T Nation

Strength Imbalances


I have a relatively weak flat bench and have as of late have been putting forth lots of effort to improve it.

I have been trying to find out why is it that my flat bench is so much weaker in relation to my other lifts and what I can do to fix it but have not been able to.

I even gained about 6 lbs in a month to see if my bench would go up and it didn't even add 5 lbs to my max.

Here is some pertinent info hopefully someone can help me put it together and offer suggestions:

First I thought it was my triceps turns out it's not really that I can close grip about 90% of what I can flat bench for the same reps.

I started to do variations on close grips and found out that I can decline close grip the same weight for 1 or 2 more reps than I can flat bench.

I can incline dumbbell press more than I can flat dumbbell press.(weird I know)

I can military dumbbell press only very slightly less than I can flat dumbbell press.

My incline dumbbell press is crazy strong so it's not like my chest is just weak in general.

My military dumbbell press is crazy strong too so it's not weak shoulders.

I have been progressing on weighted dips and still bench won't go up.

My squats and pulls have been drastically improving as of late and bench won't budge.

Today I decided based on a post I read on here to stop flat benching for a while and instead decline bench which is something I have not done in at least a couple years for a couple months than go back to flat benching and see what happens.

So I tested out my 1RM to use for 5/3/1 on decline today(as main lift for chest day instead of flat bench) and my max barbell decline bench is 112% of my max flat bench. I am not sure if this is the best approach so as a last resort before actually doing that I decided to post this to see if anybody can offer up something to try that might work better based on what they think might be the factor contributing to the imbalance?


I have watched all of Dave Tate's powerbenching videos and his comment of you don't know how to f'en bench came to mind.
For further clarification I strictly adhere to powerbench form for max attempts on flat bench and my back/lats are not my weak point either. They are relatively strong.


Youll get more experienced lifters commenting in later future. But as far as benching movement it really is triceps, shoulders, lats ( correct if wrong someone). Just because you think your Lats, shoulders, triceps ETC are strong you could be wrong. Also if you have not already definitely film your lift/s and compare to other more professional lifters. As you would of heard from Dave Tate's videos a platue is 70% (think thats what he said LOL) is technique related. So always try and work on that.

Also a good way to see where your weak points are is to attempt a max lift on bench - 90% and above and film and look at where you stall - that has helped me identify some weak points in previous weeks. Especially if you do not have a training partner who can help.

but again more experinced benchers will/may comment giving you tips and stuff at a later time. So discard everything ive said and listen to them because theyve walked the talk and lifted the weights that you seek to lift.


Try to post a video when you can. I think that will do more good than just about anything else. Also, do a little experiment. Granted, this is going to test endurance more than strength, but find a very do-able weight on flat bench, and rep it out. See what dies first. I have a feeling that it is actually your pecs that are holding you back.

Especially if your more shoulder-dominant movements are stronger than your flat bench. While yes, your shoulders, pecs, triceps, lats, and many smaller muscles are all involved, if any one of those suck... well, so will your bench. So, post a video, try the little experiment, and hopefully some other folks will chime in as well.


Change your ME work. If you're always flat benching, give Incline close grip presses, floor presses, board presses (if you have them) a try as your max effort work instead of always using flat.

You seem to think everything is "crazy strong" or "relatively strong". They're not. Get things stronger, and things will go up. My back is probably one of the strongest muscle groups on me, but when I started adding in more direct back work, everything started going up. Sometimes you're just not strong enough.


Thanks for all the comments..........

Filming the bench and posting it on here is much better than throwing out all kinds of info......................................I will film and post max attempt bench once
I find someone to take a vid with their cell phone and email it to me...............

Maybe something small I have overlooked makes a big difference such as tell the spotter
not to give a big lift off but rather more of a horizontal slide off so you don't lose
tightness in your shoulder blades that won't be apparent without a vid.................

With the repping out a manageable weight til failure experiment how do you really know
what dies first? Do you just feel it? I will take a vid of that too using a standard
benching technique and post to help further.

Changing ME work is what was my original plan. I was going to switch it to decline since
that is something I cut out about 2 years ago. Doing ME incline close grip sounds like something
I should do instead if I decide to go that route. I am going to hold off on this for next couple
weeks until I post the vid.

When you do ME work on something other than flat do you think it would be better to lay off flat
altogether? Or throw in a few assistance sets?

Everything else has been getting stronger especially as of late great progress being made especially
after putting on a few lbs. If my bench improves over the next few months I will feel real good about having a total that's not like what was he thinking at a local competition level that I plan on competing in for the first time in March.


How much total volume are you doing on bench or direct barbell flat bench related exercises like floor presses, benches w/ boards, benches w/ pause, benches with different grips?

I look back over my training logs when my bench was stagnant, and I was not doing a whole lot of benching. I'd do my main flat bench movement, then assistance was dumbbell benching, oh presses, dips and what not but I did not see improvement in my bench until I added heavy assistance movements ~3-5 sets of 4-6 reps of direct bench related assistance movements. It could be as easy as doing your ME work, then doing some downsets as assistance in the same movement.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with DBs, pressing, inclines, and what not, but try benching more.


This right here. The first thing that came to my mind is why are you incline dumbbell pressing, flat dumbbell pressing, military dumbbell pressing, close grip benching, and benching all at the same time? That's a recipe for disaster right there. And stop thinking about it in terms of well "this is strong compared to that". Like liquidMercury said sometimes you just have to increase your strength on EVERYTHING.

Personally I would stop benching altogether and focus on getting your MP press to go up. When the strict MP press goes up bench press goes up. Period. The way I've been training MP press as of late and it seems to be working is I do two sets of 3 with the heaviest weight I can. I rest for a bit then I strip off 30-40 pounds and rep out with that for two sets. I try to add on 5 pounds each week and so far my MP has gone up from 175x3 to 200x3. I do this on Mondays and Fridays. I figure the combination of high and low reps really nukes all the fibers and this type of rep scheme has been giving me better progress than any other for the MP.

And don't worry about not benching for a bit. Your bench already sucks lol if you get the MP up your bench press WILL go up. Stop all the dumbbell pressing and stick with the MP. Sometimes less is more.


UOFH you are a genius.

I have not been doing any direct barbell flat bench assistance exercises on chest day since just about forever
Only extra exercises I have been doing is maybe one rep out set every once in a while after the ME set and close grip bench as first assistance exercise after shoulder pressing since I throw in tricep work on shoulder press day.

That has to be the reason for no improvement and is something I never thought of. I've been beating my head into the wall thinking about just about everything but that.

My chest assistance has consisted of heavy dumbbell incline presses, heavy weighted dips, 4-5 sets of light weight flyes for a stretch at the end and that's about it.

Im going to forget about dropping flat bench as ME keep doing it as prescribed and instead right afterwards do about 3 sets of rack presses with pins about 6 inches above my chest in the 3-6 rep area increasing the weight each set to eventually have it calibrated to go from where I can handle 6 reps, 4 reps than 2-3 reps without having to warm up since I just did flat bench.

Move on the close grip incline bench with a warm up and 1 or 2 working sets of 3-6 reps depending on how I feel.

Than go on to the dumbbell incline bench and do 2 sets of 10-12 reps nowhere near max effort just to keep practicing this movement since it's really going to kill me not to go heavy on these because I work out in a crowded gym and doing this excercise is an ego boost and gets a lot of jaw lowering/comments.

I will stick to this plan until need for further evaluation where I can throw in things like floor presses, board presses, benches with pause and bands as tools.

Any comments/suggestions about proposed changes would be appreciated.

And I was not incline dumbbell pressing, flat dumbbell pressing, military dumbbell pressing, close grip benching, and benching all at the same time. Not all in the same workout at least. Yes all those in same workout would definitely be a disaster. Those mentioned exercises are split between bench and shoulder press day excluding the flat dumbbell pressing which was only done a few times just when I started pondering my flat bench issue.

And I have been working on increasing my stength in everything else the reason I was thinking in terms of everything else is because I was more likely to come up with the idea that some type of force on a parallel universe is causing me not to improve my bench rather than not enough direct barbell flat bench related exercises.

About the strict military press going up = bench going up that really got me thinking too. My strict military press really sucks and I have always done dumbbell and not wanted to change and being honest with myself it's due to ego reasons same as previously stated about why I love to incline dumbbell press. I actually have been running 5/3/1 on DB military presses and doing that day sort of that/ triceps/ accessory day. I know that's probably retarded. Changing the shoulder dumbbell press to strict military press or push press and adding as an accessory movement as is listed on 5/3/1 with body building assistance on the Jim Wendler interview on here is something I've wanted to do for a while but haven't and will hold off on for a little while due to the fact that I love dumbbell military pressing when I am fresh and have been setting rep PRS on it.

The comments have really helped me thanks for looking at the log book.


I was going to say exactly what UOFH said. If you are gaining weight and your bench isn't increasing, odds are you aren't benching enough.

Remember that a lot of the ME-style training is geared towards lifters using shirts and suits. It is also geared towards more advanced lifters.

If you are following 5/3/1 do flat bench and military press. On bench day, do 5x10 flat bench after you do your 5/3/1 set. On military day, to 5x10 of military press. It's simple but it works. If you aren't benching a ton of weight, it's simply detrimental to do otherwise.

If you're shoulders are feeling beat up from all the pressing, you can always switch over to DBs for your military accessory work with a neutral grip and switch to a false grip for the military press itself.


Sounds like a plan, but I would change your ME work every 2-4 weeks. Just add a board or two, switch to some chain or band weight if you have access to them, change your grip in or out, or rotate through 5-3-1 rep maxes.

Every 4 weeks, consider changing your assistance exercises if you don't feel like its been improving.

Challer's BBB 5 sets of 10 after 5-3-1 is also a suggestion worth considering.


Very helpful information.

What does it mean to rotate through 5/3/1 rep maxes?


Wanted to post an update to anyone that may come across this since my bench issue is a question asked quite often.

I did this:
"Change your ME work. If you're always flat benching, give Incline close grip presses, floor presses, board presses (if you have them) a try as your max effort work instead of always using flat"

by switching ME work to rack presses for 5 weeks and than switched to long pause floor presses for 5 weeks and did not do any flat benching at all.

I went to the gym late tonight with 45 mins left to go before close i didn't want to waste time setting up for floor presses so decided to see what happened with the flat bench. My weight has gone down about 4 lbs during this 10 week period and i worked up to a max effort set of a weight I previously did for 2 reps and was able to get 5 reps! Was very happy thanks for all the good advice.

I now will test 1 RM next chest workout and restart 5/3/1 plan and once stall out change ME work to something more creative maybe some bands and than go back to flat and than during summer do Tim Henriques article about benching where on certain days working out twice.

Starting to not believe in genetic capacity but rather just not doing things intelligently.


It seems very possible that you're overdoing the pressing work. 4 different pressing movement with that much volume is nuts. Are you even following 5/3/1? Are you doing as much (it's better to do more) pulling exercises as pushing? assistance work is great and all, but overdoing it will definitely take away from your main important lifts.


pressing excercises I have been doing =

flat bench(or variation of)-------incline dumbbell pressing>>>>on chest day

military DB shoulder press-----push press---------close grip bench>>>>on shoulders/tris day

pulling exercises I have been doing=

deadlift----------one arm deadstops---------one more that changes quite often be it barbell rows-tbar rows---pullups or something of the like

so 5 pushing exercises split up into 2 seperate days that are typically 48-72 hours apart
and 3 pulling exercises on the same day

I am not un-proportionally strong in pushing compared to pulling exercises.....

even if i did take out all assistance lifts will still have twice as much pushing exercises as pulling exercises.............not really sure what you were trying to point out with that question


^ I got confused, by your post it seemed like you were doing 4 types of pressing in one day. I also didn't realize how old this thread was lol.


yes it's an old thread.....wanted to update so anyone that uses the site search and may come across it later can read what worked for me