T Nation

Horrendous Bench/OHP Strength

I’m seeking advice on my current bench progress (or lack thereof). I should however, preface that I am on a cut (due to poor food choices and rampant dirty eating for most of my life, not because I’m chasing a six-pack).

While the caloric deficit certainly impacts the strength and mass gains from 5/3/1 (or any program), I’ve made minor gains in squat and DL over the last 3 months while my bench/OHP has not improved but not decreased.

Then this week rolled around and I actually got weaker in bench/OHP. This is alarming to me and my motivation has definitely taken a hit (I’ve never regressed on a lift while consistently training before). I am convinced I am genetically predisposed to lower-body development (great hip, knee and ankle mobility along with consistent mass/strength gains), but my upper-body needs special attention (I train upper just as consistently, but see virtually no gains and now for the first time, I’ve seen losses).

I am currently a 5’9" 170lb, 25 YO Male. My lifts are as follows:

Squat - 335 x 4
Deadlift - 345 x 5
Bench - 205 x 3
OHP - 135 x 3

I am currently 300 calories below my maintenance diet-wise and train using the most basic 5/3/1 template along with BBB and a few additional assistance movements on each day.

On upper body days I generally end with a HIIT session using a kettlebell or barbell complex.

I’m not one of the lifting experts here by any means, but how long have you been training? For your height and weight, assuming you’ve only been training 2-3 years, and are not naturally of above average build/bone structure, then your numbers look perfectly reasonable and not at all horrendous. For those of us who are not genetically predisposed to strength (remember as a serious lifting site, many of the regulars here are naturally big/strong guys), it takes a great many years to build any appreciable strength - strength that many people who are naturals for this type of endeavour may have had or been close to the first time they stepped into a weight room.

When occasionally I stall on this program, I lower my TM, and go again. It hasn’t failed me yet.

At 5’9" 170, why are you on a calorie deficit? Just eat clean food, but a decent amount of it, and if you need some recomposition, do some conditioning work, hill sprints, sled push, etc. Also, nothing in your post seems to back up the statement you made that you are build for lower body mass/strength gains. Eat to fuel your body if you want to get stronger.

keep busting your ass. Lifting is a marathon. learn to enjoy it and take nothing for granted. Odds are 6 months from now you’ll look back and wonder why you were sweating the details. Quit with the excuses right off the bat- “Genically dispositioned” = that’s setting yourself up with a crutch right off. I get what you are saying tho but don’t let that crap distract you from putting in work. Now, get at it.

[quote]Ecchastang wrote:
At 5’9" 170, why are you on a calorie deficit? Just eat clean food, but a decent amount of it, and if you need some recomposition, do some conditioning work, hill sprints, sled push, etc. Also, nothing in your post seems to back up the statement you made that you are build for lower body mass/strength gains. Eat to fuel your body if you want to get stronger. [/quote]

I failed to mention my BF% which is around 18%, which is fairly high but no terrible. Again, I’m dieting to reset/restore a healthier metabolism since I sabotaged mine leading up to my current state.

I should mention that I messed around with training in college, but was not consistent and saw nothing beyond newb gains. Serious lifting started for me last September.

My concern was with upper body strength since I am perfectly happy with the progression in my lower body. It just seems like I should be benching and OHP’ing more weight relative to my squat and deadlift.

Either way, thanks for the replies so far. If anything, they’ve helped me get a bit of my motivation back.

Your lifts are fine. Upper body typically stalls first, then squats, and deadlifts last. What you’re experiencing is normal.

Reset the lifts that have stalled by 10-15lbs and keep lifting. It’s all apart of the process.

And FWIW… I’m with the others in that 170 at 5’9" seems a little light and I personally wouldn’t be cutting.

I’m 5’ 10" and weigh 215 with a BF% not much different than yours (maybe a tad higher). I have been running 5/3/1 pretty consistently for the past 2-3 years (not much “serious” lifting experience prior to that), and I DEFINITELY do not have genetics working in my favor LOL (hypothyroid, low T). I’m 43.

My current lifts:
Squat - 320 x 1
Deadlift - 385 x 1
Bench - 270 x 1
Press - 180 x 1

Point being, I think you are doing fine, as others have posted, and at 170 I would NOT cut, also as previously mentioned. Think “body recompositioning” instead. I cut from 233 down to 183 about 4 years ago and seriously messed up my hormones/metabolism doing so. My BF% is not much higher now at 215, and I am stronger than I have ever been. Trust in the process, stay at it, and if anything, research form on the pressing lifts. Made a big difference for me.

Oh yeah - extra BW really seems to help me the most with pressing lifts. Just sayin…

This is normal when your calorie restricting. I went from 395 bench in a meet weighing 264. Then have lost about 25lbs bodyweight which caused 25lb decrease on my bench and about 20lb off my overhead. My squat and deadlift has not lost as much, but it’s some. I had to jump back several cycles and reset. But I think at my lighter weight I can eventually get back up to those numbers. But you being 170lbs. there’s no reason on all to restrict. I was obese and just had to lose some weight.

Let me also add that anyone trying to calculate a calorie deficit should preface it with “+ or - 500-1000 kcal” because calorie math does NOT work like a checking account or bank account. Just eat real foods, and focus your carbs around your workouts, get plenty of protein and healthy fats, and eat a wide variety of meats and vegetables. Do that, work your ass off in the gym, and you will find yourself with much more muscle and much less fat.

My base maintenance level being about 2900 calories a day. I went with 2600 a day and lost my weight slowly. About 1-2 lbs. a week. So not at all starving myself, yet I really got weak from even that much of a simple change.

I’ve responded well to dieting. I mostly kept strength and made minor gains here and there while going from 186 lb (January) til now with 170 lb.

The loss has started to stall and I think this baseline, along with all the responses here, is a good indicator that I should probably clean “bulk” and continue what I’m doing with 5/3/1.

So my other question is this: how long do I stay on the newb template before moving on to other 5/3/1 templates?

Hm if I actually cared what I weighed I’d just cut almost all the carbs out of my diet, drink a protein shake before every meal, and walk with a weighted vest every day for 2-3 miles but that’s just me. I’m guessing you are on the 5/3/1 beginner program? You should be able to switch to any other template when you want. If your press and bench press are weak (which to be honest by those numbers and your weight they aren’t) then just about any template with added upper body work will help.

I would post a vid of your bench if you can. At the weights you’re useing the most common problem I see is form(in most people). Again, if you can id post a vid and let everyone have a look at your technique. I defiantly understand the slower progress on Militaries, this seems to be the case in alot of people, im assuming because the other lifts use more muscles.

However not improving your bench in 3 months with a template that at its core is simply progressive overload, seems strange to me. Let us see how you’re technique is, im sure that will give us more insight into what might be holding your upper body lifts back.

I know for a fact that my lats loosen up with each rep and that I simply do not know how to use leg drive. I read advice about lifting cues on forums but cannot seem to execute them, so I rely purely on progressive overload to make my lift. What I need a knowledgeable “coach” with whom I can work through technical issues.

Here is what I believe I do correctly

  • Elbows tucked
  • Elbows track with bar path
  • Arched back
  • Ass ON the bench

What I can’t do at high weights

  • Leg drive
  • Keeping lats tight/scapulae retracted
  • Wrists straight (bar tends to force wrist extension)

I can try to get a video, but I generally train alone.

Technique is more than likely the least of your concerns. You just need to get stronger. And to do that, you probably need to stop worrying about your body image so much and get out of a calorie restriction. At 5’9"/170, muscle gain is probably going to help your body comp more than fat loss anyways. And if you’re dead set on losing weight, than you must except that you’re going to have trouble getting your bench numbers up. That’s just how it is.

[quote]AMeadows21 wrote:
…you probably need to stop worrying about your body image so much and get out of a calorie restriction. [/quote]

I’ve been trying to emphasize here that I’m NOT worrying about body image and that the cut was for resetting metabolism and correcting bad eating habits. I’ve also noted that I plan to bulk again on my next cycle (deload is this week so I start eating bigger next week).

Thanks to all who responded btw!

[quote]Dangles wrote:
I know for a fact that my lats loosen up with each rep and that I simply do not know how to use leg drive. I read advice about lifting cues on forums but cannot seem to execute them, so I rely purely on progressive overload to make my lift. What I need a knowledgeable “coach” with whom I can work through technical issues.

[/quote]

You are admitting you don’t know how to bench. Learn how. I suggest Dave Tate’s bench stuff.

Secondly, you should not be cutting at that height and weight. You should be able to put on another 30 lbs before you’d even remotely have a reason to cut. Eat more.

I would check out CT’s article about bench press. He indicates that BP performance strongly correlates with body weight. I’ve found that to be very true for me. When I gain weight (usually with a more bodybuilding volume approach), my bench 1rm invariably goes up even though I am not specifically training my BP.

[quote]iwong wrote:
I would check out CT’s article about bench press. He indicates that BP performance strongly correlates with body weight. I’ve found that to be very true for me. When I gain weight (usually with a more bodybuilding volume approach), my bench 1rm invariably goes up even though I am not specifically training my BP.
http://www.T-Nation.com/training/6-heavy-bench-press-lessons[/quote]

This article has been very informative and affirms that my weight loss might be to blame. I already use a suicide/false grip (feels a lot better and stronger than thumbs-around). I have healthy shoulders so I think I will experiment with throwing in an extra shoulder assistance on both my press and bench days just to see how my shoulder respond and hopefully improve bench strength.

I’ve also seen Tate’s bench cure video and, like I said, I simply cannot execute some of the cues that make for optimal bench form. I have a co-worker who recently smashed her weight class in a recent meet who has a veteran coach who might be willing to assess my lifts.

My “additional” tips for the bench press would be to drive your heels into the floor, hence leg drive, and squeeze your glutes at the same time. That is what really helped hone my bench press technique. And I would lower the weight until you can bench correctly and then gradually add weight. If you cannot keep your form with certain high weights then lower back down until you can keep your form. Don’t sacrifice form for weight.