T Nation

My Flat Bench is Garbage


I'm having a problem with my flat barbell bench stagnating, even while everything else is steadily increasing.

  • I stuff my face and am gaining weight steadily. This has slowed down as of late since I'm preparing for OCS this summer, but all I did was step up my eating some more and I was fine.

  • My squat, deadlift, weighted pullups, rows, military press, etc. are all climbing steadily.

  • I can weighted dip more weight than anyone I've ever seen in person (165lbs max on the belt and I weight 180lbs, and with full ROM). Wouldn't this mean that I have a somewhat strong chest/triceps? My incline bench is also decent at 105lb dumbbells as my max.

  • I take a week rest whenever I feel like I need it, which is about every 5 weeks.

  • I've watched tons of videos on correct form for a big bench, including the one that Tate did for T-Nation a while back. I've tried incorporating that knowledge, along with the recommended way of warming up (ramping up with fewer reps but more volume to be less fatigued), into my workouts. I tighten my ass, my grip, my back, and drive my feet into the floor.

  • I even moved chest day to monday since it was my lagging body part and I figured that being well-rested would help.

Yet still I seem to be a worthless nut sack when it comes to that movement. I asked my dad about it who's been lifting since he was in high school, and he said that flat bench has always been his worst exercise also, and that even when all of his other lifts have been pretty big, his bench press wasn't anything too impressive. Am I just genetically fucked on this one, or something? I'd like to have a big chest someday, so it would be nice to master this movement.

I'm expecting to be flamed for posting a wall of text, but I figured I might as well post all of the info now rather than have to post it later if someone asked.


if you think your form is solid I would recommend Smolov Jr. for the bench to get you over your plateau (assuming you've been stuck at a certain number for a while). It got me from a 230 max to 270 in 4.5 weeks. I lengthened the program a bit because in my mind benching 4x a week was too much for me.




Is your goal to have a big chest? Or to have a strong bench? There are other exercises that will do more for your chest than bench if size is what matters to you.


UNC- I've been stuck between 285 and 275, depending on the day, for over a month now. I might try following the link that you sent me just to switch things up a little bit. That might help out, thanks.

Lazy- my goal is to have both, to be honest. I know that I've read over and over on this site that you can't have the best of every world, and I understand that, but I'm still trying to I guess. I want to be fast, big, and strong, a jack of all trades. It's working out well, because in this last few months I've improved in all 3 of those facets of fitness... except for my bench press.


First, you sound worked up and you might be psyching yourself out. Take it easy.

That said, what worked for me (250 to 310 from September to mid-December) was pulling back on volume and increasing frequency. Instead of doing 6 exercises during my chest workouts I would do just bench and incline db's or just incline and flat db's with two working sets on each. This way I would be ready to go 48 hours later. You'll at least maintain your chest size in the short term this way and you'll be able to bench often and heavy in my experience. Triples seemed to work the best for me. Good luck. With those dip numbers you've definitely got the power for at least 300 in you.


2.5 lbs plates are your best friend.

After years of not believing in them, I've found that since I started adding them to the bar (2 2.5lbs. plates=5 lbs. total) every session, my strength has went up considerably, regardless of the exercise.

...so since your plateau is between 285 and 275, I'd drop back to probably 260/265 for reps...and every week after that, keep adding 2 2.5lbs. plates and by the time you work back to 285 in a matter of weeks, you should be killing it.

I was just on a diet and lost a good amount of strength especially in my bench, so I dropped the weight and am going with the approach I just outlined. Not only am I getting stronger again and increasing the weight each session, but my confidence is also up and I don't feel like a failure for struggling like I was before.


you should get out more...


ha, no doubt.


Just a month? Relax.

I'd even suggest dropping bench for a while. Have you ever done floor presses or benching from pins?


Good advice ^^^

Other than that, my suggestion to you would be to pick the exercises right for your body/leverage etc...not the other way around (trying to make the exercise "fit" your body).

What makes you think that dumbbells are somehow inferior in the strength department? I hate to use the word functional strength, but you'll get decent "real world" strength from using them compared to barbell bench press which is far too over-rated...


x2. Sometime you need to drop exercises from the rotation for a couple months. Put them back in 2-3 months and you'll probably be laughing at your old max weight.


^^ Ditto.

I dropped deadlift for a couple months when my PR was 285 (I'm 32, weigh 175, just started lifting a year ago or so).

Did a 6 week 5-3-1 variation and pulled 335. Recently did 315 for 3 (maybe equates to a 350 max...maybe).

Same happened with squats. Was squating twice a week. Dropped it. Added it back in and my max went from 265 to 300.

Rest is your friend. You don't get stronger or bigger from a training session, you get stronger and bigger from the rest between training sessions.



Work the triceps hard


Damn good advice all around, thanks! I'm not going to make all of the suggested changes all at once, of course. I think I'm going to try dropping some weight off of the bar and doing sets of 3, then work up that way. I'll also be trying more DBs since a lot of you seem to swear by them.

As for the get out more comments- I work out at a college rec center that's paid for with my tuition. I'd love to work out somewhere that isn't filled with emaciated/starving college kids!


I'd second the DB work. I cut out flat BB bench for about two months and just for the hell of it tried a mini max out session and hit 345 (previous max was 335 before shoulder surgergy) so I gained all my strength back plus a little while only doing DB work... it worked for me



I think some advice here is pretty good. You want the best of both worlds? A few people have that, and a great deal of people couldn't build huge pecs with flat bench presses. Most men who've built huge pecs with barbell bench pressing have short arms and/or barrel-like torsos (eg, Ryan Kennelly, Bill Kazmier, Franco Columbu, Andy Fiedler, Ronnie Coleman, and other powerlifter-bodybuilder crossover types).

Apparently your approach is not giving you what you want. I also don't understand why he'd be advised to stay away from the bench when someone who sucks at benching should be doing more benching and bench press variations. What successful powerlifter or bench press specialist stays away from bench presses and bench press variations. In addition, the setup for bench pressing is different and far tighter than setting up for dumbbell bench pressing.

All forms of routines for building a bigger bench don't neglect the bench and its variations - Westside/conjugated, Metal Militia, linerar/percentage based, and 5 x 5. No top bencher is going to recommend dropping the bench for a significant amount of time - perhaps 1 to 4 weeks at most.

You want both? Train the for a bigger bench for a considerable amount of time of the year (4 to 6 months) and then bodybuilder the rest of the time. I doubt you're going to make the significant progress you want with some bastardized "size and strength" type of program that have become so en vogue as of late. Besides, you're not going to lose size during a bench press specialist or powerlifting program and if you do lose size in some muscle groups (might happen in bis, calves, quad sweep), it will come back VERY quickly once you go back to a bodybuilding program. Remember, it's hard to build a quality (strength, size, speed, endurance) but nowhere near as hard to get it back up to speed or maintain.

A typical conjugated upper body - RAW bench press program looks like this:

Day 1) Max effort - upper body
1) Work up to a 1 to 5 rep max in a bench press variation (1 or 2 board press, flat bench press, incline press, floor press). (You can also use a 5x5, percentage based plan here if your bench is VERY low and you're not ready for max effort work.)
2) Chinups or pulldowns
3) Rear delt raises or facepulls
4) Tricep extensions

Day 2
1) Speed bench press: 10 x 3 @ 40 to 60% of 1RM
2) Lockouts: 3, 4, or 5 board press or rack lockout (work up to 3 to 5 RM)
3) Dumbbell bench press
4) Rows
5) Pushdowns

Because you've not stated you care to improve your deadlift and squat for the sake of it (like you have for the bench), you can do 1 or 2 lower body workouts per week.

This is a far more HOLISTIC approach than simply dropping the bench, substituting it with dumbbells while continuing to follow a bodybuilding program, or adding weights to a bar -- all of which are recommendations that are decent but all belong in a complete bench program -- not a bastardized "bodybuilding with a big bench program".

And what doesn't make sense to me, although it doesn't have to, is why you or anyone didn't ask, "What information should I seek to get a big bench? Perhaps I should look at what big benchers do?"


Also, if you're that hell bent on improving your bench, why not make it to a bench press workshop. I've been to a bench press workshop put on by Sebastian Burns and a 3 lift workshop/seminar by Jim Wendler. They're usually cheap. The one with Burns was like a 100 bucks if I recall correctly. You're not gonna learn anything nearly as valuable as attending something like this in person. Or you can just go to a powerlifting gym that has all the goodies for getting a big bench (boards, bands, power rack) and learn some stuff from... BIG BENCHERS.


Fucking awesome posts Bricknyce!

That is all.



That's the kind of routine I used when I was interested in getting my bench big. If I were to do it all over again, I'd include more pulling (especially rows) and 1 or 2 exercises for the biceps.

I always have done mobility drills for the upper body, not matter what type of routine I do, like scapular pushups, bird-dogs, and shoulder "dislocations", and foam rolling for the upper back. I found ESPECIALLY beneficial for training for the bench because of the extremely tight arching in the upper and lower back in serious bench pressing.


One thing that I've found that is counter productive is I get all hell bent on doing secondary exercise. If I ride the line or just to the inside of it I'm fine, if I cross over for a week or so to the outside I get stomped on recovery and my bench goes backwards or my shoulders like to get F'd up.

So volume is key and using secondary exercises as what they were intended for!