Most people find that when they fail in the bench press that they will fail about half ways up or just towards lock out as the load goes from the chest and lats transferring onto the triceps. It is common knowledge in the powerlifting world that a big bench means strong triceps this knowledge stems from equipped lifting and especially multi ply lifting here the ability to lock out the bar from the chest (assuming you can touch your chest!) is the difference between a massive bench press and not being able to use a shirt.
When it comes to unequipped bench press where someone fails are hugely individual it basically a combination of how your body is put together and how you have your grip on the bar. Typically, a wider gripped lifter will tend to fail further down whilst a closer gripped lifter will tend to fail higher up.
If you are a lifter who fails at lock out (which means pretty much everyone!) then this article is for you.
Defining “Lock out”
Before we address the solution I would like to define the part of the bench press that I am singling out so we are all on the same page when it comes to thinking out the solution. So we will only be talking about the concentric portion of the bench press (from chest to finish).
Initial Press (Chest to Sticking point)
Major Muscles – Lats, Chest and Shoulders
Secondary Muscles – Triceps
Lock out (post sticking point)
Major Muscles – Shoulders and Triceps
Secondary Muscles – Lats and Chest.
When I say major muscles these are the muscles or groups doing the most when it comes to lifting the weight through that range and secondary muscles are still involved but in a reduced role this is primarily down to the biomechanics of the movement so can change when grip or range of motion is changed. For example, if a lifter uses a board then the chest never becomes a major muscle or if a lifter goes to a very close grip then the triceps become relatively more important to the lift and provide a greater percentage of total effort.
What I will go over now is a 12-week plan designed to take you past your bench press plateau and especially if that plateau is based around the top half of your bench press I will discuss during the process the rationale behind these changes.
Stage one getting Swole (week 1 – 6).
The first thing you should be looking at when it comes to your lock out or lack there of is your muscle size and more importantly the muscle size of your important muscle groups (triceps and shoulders), this isn’t going to be a quick solution it is something you will need to address throughout your lifting life however to begin the process of this programme a period of high volume is essential as it will
- Increase cross sectional area of your target muscles which will increase your force production potential (read max strength).
- Increase the work capacity or lift specific fitness of the muscles and also movements we will be utilising in this programme which gives you a greater opportunity to overload later in the programme.
For your bench specific training I would recommend following a normal training routine that also went along with more of a volume based approach (such as 5/3/1 or 5-4-3 programmes). Triceps assistance will take part second in the programme as it is concentrated on a hypertrophy and work capacity outcome and not direct performance.
The primary methods we will be using during this part of the programme will be geared towards inducing high volume and muscle fatigue.
- 15-20 reps – using this set and rep protocol you will take your 20 RM and do it for 3 sets if you fail to make 3 sets of 20 then you should keep the weight for next week. If you manage to make 3 sets of 20 reps, then you should hold increase the weight for next week.
- Heavy 5 followed by rep outs. For the heavy 5 you should be looking to lift a 5 rep PB in the movement and try to increase this week to week. This should be a token heavy 5 on week one that you look to build on during the 4 weeks of the programme. After your 5 rep you will then perform 2 sets to failure utilising 90% and 75% of the original weight used for the heavy 5.
- 12/10/8/6 – this involves 4 sets looking to hit as heavy a weight as you can for each set. In practice this means week one of the programme you should look to perform a set of 12 reps, a set of 10 reps, a set of 8 reps and finally a set of 6 reps. If you manage to hit that weight for all reps, then that set should increase by 2.5 kg – 5 kg for the next week. The first week should be set starting with your 12-14 rep max and then increased by 5-10 kg per set meaning you should make every set in the first week.
Week 1 – 3
Bench Press – Follow 5/3/1 or 5/4/3 template.
DB Shoulder press – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps
Close grip bench press – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps
Rolling Triceps Pushdown – Heavy 5 followed by rep out.
Bench Row or “seal row” – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps
Incline Bench Press – Follow 5/3/1 or 5/4/3 template.
3 Board Press – 12/10/8/6
Barbell Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps
JM Press – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps
Bench Row or “seal row” – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.
Week 4 – 6
Paused Bench Press – Follow 5/3/1 or 5/4/3 template.
Close grip bench press – Heavy 5 followed by rep outs
Barbell Shoulder Press – 12/10/8/6
Rolling Triceps Pushdown – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.
Bench Row or “seal row” – Heavy 5 followed by rep outs.
Decline Bench Press – Follow 5/3/1 or 5/4/3 template.
3 Board Press – Heavy 5 followed by rep outs
DB Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps
JM Press – Heavy 5 followed by rep outs
Bench Row or “seal row” – 12/10/8/6
This 6-week programme will definitely hammer your shoulders and triceps setting you up for the next stage of the programme working on specific drills and exercises working towards building a new bench press max.