Sticking Points

Seven routes to conquering strength plateaus.

ROUTE 3: Prioritize the secondary muscles

When focusing on boosting strength during compound basic lifts, the key is frequently the secondary muscles. For the bench press, pectorals are considered the primary muscles, but front deltoids and triceps are typically the muscles that give out first. (In fact, science proves the triceps are the single most important muscles in a successful bench press.) For at least one month, don’t do regular bench presses for fewer than 10 reps. Instead, focus on heavy shoulder presses in your shoulder routine and close-grip bench presses in your triceps routine, pyramiding up to maximum sets of six reps.

ROUTE 4: Go faster

Plyometric exercises focus on the speed of movement by first stretching a muscle and then immediately contracting it. For example, rapidly jumping up and down from a squatting position improves the vertical leap of basketball players. Plyometric techniques are also used by powerlifters and Olympic lifters to decrease the amount of time a muscle contracts, thus boosting power. As a bodybuilder trying to overcome a bench-press plateau, you can either perform lighter bench presses very rapidly, pushing up the bar twice as fast as it’s lowered, or you can do rapid “pushups” after sets of bench presses. Do not pause between the descent and ascent; instead, transition from one to the other as quickly as possible.

ROUTE 5: Constrict your range of motion

Lifts tend to fail in the same position — the proverbial sticking point — each time. For the bench press, this is usually somewhere between midway up to just before lockout (when the front deltoids and triceps are doing most of the work). To overcome sticking points, target them. Set a flat bench in a power rack, adjust the pins so that the bar stops and starts at approximately midway, and place the bar on the pins. Pressing off the pins to lock out each rep, do three or four sets of these bench presses during each chest workout. Do other chest exercises, but don’t return to full bench presses until you have appreciably increased your strength in the upper half of the movement.

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