The bench press is one of the most popular exercises in the world. It is also one of the most difficult exercises to train. Most people have a sticking point on the bench press which limits their progress.
If your bench press is “stuck” then you need to attack your sticking points like your life depends on it!
- Part 1: Isometric Training
- Part 2: Supplementary Exercises
- Part 3: Accessory Exercises
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you the best training strategies for destroying your bench press sticking points.
A bench press sticking point is the part of the range of motion where the barbell slows down and you miss the lift. For example if you always miss the bench press when the bar is 4 inches above your chest then that is your sticking point.
The powerlifting coach Josh Bryant says that attacking your sticking points is the fastest way to improve your bench press. If you are strong enough to lock out 400 pounds but you can only press 300 pounds off your chest then what are you going to bench press? The answer is 300 pounds!
The best way to eliminate sticking points on the bench press is with isometric training methods such as powerlifting-style isometrics and isometronics. Isometric training is so effective because it lets you target the exact point in the range of motion where you are weakest.
Another great strategy is to use novel supplementary or accessory exercises such as the dead bench, reverse band bench presses and chain tricep extensions.
By the end of this article you will have a world-class understanding of how to overcome bench press sticking points. Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Isometric Training
Isometric training is the single most effective way to overcome sticking points in the bench press. In fact the strength coach Josh Bryant believes that isometric training is his “secret weapon” for helping world-class powerlifters break world records in the bench press.
Here is a perfect demonstration of isometric training on the bench press:
As you can see the powerlifter is bench pressing an empty 45 pound barbell into a pair of safety pins as hard as he can for 6-8 seconds. He isn’t just holding the barbell up against the safety pins – his goal is to press so hard that he breaks the safety pins in half!
So why on Earth would anyone train this way? The truth is isometric training has several advantages over regular training methods. Isometric training helps you to recruit up to 7% more motor units and produce up to 15% more force than regular sets. However, the real magic of isometric training is that it lets you obliterate your sticking points.
With isometric training you can set the safety pins to the exact point in the range of motion where you are weakest. If you are weak 2 inches off your chest then that is where you would set the safety pins.
During an isometric set you are pressing against the safety pins for 6-8 seconds as hard as you can. That is a TON of time under tension right at your sticking point!
In fact research shows that most of your strength gains from isometrics occur right at the joint angles that you are training. In other words if you set the safety pins 2 inches above your chest then that is where most of your strength gains will occur.
The one downside of isometric sets is they have to be paired together with full range of motion sets in the same workout. Fortunately Josh Bryant figured out a way to do this.
Josh likes to alternate isometric bench presses with speed bench presses with about 2 minutes rest in between sets. For example:
- Set #1: Isometric Bench Press
- Set #2: Speed Bench Press
- Set #3: Isometric Bench Press
- Set #4: Speed Bench Press
Alternating speed sets and isometric sets in this manner teaches your body how to transfer the isometric strength gains into the full range of motion bench press. Let’s look at a sample bench press workout using isometrics.
Here is the first part of a workout performed by the world-class bench presser Vincent Dizenzo. Vincent was training for a 600 pound bench press when he performed this workout. Check it out:
Vincent Dizenzo Isometric Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 3, 1/1/X/1, 4 minutes rest
- B1: Bottom position overcoming isometric**, 2 x 1, 6 second hold, 2 minutes rest
- B2: Speed bench press (competition grip), 2 x 3, 1/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
- C1: Top position overcoming isometric****, 2 x 1, 6 second hold, 2 minutes rest
- C2: Speed bench press (competition grip), 2 x 3, 1/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest\\
**Press an empty 45 pound barbell into a pair of safety pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. Position the safety pins 2 inches above chest level.
**Press an empty 45 pound barbell into a pair of safety pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. Position the safety pins 2 inches below lockout.
After the first few exercises Vincent performed a bunch of supplementary and accessory exercises including the slingshot bench press, the dead bench and various isolation exercises.
As you can see Vincent starts his workout off with a heavy triple on the bench press. Then he moves onto his isometric and speed bench presses. Vincent actually performs the isometric sets in two different locations: 2 inches above his chest and 2 inches below lockout. This is a great way to target 2 separate sticking points within a single workout.
Another great isometric training strategy for eliminating sticking points in the bench press is called functional isometrics.
Functional isometrics were a favorite training method of the Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin. Functional isometrics are basically a combination of partial range of motion reps and overcoming isometric contractions.
Here is a perfect video demonstration of a functional isometrics workout:
As you can see the lifter is performing partial reps in between two pairs of safety pins. Here is the exact protocol for a functional isometrics set:
Perform 4-6 partial range of motion reps. On the last rep press against the top pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. Then you lower the weight back down and attempt one more partial range of motion rep.
A full functional isometrics workout consists of 10 total sets. Here is the exact training protocol:
- Perform 3 functional isometrics sets in the bottom third of the bench press
- Perform 3 functional isometrics sets in the middle third of the bench press
- Perform 3 functional isometrics sets in the top third of the bench press
- Perform 1 full range of motion set on the bench press
Functional isometrics are so effective because they let you target bench press sticking points in three separate points in the range of motion.
The combination of partial range of motion reps and overcoming isometric contractions is unbelievably effective for stimulating strength gains within your central nervous system. It is also great for down-regulating the Golgi tendon organ so you can display your true strength potential more effectively.
Here is a full functional isometrics workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Functional Isometrics Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press bottom position functional isometrics (wide grip), 3 x 6**, 2/0/2/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Bench press middle position functional isometrics (wide grip), 3 x 6**, 2/0/2/0, 180 seconds rest
- C1: Bench press top position functional isometrics (wide grip), 3 x 6**, 2/0/2/0, 180 seconds rest
- D1: Bench press (wide grip), 1 x 6, 3/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
- E1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 3 x 8-12, 2/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
- E2: Overhead rope cable extension, 3 x 8-12, 2/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
**Performed as a bench press isometronics set. Perform 6 partial range of motion reps. On your 6th rep press against the top pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. Then lower the weight back down and attempt 1 more partial range of motion rep.
This is the traditional way to perform a functional isometrics workout. However, it is not the only way. Josh Bryant has found some creative ways to use functional isometrics as part of his regular powerlifting style bench press workouts.
One of Josh’s favorite strategies is to use a single set of safety pins set just below lockout. You perform 6 reps where you touch your chest and the safety pins on each rep. On your last rep you press against the safety pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. After the isometric contraction you just rack the weight.
Here is Jonathon Irizarry demonstrating this training method:
Josh Bryant likes to use this as a supplementary exercise to help overload the triceps and blast through sticking points right below lockout.
Here is a bench press workout that Josh Bryant had Jonathan Irizarry perform while training for a 500 pound bench press. Jonathon performed functional isometrics and banded bench presses during this workout to destroy his sticking point at lockout. Check it out:
Jonathan Irizarry Functional Isometrics Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 2, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Speed bench press (competition grip), 6 x 3, 1/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: 30 degree incline chest supported DB row, 6 x 6, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Bench press full-range functional isometrics (competition grip)**, 2 x 5, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C2: Bench press with bands (competition grip), 2 x 1, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: DB floor fly, 3 x 8-12, 1/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Unilateral cable pushdown (underhand grip), 3 x 8-12, 1/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest
This is a ton of training volume and will be too much for most trainees to recover from. Of course Jonathon Irizarry is not your average trainee! If you are specializing in the bench press and have a weakness right at lockout then this type of workout may be just what you need to start making progress again.
Part 2: Supplementary Exercises
One of the best strategies to blast through sticking points on the bench press is to use bench press supplementary exercises. These are variations of the bench press that let you overload specific parts of the range of motion.
Some of the best bench press supplementary exercises to improve your strength off the chest include the dead bench, paused bench presses and ultra-wide bench presses. On the other hand some of the best bench press supplementary exercises to improve your lockout strength include band bench presses, chain bench presses and slingshot bench presses.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these exercises.
Bench Press Supplementary Exercise #1: The Dead Bench
The dead bench was invented by the powerlifting coach Josh Bryant. The dead bench is a pin press performed from a “dead stop” position with the pins set 1-4 inches above your chest. Here is a perfect video demonstration of this exercise:
So why does Josh like this exercise? Many people have a sticking point on the bench press 1-4 inches above their chest. They explode the bar off their chest and then it immediately slows down and stalls. The reason most people have a sticking point here is they rely too much on the stretch reflex.
The stretch reflex is a term for the elastic energy that is stored in your connective tissue during the eccentric or lowering phase of an exercise. The stretch reflex helps you through the first 1-4 inches of the bench press and then wears off completely.
The dead bench is designed to strengthen you at the exact point where the stretch reflex wears off. Josh has his athletes perform 5-10 sets of singles on this exercise with 30-60 seconds rest in between each single.
The dead bench forces you to use nothing but your muscles to lift the weight and is a great way to blast through sticking points right above your chest. Josh Bryant says that your 1-rep max on the dead bench should be 90% of your 1-rep max on the regular bench press. In other words if you can bench press 300 pounds for 1 rep then you should be able to dead bench 270 pounds for 1 rep.
If you are nowhere near reaching this strength ratio then I highly recommend you incorporate the dead bench into your routine.
Bench Press Supplementary Exercise #2: The Paused Bench Press
Paused bench presses are one of the best exercises you can use to increase your strength off your chest. All you have to do is pause for 1-4 seconds on your chest on each rep. Here is a perfect video demonstration:
The paused bench works for similar reasons to the dead bench. It reduces or eliminates the stretch reflex in the bottom position of the exercise which forces you to use nothing but your muscles to lift the weight. Unlike the dead bench the paused bench press can be performed for multiple reps.
This exercise is a favorite of the powerlifting coach Chad Wesley Smith for increasing your pressing strength off the chest.
Bench Press Supplementary Exercise #3: The Ultra-Wide Grip Bench Press
Ultra-wide grip bench presses are a favorite of the powerlifting guru Louie Simmons. To perform this exercise you will grip the barbell with the widest grip that you can use without bothering your shoulders. For most people this will be significantly wider than your strongest grip.
Here is a perfect demonstration of this exercise:
Don’t worry if you have to use a lot less weight on the ultra-wide bench press than you can the regular bench press. That is perfectly normal. This exercise is more about increasing the strength of your chest and shoulders than it is lifting as much weight as possible.
I recommend you perform this exercise in the 6-8 rep range to improve your bench press. The 6-8 rep range is low enough to target your fast-twitch muscle fibers but high enough that it shouldn’t bother your shoulders too much.
Bench Press Supplementary Exercise #4: The Chain Bench Press
The chain bench press is one of the best exercises for improving your lockout strength or your strength in the top half of the bench press. To perform this exercise you attach powerlifting chains to either side of the barbell and perform your bench presses.
Here is a perfect video demonstration of this exercise:
As you lower the bar down to your chest the chains fall on the floor. Then when you press the bar back up to lockout the chains raise up from the ground. In other words the chains make the bar lighter on your chest and heavier at lockout which helps you to overload the top half of the exercise.
They also force you to accelerate the bar all the way to lockout because that is the only way to overcome the extra chain weight.
Chain bench presses are often a better option vs partial range of motion exercises like the board press or the pin press because they still let you train through a full range of motion. This means your carryover to your regular bench press will be much better.
Bench Press Supplementary Exercise #5: The Band Bench Press
The band bench press is a lot like the chain bench press. The bands make the exercise easier at the bottom of the exercise and harder at the top. However, the bands give the exercise a completely different feel from chains.
Here is a perfect video demonstration of the band bench press:
As you can see there are giant rubber bands or “resistance bands” looped over the barbell. These bands are pulling the barbell down to the ground faster than the speed of gravity and force your muscles to work much harder than normal.
In my experience the band bench press is one of the very best exercises to improve your lockout strength on the bench press. Depending on which bands you use the exercise can be MUCH heavier at lockout than it is on your chest.
One of the big drawbacks of the band bench press is it can be very difficult to recover from. The bands create a ton of muscle soreness and can really beat your joints up if you are not careful.
One of the best solutions to this problem is to perform the reverse band bench press. Here is a perfect video demonstration by John Meadows:
With the reverse band bench press the bands are actually lifting the weight up in the bottom position rather than pulling it down. This still makes the exercise heavier in the top position and lighter in the bottom. However, it gives the exercise a completely different feel from regular bands.
Reverse bands are actually easier on your joints and connective tissue than regular “straight weight.”
If you want to target your sticking point near lockout but don’t want to put extra stress on your joints then the reverse band bench press is an excellent exercise to use.
Bench Press Supplementary Exercise #6: The Slingshot Bench Press
The slingshot is a training tool invented by the world-class powerlifter Marc Bell. The slingshot is a reasonably confusing training tool so let’s look at a training video first. Check it out:
The slingshot is a modified version of a powerlifting bench press shirt. It is made of elastic material that stretches as you move into the bottom position of a bench press.
You can think of the slingshot like a trampoline on your chest. As you lower the weight down the trampoline stretches and slows the weight down. Then when you press the weight off your chest the trampoline propels the weight up to lockout.
The slingshot is such an awesome training tool because it takes pressure off of your joints and connective tissue in the bottom position while allowing you to train your lockout strength with a super heavy weight. Unlike a regular bench press shirt the slingshot is incredibly easy to take on and off.
Marc Bell really hit a home run when he invented the slingshot. If you have access to one then I highly recommend you give it a shot for improving your lockout strength!
Part 3: Accessory Exercises
If you want to blast through your bench press sticking points then you have to use the right accessory exercises. In other words your accessory exercises have to be chosen to target your specific weaknesses.
If you miss the weight right off your chest then you need to strengthen your chest and shoulders to make progress. On the other hand if you miss the weight at lockout then your triceps need some extra attention.
There are a million different accessory exercises you could use to target these weaknesses. In this article I want to teach you six of the best accessory exercises that you aren’t using. These accessory exercises are favorites of some of the world’s best powerlifters including the bench press world record holder Julius Maddox. Here is the list:
Six Of The Best Bench Press Accessory Exercises
- V-Bar Dips
- Paused DB Floor Flys
- Hanging Band Overhead Press
- Chain Tricep Extensions
- Dead Stop Skull Crushers
- Hanging Band Skull Crushers
The first three exercises are great for improving your strength out of the bottom of the bench press while the last three are perfect for improving your lockout strength. Now let’s take a closer look at each of these accessory exercises.
Bench Press Accessory Exercise #1: V-Bar Dips
Dips are hands-down one of the best bench press accessory exercises that you can perform. They work the chest and triceps extremely hard and are ideal for improving your strength out of the bottom position of the bench press.
Many of the world’s strongest bench pressers including the 700-pound bench presser James Strickland use V-bar dips as a core accessory exercise.
Here is James performing dips with over 250 pounds strapped around his waist:
Talk about an impressive set of dips! There are many reasons why dips are so effective. Unlike most upper body exercises dips are a closed-chain movement. In other words you have to move your entire body through space to perform the exercise. This automatically means you are going to recruit more overall muscle mass with this exercise.
Dips also place the chest and triceps under an enormous stretch in the bottom position. There is more and more research coming out showing exercises that put your muscles in a deep loaded stretch are ideal for stimulating size and strength gains.
In fact EMG research shows that dips recruit all three heads of the triceps better than other compound exercises like close grip bench presses.
If v-bar dips work for your structure and do not bother your shoulders then I highly recommend you make them one of your go-to accessory exercises.
Bench Press Accessory Exercise #2: Paused DB Floor Flys
If you are weak right off the chest then you may need to perform some targeted chest isolation work. This may sound like heresy to anyone following the Westside Barbell training program but direct chest work does have its place in a powerlifter’s bench press program.
The powerlifting coach Josh Bryant has had a lot of success using pec isolation exercises to help eliminate a sticking point of the chest.
One of Josh’s favorite pec isolation exercises for powerlifters is the paused DB floor fly. Here is a perfect video of this exercise:
For this exercise you have to lie down on the floor facing the ceiling. You lower the weight down until your upper arm makes contact with the ground, pause for 1-2 seconds and then raise the weight back up to lockout. Because you are pausing your arms on the ground you never have to worry about going to low and injuring yourself.
Many of Josh’s powerlifters have had a lot of success with this exercise for bringing up their lagging pec strength.
Bench Press Accessory Exercise #3: The Hanging Band Overhead Press
Many powerlifters have a sticking point in the bench press right off their chest because their shoulders are too weak. If your shoulder strength is holding you back on the bench press then you have to try the hanging band overhead press.
The basic idea is to hang weights from resistance bands on both sides of a barbell. You can use a regular 45 pound barbell or specialty barbells such as the bamboo bar or the earthquake bar.
Here is the world’s strongest bench presser Julius Maddox performing some hanging band overhead presses with the earthquake bar:
When you use the hanging band method the weights shake in every direction. This forces both your shoulders and your smaller rotator cuff muscles to work overtime to execute the movement. I think you will be shocked at how sore your shoulders get after just a few sets of this exercise.
Many people find that their bench presses are much more stable after just a few weeks practicing this exercise.
Bench Press Accessory Exercise #4: Chain Tricep Extensions
If you want to improve your lockout strength then training your triceps with different types of skull crushers is a great choice. Unfortunately skull crushers can be very hard on your elbows.
Josh Bryant learned this the hard way when he was performing a set of skull crushers with 330 pounds and his triceps tendon tore right off the bone! Nowadays Josh is much smarter with which triceps exercises he has his powerlifters use.
One of his favorite triceps accessory exercises is the chain tricep extension. Check it out:
This exercise relies on chains to make up most or all of the resistance. The chains make the exercise lighter in the bottom position and heavier in the top position which lets you really overload your triceps without bothering your elbows.
Many powerlifters who have a hard time feeling their triceps working find that this exercise lights their triceps on fire the first time they perform them. The chain tricep extension is also perfect for improving your lockout strength because the hardest part of the movement is at the very top when you have to lock out your elbows.
Bench Press Accessory Exercise #5: Dead Stop Skull Crushers
As you can see the dead stop skull crusher is a lying triceps extension where you pause the bar on the ground behind your head in between each rep. This exercise absolutely destroys the long head of your triceps because it incorporates elbow extension AND shoulder extension into one movement.
The pause in between each rep also forces you to use nothing but your triceps to move the weight. This is an exercise that must be performed for slightly higher repetitions.
I recommend you start with sets of 8-12 reps and go from there. If you perform this exercise correctly then the next day it will feel like a gang of angry ninjas started beating your triceps with a bamboo stick the day before!
Bench Press Accessory Exercise #6: Hanging Band Skull Crushers
The hanging band skull crusher is a favorite triceps exercise of the Westside Barbell powerlifting team. The basic idea is to perform a lying triceps extension using the hanging band method. Here is a perfect video demonstration:
If you have never performed this triceps exercise then you don’t know what you are missing! The weights bounce around in every direction while you perform this exercise. This forces your body to recruit more muscle fibers in the triceps than with normal skull crushers performed with “straight weight.”
Many Westside lifters absolutely swear by this exercise for strengthening the triceps. As an added bonus it is very easy on the elbows. Many powerlifters who cannot perform lying triceps extensions without elbow pain find they can perform this exercise without any issues.
If you do not have access to a bamboo bar or an earthquake bar then you can always hang weights from a regular 45 pound barbell.
If you have a sticking point on the bench press then you need to stop what you’re doing and put together a battle plan to eliminate it once and for all.
Isometric training is by far the most effective way to eliminate a bench press sticking point. Isometrics are so effective because they let you target the exact point in the range of motion where you are weakest. They also teach your body to produce more force and recruit more motor units than is possible with more traditional training methods.
Another great strategy for eliminating sticking points is to carefully pick your supplementary and accessory exercises. If you are weak off your chest then the dead bench, paused bench and ultra-wide grip bench are great options. On the other hand if you are weak at the top then the chain bench, band bench or slingshot bench have your name written all over them.
When it comes to picking the right accessory exercises the most important thing is being able to feel the exercise in the target muscle group. Josh Bryant says that accessory exercises have an “internal” focus and he is absolutely right.
If you have a hard time feeling lying triceps extensions in your triceps then you may want to try the chain tricep extension, the dead stop skull crusher or the hanging band skull crusher.
All of these exercises let you destroy your triceps without bothering your elbows too much.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to create your new training program and conquer your bench press sticking points once and for all!
“You dream. You plan. You reach. There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, with belief, with confidence and trust in yourself and those around you, there are no limits.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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