OP, you said you do one more compound pressing movement after your bench workout along with one more compound pulling movement and that neither were very heavy.

That's a 2:1 ratio of bench:rows. It should be the other way around, really.

Try including kroc rows and pendlay rows into your training. If you're benching correctly (PL style, with your back) and you've been neglecting your back, this will likely help.

No one ever got weaker by getting a stronger back. Plus, it'll help your deadlift and your long term shoulder health.


Sorry, I forgot to mention that in between sets of the main exercise I will do pulls or chins. I usually don't push it hard but do 5-8 reps. I also do this on squat and dead days. On upper body days I leave it as it's own set to be done after the main exercise as I feel it drains me too much while benching or OHPing. So in short there is another 20-30 reps of pulling each day im in the gym on top of the one accessory compound exercises.


You said yourself that you are not pushing the row work hard, so that's the problem. Those 60% intensity chins and rows dont help that much. The ratio of 2:1 rowing:pressing is what you need to work on. You have maybe the same amount of reps for push and pull, but your push intensity is was higher than your pulls. Fix that. At your pressing weight you should be able to chin AND seated row/ bb row your max bench, or more. If you can row 300 I guarantee you can bench closer to that.