My bench press, aside from me not liking the motion of the exercise, nor the overrated outlook on it in general, is pretty crappy, even with attempts to improve it. I follow a strict regimen only limiting myself to myofibril training, no hypertrophy, but that hasn't been a problem at all; the problem seems to do with the form of it. I have seen videos demonstrating proper form and all, but when it comes to be actually doing it I fall short.

I have tried lowering the weight to work on repping with form, but all that does is weaken my one rep max if I don't stay heavy most of the time, or stimulates sarcoplasmic fluid, more muscle build up, but the weights don't get easier. Pyramids don't work for me because I'm tired before I get to the highest weight, and end up overworking/hurting myself, or causing delayed onset muscle soreness for days.

I can't seem to get it right. I will either incorporate too much chest, too little triceps, or the other way around, or some combined mess. I fail to "push" the weight cleanly with the load equally distributed between the aforementioned muscle groups, hence, I fatigue after only a couple of reps and often experience soreness instantly.

It is not like this for any other exercise besides bench, so here is what I surmised:

  1. I have a naturally weak chest and poor body form.
  2. I have bad biomechanical positioning, arms not short enough, and can't learn form, explaining a lot of why my bench rarely increases.
  3. Something else I can't think of.

PS: I have tried arched back, but doesn't make nary a difference at all, if any, in my poor bench.

I need some suggestions on how to achieve correct form and maximum performance.

  • 1
    Are you comfortable in doing push-ups before moving on to bench press?
    – Freakyuser
    Jun 12, 2013 at 6:16
  • 3
    What weights, reps, workout schedule are we talking about here? What are your other upper-body lifts like? Which form are you trying to mimic? What's going wrong, specifically? And if you don't know, then can you provide a video? Because others we're just stabbing in the dark. Jun 13, 2013 at 21:05
  • Can you lift properly with the empty bar?
    – user4644
    Jun 14, 2013 at 17:08

5 Answers 5


It sounds like you have no muscular endurance, and have reached the end of this cycle myophibrilar range training (1-6 reps per set). Bench likes volume. People with bigger arms tend to bench better than people with smaller arms.

I understand if you aren't trying to look like a body builder, but you'll need to add useful mass to your frame. I'm not telling you to go out and eat like Micheal Phelps. Just eat more and do the work necessary to get big. Also check out the Raw Bench series by Paul Carter.

If adding an arch isn't making a difference and you run out of energy before you can finish a pyramid, then you need to focus on sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and muscular endurance for a while. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy isn't just for size, it's for increasing your energy supply systems in the muscle. If you don't do anything for your energy systems you are going to run out of energy before you can lift heavier weight.

You may try to work with Madcow or Wendler 5/3/1 using the Big But Boring assistance package for a bit, as both did good things for my bench.

Madcow arranges the work like this:

  • Monday: 5x5 ramping sets (increasing 12.5% until you hit your work weight on the top set)
  • Friday: 4x5 ramping set matching the first 4 sets on monday, then a set of 3 at 5 lbs heavier, and then a set of 8 at the weight of the 3rd set.
  • Following week use the top weight from Friday for your work weight for the week.

So let's say you had 100 lbs as your work weight for the week. The week would look like this:

  • Monday: 50x5, 60x5, 75x5, 90x5, 100x5
  • Friday: 50x5, 60x5, 75x5, 90x5, 105x3, 75x8

Wendler 5/3/1 uses sets of 5, 3, and 1 or more for the work weight, where your top set is for as many reps as you can. For the assistance, you would have bench again at around 50% and do 5x10.

You can search for the programs and get their basic outline (and a few calculators to take the quess work out of it). Wendler's philosophy is this:

Any good program will address strength, hypertrophy, mobility, and conditioning.

It sounds like you have been excluding hypertrophy and it is limiting what you can do.


There isn't something about you that makes you unique when compared with other strength athletes. If you eat more and train more you are going to progress. This sport isn't rocket science, so I think part of the problem is you are over thinking it. Pick a program with a lot of volume (Texas Method, Madcow, Smolov jr, etc) and stick to it.

If you are stalling, and not gaining weight, try eating more. If you are stalling while gaining weight then things get tricky, and goes into much more depth than should be answered here.


Best way I found to fix my Bench Press problem was to start using a Smith Machine. The difference in how the muscles are activated is pretty minimal, see this study A comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press.

I am now rotating the Smith Machine with a regular Bench Press and I am seeing a significant difference now that my Pecs have gained some mass.

Quote from study:

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS The bench press is a common exercise performed by both athletes and recreational lifters and prescribed by strength coaches and trainers. The results of the present study suggest that the free weight bench press may lead to an increased requirement for stabilization about the glenohumeral joint from muscles such as the medial deltoid. Sports such as basketball, baseball, tennis, racquetball, hockey, and volleyball include movements that require deltoid strength and stability about the glenohumeral joint. The strength coach may better serve his/her athletes by choosing the free weight bench over the Smith machine bench press because of its potential for more sports-specific muscular development. The results of the present study also suggest that it may be advantageous for those who have not developed the neuromuscular adapta- tions necessary for correct stabilization of the glenohumeral joint (patients in rehab, or novice weightlifters) to use the Smith machine bench press over its free weight counterpart because of its reduced requirement for stabilization of the glenohumeral joint. However, future research should examine training-related changes in activation and strength develop- ment of these muscles as a result of different modes of bench pressing.

  • 1
    Can you include the important bits of the study in your answer? Link rot would make your answer less useful.
    – Baarn
    Aug 14, 2013 at 12:32
  • I have added some relevant information.
    – Petter
    Aug 14, 2013 at 12:37

I have experienced this in the past. One of my weak points was my bench because like you, I have pretty long arms in relation to my body height.

Here's what helped me fix my bench press:

  1. Began dumbbell pressing
  2. Varied benches (incline, flat, decline)
  3. Keeping shoulder blades on the bench, exposing my chest more
  4. Range of motion, I go completely down and touch my chest, but not completely up in such that I extend my shoulders

Number 4 is a tough one to master. Basically I get the full range going down but not going up. This means that I will stop extending when my triceps and shoulders get more tension than my chest (I also do this because I injured my shoulder).

Another tip I can give you is to focus on the contraction more than anything else. If the bar is aligned with your chest and when you extend upwards, try to contract the pecs as if you're flexing for someone (this is quite hard to do but once you master it 's great!)

I know its rough not to put as much weight, but form is so important ... Never neglect form :)

Hope this helps, good luck!

  • @Watts Dumbbell pressing is a good option as suggested here. In case the bench press difficulty for you is due to the weakness on one side of your body, this can rectify it. All the best.
    – Freakyuser
    Jun 14, 2013 at 11:36

Don't ever do max weight when you don't feel comfortable with the motion of an exercise! As a matter of fact don't do weights at all.

Here is what you do: Lay down on the bench, take a bar or a long wooden stick and practice! Do 1000 bench presses with no weights every day, and you will feel a difference. If you don't, do 2000. Ask a pro at the gym to watch your form while you do them, they know stuff and it obviously worked for them. Don't stop this until three or four successful athletes tell your your doing good(they will be glad to share knowledge and help you). The reason why repeating the motion will help you is neurological: the neurologic paths used by the motion will be 'strengthened' with use, your coordination for that specific motion will increase, and it will start to feel natural to you. When I started boxing my trainer would make me step and jab for 50 minutes every evening. Gradually he added more complex footwork and other punches. I did this for hours because I trusted him. It was worth it, I can now throw a punch at any time, and I know my feet are in the right place and balanced. It has become a primal movement. Of course with your bench it is less extreme.. a couple of days, maybe two weeks and you will feel substantial improvement already.

You have to realize that it's not about what is fun and enjoyable - not in the beginning. It will be boring and often frustrating(with no weights at all form is often more difficult to maintain), but sometimes this is necessary for you to stay healthy and have a good performance later on. You will need to stay focused. Pauses during the 1000 presses of course are allowed(even the bar alone get's heavy).

Don't be one of those people who think they can just jump in the gym and lift or run or cycle like a pro. Pace yourself, accept the difficulties, dedicate the necessary time and eventually your bench will work out too.

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