I’m gonna dip into the mail bag and answer some one of the questions that seems to pop up nearly everyweek! I’ve actually had two questions in the last week about people stuck on increasing their bench press strength after levelling out for up to a year. This is a really common problem and I actually get asked this loads. Many people experience excellent gains in the first year or two and then progress seems to level off with each half kg increase being fought over for months at a time.
First up I’d address your form first. Starting at the feet make sure you have a wide base of support and you are driving your feet hard into the ground- this can add kg’s to a person’s bench in one session as it sets up the correct positioning and technique. Secondly make sure your lower back has a slight arch off from the bench and this is maintained throughout the lift. Do not pump the lower back up and down, this can lead to injury. Keep the chest puffed out and don’t go too wide with the grip on the bar as again this can lead to shoulder problems. Depending on your training goals locking the bar out at the top is optional- for sports specific clients I tend to make them complete full extension at the top, for guys after bigger pecs then I like to stop them before lock out to keep the stress on the muscle.
Secondly I’d look at the client’s rep range, especially if the individual is after hypertrophy (larger muscles). Many bodybuilders and guys after muscle gain often plateaux on the bench as they always work between the 8-10 rep bracket. I recommend that 2- 3 months of the year is dedicated to Maximum strength training. This means concentrating on the big lifts- bench, incline bench, weighted dips etc over 5 sets and 5 reps or under. The same goes for pulling type exercises. When returning to your standard 8-10 reps you’ll find you can push more and consequently grow more as a result.
If your finding it really hard to bust through a plateaux you may want to introduce some really heavy negatives into your training. With a good spotter (this is really important) load the bar with about 10% more weight than you can handle over you 1 rep max. Have the spotter help you off with the bar. Control the decent yourself in god form taking 2-3 seconds to do so, then have the spotter assist in the concentric (pushing phase) of the lift- complete for sround 5 reps. The spotter should really lift a large majority of the weight on the pushing phase so its essential to recruit someone capable. By learning to handle more weight than you can currently lift alone, you can really increase the electrical stimulus to the muscle making you ultimately stronger.
Finally check your diet. Strength gain and indeed muscle gain is a really slow process if you are not consuming enough calories. To get big or get strong you have got to eat big. This doesn’t mean eating at your local fast food joint, but getting quality nutrition inside you, with a good focus on enough clean carbs and protein. Also make sure that your diet is clocking up enough zinc and magnesium. I find a ZMA supplement before bed not only improves my sleep but helps my recovery from workouts.
Until next time