Why Your Bench Press Sucks, and How to Fix It: Un-Stick Your Sticking Points

The Bottom Line Up Front:

  • Sticking points are the end result of failure to maintain good bar speed on your lift
  • Sticking points can happen at different points for different people, and often highlight a specific weakness

Much like your poorly defined abs, sticking points on your big lifts are an unfortunate fact of life. And much like your use of Preparation H to tighten your skin in a feeble attempt to mask your failing points, your bro spotter at the gym is just helping you hide it instead of addressing it. Your bro spotter is keeping you from getting stronger, and eventually improving.

Your sticking points in a big lift are the result of losing bar speed. As you fatigue during a workout, the bar grinds to slower and slower speeds and on occasion will stop. And while this is ordinarily a cue for your bro to immediately start getting in some good partial curl reps, it SHOULD be setting off some alarms about specific weaknesses that need to be fixed.

If the Bar Sticks at the Same Point, Every Time

If you find yourself repeatedly hitting the same sticking point, every time, no matter if it is a different training day, a different week, it would be a red flag that you have a weakness of muscle group that leads to a mechanical inefficiency. There are but limited points at which your bench press will fail you. Even a very long armed lifter is likely going to have under two feet of range of motion in which to fail. Since we are talking about a matter of a few inches (I hate it when that happens) we can dumb it down to

  • Low – Your sticking point is at the bottom. You are weakest right off your chest.
  • Medium – Your sticking point is at the halfway point. This is very common.
  • High – Your sticking point is right before a final lockout. This is more common than Low, less common than medium.

Addressing Muscle Weakness

  • Low Sticking Point
    • The likely culprit is that your chest itself, the pec muscles, are weak.
    • A potential fix would be assistance work that accentuates pectoral involvement, such as:
      • Incline dumbbell bench press
      • Wide(r) grip barbell bench press variations
      • Cable or dumbbell fly as ACCESSORY work, but don’t get carried away with this
  • Medium Sticking Point
    • The likely culprit is weak shoulders.
    • A potential fix would be assistance work that accentuates shoulder involvement, specifically anterior shoulder work, such as:
      • Incline pressing
      • Overhead pressing
      • Dips
      • Front raise isolation work as ACCESSORY work, but again, don’t get carried away.
  • High sticking point
    • The likely culprit is weak triceps.
    • A potential fix is assistance work that accentuates more triceps involvement, such as:
      • Dips
      • Close grip bench press
      • Triceps extension isolation work as ACCESSORY work, you know the rules.

Addressing Mechanical Failure

One could also take the path of addressing points within the movement itself, instead of addressing the muscle groups that could be the root. In the end, those weak muscle groups will still have to receive focus in order to grow, but it is done within the limits of the normal movement pattern of the bench press. 2 easy approaches to this idea are pause pressing, as well as pin pressing.

Pause Pressing doesn’t require any special equipment, just the same bench you are already struggling with. It is performed simply by stopping the bar dead in its tracks at your sticking point and pausing for 1-3 seconds. After a pause, work to drive the bar through the completion of the motion, developing speed from a stand-still, without the assistance of momentum or elastic energy. You’ll need to use less weight for this than your regular bench press, and this can be done with a full range of motion, pausing during the concentric phase, or partial range of motion.

Pin Pressing can be done within most squat racks, with the safety pins set at your sticking point. Get under the bar, and perform partial reps. This method also forces you to generate speed from a halt. A critique of pin pressing might be that it does not work through a full range of motion like a pause press can. But a benefit is that you can handle heavier weights.

Addressing Bar Speed

A final thought on addressing sticking points is just plain old speed. If a sticking point is the result of a lack of speed, then why not just get faster? The idea of dynamic effort, or speed work, is a staple of many powerlifting conjugate programs. One does not need to focus on a conjugate program to address speed though. Chad Wesley Smith of Juggernaut Training Systems said it eloquently: “Treat 135 like your max, and treat your max like 135.” In short, every lift should be “fast,” and as weights increase you should not be instinctively pulling back and being hesitant. It all sounds easy until you are under heavier weights.

You can begin to practice this concept by shelving your ego first. Decrease the weights significantly. Many of the conjugate templates you see will have “Dynamic Effort” days where you are only lifting 60% of your training max. So view that as a starting point as to where you can start dialing in on moving the bar fast. The basic Juggernaut program, written by Chad Wesley Smith himself, does not have a dynamic effort day, it is a basic 4 day split. So it is definitely possible to be speed minded without doing a conjugate program.

Just remember, bar speed is the final answer. Your spotter should be there to save you from getting buried by the bar, but he should not be there to help mask your weakness.

 

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