Plateaus are the blues of working out. When the weight is not going up like it used to, it’s time for a change. The bench press may be your favorite upper body exercise, but it’s not the same when your progress is plateaued. In this scenario, the body is in need of a shock. This may involve adjusting your volume, workout order, or range of motion.
Train for Volume, Not Frequency
Are you training your bench press too much? Whether it’s a full-body routine or a weekly split, the bench press may be recurring too often in your routine. Overtraining can result in muscle fatigue and plateaus. Rather than the focus being on practicing it 2-3 times per week, the bench press should instead be performed with more deliberate emphasis on volume. In a study on resistance training (1), researchers found strength and lean body mass increase through volume, not frequency. While the study’s situation looked into overall resistance training, the message maintains its levity in this case. Find out the optimal amount of volume you need for muscle growth to prevent overtraining.
Reverse Pyramid Training
Pyramid training involves working your way up to the heavier weight for an exercise. Reverse pyramid training, however, is an advanced method of decreasing sets. This starts the exercise with the heaviest weight and then lightens it after each set. You may be adjusted to working your way up to your max. This time, you’ll be shocking the muscles by hitting it almost immediately. Drop sets can achieve hypertrophy and metabolic stress (2) because of the unexpected deloading of weight. The follow-up sets put the ego aside, shifting the focus on better form rather than higher weight. A warm-up set is also highly recommended.
Here is what reverse-pyramid training looks like:
- (Warm-Up) 50% 1RM x 8-12 reps
- 80% 1RM x 4-6 reps
- 70% 1RM x 8-10 reps
- 60% 1RM x 10-15 reps
- (Burnout) 50% 1RM x Max reps
Isolation workouts are movements that concentrate on one specific muscle. These can identify and address our weak points in compound movements, such as the bench press. Some ways to isolate a muscle are through dumbbell, cable, or bodyweight movements. These complimenting exercises allow for different ranges of motion and can improve the bench press by recruiting the mind-muscle connection from one movement onto another.
A compound exercise is only as strong as its supporting muscles. The shoulders, triceps, and core are all important for the bench press. Performing isolation exercises to target these supporters will sometimes be all you need to push past your plateau. Incorporating these into the back end of your workout routine is greatly worth the effort.
If you identify where the weakness lies, isolation work can be sure to address these supporting muscles.
A new perspective can be the best feedback for improvement. Perhaps the mistake comes from grip width, feet positioning, or bar path. Feedback can come from recording your form, asking a friend to analyze it, or asking a personal trainer for help. A personal trainer can even prevent us from hurting ourselves in the near future.
A mandatory practice of all professional athletes is watching film. It allows them to identify their mistakes in the past and replace them with better habits. So why should we not adopt this practice to improve our personal gain?