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Beat Your Bench Press Sticking Point!

Today I am really excited to have a guest post from Tony Bonvechio. Tony will be assisting me in two upcoming Optimizing The Big Three Seminars. One is this weekend at Cressey Sports Performance, Hudson MA, the other is Sept. 19th at War Horse Barbell Club in Philadelphia. If you’re interested in attending either seminar, please see the two links below this article. Thanks, and enjoy!

When’s the last time you missed a heavy bench press rep in training? Do you remember what happened? It’s likely that you started strong and fast, only to have the bar hit an imaginary brick wall and grind to a halt.

Whether you miss a few inches off the chest or just short of lockout, sticking points are terribly frustrating. We all have them. They’re the bumper-to-bumper traffic jam of powerlifting. And just like that line of brake lights that stretches to the horizon, it’s ineffective at best to try to blast through it. You’ve got to take a detour and change your approach if you want to get where you’re going.

There are plenty of ways to target your bench press sticking points, but some are more effective than others. I see many lifters make crucial training mistakes in an attempt to eliminate their weaknesses, mostly in terms of exercise selection and programing. This article will save you some headaches and show you the best exercises to target the most common sticking point in the bench press.

Do This, Not That

 

Traditionally, many powerlifters have recommended various presses with reduced range of motion to target whatever point in the lift gives you trouble. Board Presses and Pin Presses at various heights are usually the prescription, but unfortunately, the problem is often misdiagnosed.

Board Presses and Pin Presses are not inherently bad. Board Presses can smoke the triceps and help comfortably limit the range of motion for someone who has pain when they touch the bar to their chest. Ideally, if you have pain during a workout, it’s from the strain, your muscles are feeling due to the weight. Make sure to visit a pain management clinic if the pain does not seem to reduce, as at times lifting heavy weights can cause muscle tear or pulled muscle which if not treated immediately can ave severe consequences. Pin Presses effectively reduce eccentric stress and have a place when deloading the bench press. But for targeting the sticking point right off the chest? They suck.

Here are my gripes with each exercise.

Board Press:

  • Lack of Tension: No matter how you coach it, lifters tend to bounce off the board or sink into it, losing tension where they need it most.
  • Incorrect Bar Path: Lifters tend to stray from a proper bar path and touch too low on 1- and 2-boards and too high on 3- and 4-boards.
  • It Takes a Village: It takes a minimum of two training partners to Board Press. For lifters who train alone, this isn’t feasible.

Pin Press:

  • Poor Positioning: Rarely can lifters get into the right position, especially if the pins are set close to the chest. There’s just too much strain on the shoulders and pecs without a good set-up.
  • Reduced Time Under Tension: Most lifters need more time under tension at their weak point, not less. Pin Pesses only give you tension once you’re off the pins and past your weak point.
  • No Eccentric Component: Even though eliminating the eccentric phase can be beneficial sometimes, in this case, it’s not solving our sticking point problem because most misses can be traced back to the set-up or eccentric phase.

Again, these exercises have merit, but they’re not optimal for our scenario. If you miss a few inches off the chest, try these alternatives:

“Invisible” Board Press

 

The Invisible Board Press, also known as the Spoto Press after Eric Spoto, who holds the raw bench press world record of 722 pounds, this exercise targets the most common bench press sticking point better than just about any other exercise.

It’s just like a normal bench press, except you pause the bar a few inches off your chest and press back up. You never actually touch your chest, virtually eliminating any sinking, bouncing or other methods that might let you “slide” through your sticking point.

So rather than unloading the bar where you need to get stronger like a Board Press or Pin Press, the Invisible Board Press increases time under tension and forces you to control the weight throughout the entire rep. Think about when you get an “all you bro” spot at the gym. It doesn’t take much – about two fingers – to make the difference between a good rep and a missed rep. Board Presses do essentially the same thing. But you know better than to think it was “all you,” so use the Invisible Board Press instead.

Concentric Pause Press

 

Adding a pause a few inches off the chest on the way up is a fantastic – and logical – way to train your sticking point without resorting to a reduced range of motion.

Rather than starting at your sticking point, you bring the bar down through a full range of motion. Bring the bar down, touch your chest, press back up and pause a few inches off your chest. Stay tight, pause as long as you need (1-3 seconds works well) and press through to lockout.

Benching with a concentric pause does a slew of valuable things that will eradicate your sticking point. It prevents you from bouncing or heaving because you won’t be able to overcome the momentum and pause effectively, so you’re forced to actually press. It increases time under tension at your sticking point so you’ll have a better shot at grinding through your weakest areas. And it enforces good positioning of your wrists, elbows and shoulders. If you get out of position when you pause, you’ll know right away because you won’t be able to hold the pause for very long.

Programming Considerations

 

There are plenty of ways to incorporate the Invisible Board Press and Concentric Pause Press into your training program, but at The Strength House, we most commonly use them Assistance or Supplemental lifts. We do them after our main pressing movement to specifically address a lifter’s weak point.

I find that the Invisible Board Press is best done with lighter weights and higher reps, since it’s actually a solid hypertrophy exercise for the chest if you focus on maintaining constant tension throughout the lift. It’s also easier to consistently pause in the same spot when handling lighter weights. Stick with sets of 8-12 reps.

The Concentric Pause Press lends itself to slightly heavier weights because you don’t have to worry about stopping the bar short on the way down. I like these for fewer reps because with higher reps it’s tempting to “slide” through the pause on the way up. Sets of 3-5 reps allow you to focus on holding a good pause and finishing strong.

Building a Better Bench

 

Sticking points need to be attacked logically. There’s nothing logical about unloading your sticking point to make it better, so avoid the exercises that do just that. Try the Invisible Board Press and Concentric Pause Press to make your sticking point a thing of the past.

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