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Ideas for improving bench/ohp?

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August 18, 2018

Me - 37, 5'-9" 204lb

Lift 1RMs: DL 390, SQ 338, BENCH 195, OHP 136

My question-

Been lifting since last December, first time I've been into going to the gym in my life and I'm down 45lb or so. It's become a solid habit now, every two days unless something major happens. I'm working the Five3One app.

Why are my bench and ohp so crappy and how can I make them stop being so crappy.

For accessories (the full list, not all of these are on bench day, obviously), I do the following Incline bench press Close grip bench press Tricep rope pull down Dumbbell row Power cleans Leg press

Love the change in my body so far but I have a damn long way to go. is there something obvious I'm missing here? Bench is just crawling up so slow.

Post Information
Title Ideas for improving bench/ohp?
Author lololasaurus
Upvotes 9
Comments 49
Date 18 August 2018 07:20 AM UTC (2 years ago)
Subreddit askMRP
Original Link
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[–]CaptJohnLukeDiscard10 points11 points  (7 children) | Copy

For bench set up:

First, pick the widest bench in the room if your gym is like mine where you have to slide a mobile bench into a squat rack to bench. 2in can be a big difference here. Girth over length but I digress.

Second, warm up just a bit. I bench in the mid 3s and always start with just the bar. Focus on explosive yet controlled movements.

Third, your positioning is key. It should UNCOMFORTABLE. Get under the bar and roll your shoulders back and down like you are bowing your chest up. Then pinch your scaps HARD like you are holding a small pen or pencil between them and don’t want to drop it. This should cause your lats to flare like a fat guy with Invisible Lat Syndrome (serious disease that).

The flared lats form the platform you press from. That’s your main contact with the bench. It should NOT be comfortable. After you unrack, the bar path should be slightly diagonal tracking down to touch BELOW the nipple area even though at the top the bar should be above the shoulders. This may all vary a bit with the anatomical structure of your shoulders.

Your elbows track by your sides and may even brush your rib cage. They should not flare out to the side.

Tense your core by sucking in and bracing (google bracing by Chris Duffin or someone like that for a full explanation) and planting very firmly with your feet. Lower the bar slightly slower than you accelerate up on higher rep count sets and DON’T bounce it on your chest.

CNS training:

Finally, train your nervous system to accept heavier weights by simply unracking heavier weights and holding at the top position to get used to it. You may just be getting freaked out by the weight. Get a good spotter you trust.

Training Weaknesses:

If you have a significant weakness, and I suspect it is your triceps, train that directly with higher weight lower rep sets. You should be working to full body weight dips in full ROM and then go to adding weight via a belt.


OHP is basically the same as bench just standing. Make sure you stay braced during reps and keep the scaps pulled like you are holding the pencil in place. Elbows track forward in front of you is most comfortable to me.

Best advice of the thread:

Check out So You Think You Can Bench on YT by EliteFTS who has an excellent line of videos for powerlifting.


Do you get stuck at the bottom, middle, or top of the lift?

[–]GWake232 points3 points  (2 children) | Copy

Solid advice. Could even set up with pins to work on pin presses if you have a specific spot in bench you struggle with (bottom third, middle third, finishing). Same with overhead press.

It's all about figuring out where you're weak and attacking it. I'd add that dips are a good accessory exercise too. Hit the triceps which are an accessory in both of those lifts and if you incline your torso you hit the pec as well.

Throw in some face pulls, band pull parts, and plenty of rows to protect your shoulder as well. Don't need an overpowered deltoid vs weak cuff muscles.

[–]CaptJohnLukeDiscard1 point2 points  (1 child) | Copy

I had an ortho who was a powerlifter who said to do 2x the set of ‘back / supporting’ muscles as you do sets of pushing / pressing muscles.

[–]GWake230 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

Definitely not a bad idea. There's even a school of thought to do 3x as many rows as pushes. Gotta keep the shoulders healthy, especially when you start going heavy.

[–]mindfulbutgutlessRed Beret0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

For bench set up:

First, pick the widest bench in the room if your gym is like mine where you have to slide a mobile bench into a squat rack to bench. 2in can be a big difference here. Girth over length but I digress.

This is so underrated. Wide bench is key.

I will also add that to incorporate leg drive to help drive the weight back up. Alan thrall and neversate do great videos on full bench nuances.

[–][deleted] 0 points1 point  (1 child) | Copy

Do you get stuck at the bottom, middle, or top of the lift?

I'm curious about the follow up. Doing 175x10x3 and been stuck in the middle on rep 7 or 8 on set 3 for months now.

[–]CaptJohnLukeDiscard1 point2 points  (0 children) | Copy

Change your scheme. If you have been doing 3/10 for for than 6 weeks, incremental gains are basically down to nothing. Do a mesocycle or two of 6/4 or 4/12 or one of each and then try the 3/10 again.

Alternatively, for me, 20 rep squats 3x per week helped my bench more than anything. Loaded leaning dips helped too if your shoulder can stand the ROM.

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

I will implement the parts of this that I'm not already doing and look up Chris Duffin and EliteFTS as suggested.

I get stuck at the bottom and to a much lesser degree the very top.

My thanks to you for the very detailed reply. Dips are the one thing I really haven't pursued at all, so I'll add that. And the unracking heavy weights thing sounds solid too - several times I've noticed under really heavy weights (mainly squatting) it feels like I should be able to lift it but my body is like "wait how do I move this direction again??" Almost as though it forgot how to perform the motion of a squat.

[–]red-sfpplusHard Core Red6 points7 points  (8 children) | Copy

Once you get to two plates on bench the single, most important thing you need to have to continue to progress on bench:

Is a lifting partner.

My bench went up 50# in six weeks once I started working out with a bro. No more searching for spotters. No more fear of death.

You can push out the reps and you will skyrocket your bench.

[–]markpf731 point2 points  (0 children) | Copy

You can increase frequency, volume, or intensity. Intensity is the best lever to pull for this guy now. Lifting partner is the best advice given.

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (6 children) | Copy

This is the single biggest thing I want to accomplish anyway. I hate not having a spotter and fearing failure on the bench. Squats, no biggie, just use the safeties. Deadlift, just drop it. Ohp, just drop it into the support. But bench? If I fail I have to slide it down my body which is not the end of the world really at 180 but I'm starting to get to the range where it's very painful to do that.

The reason to hasn't happened yet is because I lift at night after my kids are in bed because my wife is constantly challenging my gym time and using the kids as a vector for that. I'm sure that can improve after I'm out of my unattractive phase, but for now I assert myself in ways that work. Consequently the gym is often quite empty by the time I get there. This is nice in some ways, but for this and making gym friends it's super lame.

This is kind of a bigger threshold than just benching though, and it's on my near term list of things that need to be solved to keep pursuing my MAP.

I will consider this a higher priority and see what I can do, though, because I think this is probably more the issue than anything else listed in this thread.

[–]red-sfpplusHard Core Red2 points3 points  (0 children) | Copy

Way to go bro!

Knew this was the case, as I directly experienced it myself.

[–]SBIIIRed Fucking Commando1 point2 points  (4 children) | Copy

I use safeties for benching. Am I doing something wrong?

[–]red-sfpplusHard Core Red3 points4 points  (0 children) | Copy

Yes you are.

Nothing more motivating than another bro telling you to push out 2-3 more reps.

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (2 children) | Copy

I tried this but they are about 2" wrong height for me. Either I can't go full range of motion or they don't keep it off my chest.

[–]SBIIIRed Fucking Commando0 points1 point  (1 child) | Copy

They were wrong for me too - either too high or too low, but I turn the bars around the wrong way and even though they aren't as stable, they work. I've dropped and rolled a couple of times like this.

My bench is weak though. Will definitely be taking on the advice in this thread.

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

That's an interesting idea that I didn't think of. Might do that as a stop gap, but I really need some lifting Bros more.

[–][deleted] 3 points4 points  (2 children) | Copy

You said you're down 45 lbs - if you're still cutting, you should know that typically bench is more sensitive than other lifts to body mass, so it follows that it's not going to grow as fast, if at all, in a deficit. If you're still getting newbie gains then maybe you're lucky and can still make some progress on a cut.

Also, frequency and volume are your friends here. Most rapid improvement I've seen was when benching 3x/week.

Lastly, make sure you're doing a full powerlifting style bench, not just casually lying down and unracking. Tight arch, scapula retracted (squeeze shoulderblades back and down). You want your body so tight it's almost exhausting in the setup. Loss of tightness equals loss of power. And did I mention, retract the fucking scapula?

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

I will try benching every workout for a bit and see how that goes. I already squat or deadlift every workout (though at lower volume on not sq/dl days to allow for recovery). So it makes sense to do this as well.

[–]Reach180Red Beret2 points3 points  (1 child) | Copy

Do dips for triceps accessory. Rope pulls and fine for show, but it's not the same pushing pattern you get with dips. Dips make you stronger.

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

Ok, dips seems to be a unanimous thing. I'll definitely add them.

[–]ParaXilo1 point2 points  (1 child) | Copy

All good options another can be switching from bench to dumbbells for 4-6 weeks.

I've been using reverse pyramid training (RPT) currently at 160lbsx6 reps on my last workout and just planning to keep going up on the weight till I stalls. I have also stalled on OHP and tried deloading from my working set to get back up. Might try some of the tips here as well. Was stuck at 115lbsx5 reps.

Overload training seems to be a good option but you could try RPT as well. Leangains should have some info.

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

That is something I'll read about as well. Thank you!

[–]John92491 point2 points  (0 children) | Copy

There was an awesome (recent) article that looked at about 10 studies that compared high frequency training (2-4x wk) vs once a week for upper body pressing with the same volume for both groups.

Basically you are better off doing 6 sets of chest broken down into 3 days a week (2 sets each day) than doing all 6 sets in one day. Lower body did not show improvement in these studies

I think the key is spreading out your volume and maybe increasing it slightly throughout the week but not over doing it to were you can't recover.

Also based on your OHP your shoulders seem weak which is probably holding you back on the bench.

Tldr bench 2-3 days a week.

[–]boy_named_su0 points1 point  (6 children) | Copy

How's your protein intake? Creatine, zinc, magnesium, cholesterol?

How's your form?

[–]lololasaurus[S] 1 point2 points  (5 children) | Copy

Good/bad cholesterol is healthy according to the doc, though I don't remember the numbers from a couple months ago.

Creatine, zinc, magnesium, no idea. I don't take them.

Protein is as much as I can get. Typical day for me looks like this -

Intermittent fast until lunch, though I might have coffee For lunch, most days it's a huge chicken breast on romaine lettuce with tomatoes, cut up apple, cut up cucumber, sometimes cheese sticks cut up, green onion, some Olive oil to cook the chicken in, and balsamic vinegar over the whole thing. This really is my go to. For dinner it varies more but I usually put whatever meat we're having on a similar salad. I might have a little of whatever starch we have, which I should stop. Sometimes before or after my late night workout I'll have a can of tuna with some mustard as well for extra protein.

Of course this is an 80% of the time thing. I wish I always ate that clean.

This was very successful down to 203ish lbs and a medium size. Now i need to cut out even more calories because weight loss is stalled, though strength is improving.

[–]rocknrollchuck0 points1 point  (4 children) | Copy

How long have you been cutting? Have you taken a break at all, whether to bulk or to eat at maintenance for a period of time, so your metabolism has a chance to recover and ramp up?

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (3 children) | Copy

I guess I don't know. I wasn't intending to cut, just lifting and eating at (apparently) a deficit. Is that cutting?

I've been over 200lb since I was a teenager, probably most or all of my teen years as well. This is the first time I've ever been interested in fitness.

[–]rocknrollchuck0 points1 point  (2 children) | Copy

This was very successful down to 203ish lbs and a medium size. Now i need to cut out even more calories because weight loss is stalled

Yes, that's cutting. What's your BF%, and what % are you trying to get to?

If you've been trying to lose weight by restricting calories for over a year, I would take a 1 month break and eat at maintenance calories so your metabolism has a chance to recover. That's most likely why your weight loss has stalled. You need to cycle it.

After 1 month of maintenance, try a cycle of cutting for 3 months / maintenance for 1 month. Yes, you won't lose weight as quickly, but if your metabolism gets too slow you won't lose it anyway.

Give your body a break for a while and try again.

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (1 child) | Copy

Seems like I should know this, but if I'm not losing weight or gaining it am I not already at maintenance?

The rest of what you said makes sense to me, I just don't want to gain any more weight.

I'm not sure of current BF%, probably 24-26% according to my scale, and I started at 32% according to my scale, but my target is 12% by look. My scale can't pair with my phone because of an Android bug, so I check it on a tablet every so often. It's been awhile for that.

[–]rocknrollchuck1 point2 points  (0 children) | Copy

Seems like I should know this, but if I'm not losing weight or gaining it am I not already at maintenance?

Well, it's not quite that simple. Maybe you're losing fat and gaining muscle. That's why

I just don't want to gain any more weight.

doesn't really reflect your goal accurately. You don't want to gain fat, but you want to gain muscle. Muscle weighs more than fat, so your weight on the scale may stay the same or even go up a little, even if you're losing fat, because of muscle gain.

Are you tracking your calorie intake in MyFitnessPal or a similar app? What gets measured gets done. My guess is that if you're at 24-26% BF, it's probably a little of everything - muscle gain, fat loss, more calories than needed. You can completely change your body composition and stay at exactly the same weight if you do it right. Most people will end up weighing significantly less if they start where you have, and don't have a history of lifting.

Here's what I would do: go online and calculate your TDEE, then download MyFitnessPal and set your daily calorie target at 500 calories less than your TDEE. Start entering EVERYTHING you put in your mouth on the app. Weigh all your food for the next 6 months, until you get an accurate idea of portion size. This should get you losing about a pound a week.

In the meantime put your measurements into the US Navy Body Fat Calculator. Then track your waist measurement, because maybe your weight doesn't go down one week, but you lose 1/2 inch off your waist. That's progress.

Cut at these calories until your weight loss slows to where you stall. This will be different than now, because you will be tracking everything you eat (I almost guarantee you're eating more calories than you think). Once you stall, eat at maintenance calories for 1 month to give your metabolism a chance to recover and ramp up, then cut for 3 months more. Continue the 1 month / 3 month cycle until you are at the BF% you want to be at.

The one thing you will have to adjust to is the fact that your strength WILL go down some as you cut. This is unavoidable to a certain extent. When you switch to that month of eating at maintenance, that's the time to really push yourself extra hard and break through some plateaus, because you'll have the extra calories as fuel for your lifts.

[–]screechhaterRed Beret0 points1 point  (4 children) | Copy

Squat and deadlift What are your numbers ?

Keep losing weight.

Row. - wide grip to wide stance to chest and close grip close stance to stomach

Bench- shoulder grip - feet firmly planted, 2 warm up sets. Bench work out. 6 sets @ 8 max reps. Load 5 pound weekly until max out not able to get past 5 reps with good form.
Work off that plateau. Conquer it to 8 reps. Then add again

It takes time. Sleep. Don’t deprive yourself

Edit- quit the 1 rep shit. Life is not once. It’s over and over again at your most or worst taxed moment. Like a shit test

[–]ParaXilo0 points1 point  (2 children) | Copy

Overload training for bench, right?

[–]screechhaterRed Beret1 point2 points  (1 child) | Copy

Yes. But be careful Keep form.

The 1 rep shit does nothing. Numbers/stats should be controlled rep work out numbers due to life requiring repetition.

You will wreck your body trying to 1 rep your ass, specifically the shoulders

Rowing is an all body It takes a lot to perform. I get jacked as fuck with rowing session

[–]ParaXilo0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

I'll give it a shot on OHP if I stall today. Stalled at 115lbsx5. Been doing RPT and can't get the 6th rep to go on to 120lbs.

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

Numbers are in my OP.

Weight loss continues though slower than I'd like.

Did SL5X5 until I couldn't add 5lb a week already, that's why I need switched to 5/3/1.

Sleep is a thing I don't get enough of. 7 kids, checked out wife, side business, full time work, doing all the chores. Sleeping is not available as an option as much as I'd like. But point is well made.

I don't do 1 rep. I do 5/3/1 program with boring but big and other accessories. The 1rm is merely how I track my progress which has been pretty good overall.

[–]Cloudsurf89[🍰] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

Might be worth spreading asking r/Fitness or r/Fitness30plus because this isn't exactly an MRP topic

[–]paterfamilias780 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

I have been grinding my bench up for a long time now, and the two things that seem to work are the old cliches:


[–]ReddJiveRed Beret0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

Bench is the hardest to improve. Shoulders are damn tough.

Form. I would start there. Research teh fuck out of it. Take a class that focuses on bench. Guarantee there is one.

Accessories. DB rows 3x8 will help. wide arm lat pulldowns. I would stop with all that other benching. Maybe keep incline but work at 80% of your weekly max lift. You could be just plain wearing yourself out in your pursuit. If you want to work accessory focus them. What you are doing is just rehashing major lifts.

once a week do a 1second pause bench. 2x6. Each rep pause for one second on you chest. Work with 80% of your max lift.

[–]mindfulbutgutlessRed Beret0 points1 point  (9 children) | Copy

5/3/1 lacks volume, and that's what you need to get those numbers up. They will climb but slowly. I personally have been training those two lifts 3x a week minimum for the last month and have seen a significant jump. I stalled at 205x5 on bench so I switched to 6 sets of 3 and just hit 240 earlier this week. OHP is a bitch. I dropped from 135x5x3 to 115x10x3 then do heavy singles. Yesterday put up 155x1x5. Also make sure to train chest and shoulder prior to squats and deads. A heavy bench or ohp will not nearly effect your squat and deadlift as much as the squat and do will effect your bench. Play with reps and sets to add more volume based on what your goals. Also time your eating based on training.

[–]Reach180Red Beret6 points7 points  (5 children) | Copy

5/3/1 lacks volume,

The 5/3/1 knock off app might lack volume. But 5/3/1 is not a program, it's a set of training principles. You can program a ton of volume into it if you understand it.

Wendler has posted so many free variations on his blog and T-Nation that it would take you 5 years to try them all. I'm doing this one right's probably my favorite variation. I do it every fall after cutting weight all summer. Press day is 14 sets of press, plus 75 reps each of a push, pull, and lower body accessory move. Plenty of volume.

He's also written 3 books that are 80% 5/3/1 training variations. Pick one up - it helps to understand the system rather than just grabbing sets and reps off an app.

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (3 children) | Copy

I use the app to simplify it and log it but I do understand the system. I regularly increase volume when I believe I can. I probably could more often.

[–]UEMcGillI am become McGill, Destroyer of Blue Pill0 points1 point  (2 children) | Copy

You can also skip the deload week. Go on a 3 week cycle instead.

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (1 child) | Copy

Yeah deload week, at least at my level, feels like a huge waste of time and borderline f-arounditus.

I'm in the middle of one right now. I have wondered about skipping it. I think I'm going to do that, great idea.

[–]UEMcGillI am become McGill, Destroyer of Blue Pill0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

It also help to really push when you end the cycle and need to redo your PR. Having access to a gym buddy is huge for this part.

My experience is people are throwing to much 7-8-9 reps when they should be 3-4-5ish. To me that comes from not testing your 1 RM to the max.

[–]mindfulbutgutlessRed Beret0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

I personally dont run 5/3/1. I have a 8 week program for each major lift that I cycle through. It is close to the volume you described plus a ton of variations. It has worked for me.

Also, good call on the suitcase carries, haven't been that sore in quite some time. Thanks for that tip.

[–]lololasaurus[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

I can train the bench more but I don't see how it lacks volume. I could do more sets of less reps of more weight but at the 5/3/1 week you do go to 90% of 1rm on your final "set".

The eating timing I think is on lockdown, and I'm likely doing ok on macros most days.

You can kill a man, but you can't kill an idea.

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