In order to increase your bench press strength, you need to identify where within the range of motion you are the weakest. This is especially the case if you’re weak in the middle of the bench press since once the weight gets heavier you’ll fail in the mid-range every time.
So what should you do if you’re weak in the middle of the bench press? My top 6 tips are:
- Practice Accelerating Off The Chest
- Perform The Banded Bench Press
- Build Your Overhead Press Strength
- Use The 2-Board Bench Press
- Widen Your Grip
- Press The Bar “Up and Back”
To understand exactly which of these methods will work for you, you’ll first need to identify the reasons why you’re weak in the middle of the bench press. So in this article, I’ll explain the two most common reasons why people struggle in the mid-range. Then, I’ll discuss each of these tips in greater detail.
Let’s get started!
Are You Weak In The Middle Of The Bench Press?
Before getting into the nuts and bolts, I want to make sure that you actually have a ‘mid-range weakness’ in the bench press.
This is because a lot of people say they’re weak in the mid-range, but actually, they have a lock-out issue, which would be a different problem, requiring a different set of solutions.
You can read more about the bench press lockout in my guide to strengthening the top-end range of motion.
Here are 3 signs to know if you are weak in the middle of the bench press:
Sign #1: You Can’t “Grind Into The Lockout”
Not having the ability to “grind in the lockout” means that you get halfway up and the barbell simply stalls.
The ability to “grind” means that while the barbell is traveling slowly, it’s still heading in the direction of the lockout. Grinding is a good thing because it means you can get further up the range of motion, which may allow other muscle groups to assist with the movement before failing.
If you can still show signs that you can “grind” through the mid-range, no matter how slow the barbell is moving, then you likely do not have a mid-range weakness. Instead, this would be considered a lockout weakness.
Lifters who are weak in the middle of the bench press literally look like the barbell hit a wall in the mid-range and it cannot move beyond it.
Sign #2: The Barbell Fails Exactly at Halfway
If the barbell fails exactly halfway between your chest and lockout, then you have a mid-range weakness in the bench press.
While this may seem like an obvious point, it’s really hard to rely on your sense of where the barbell is within the range of motion when you’re in the act of failing.
This is why I recommend recording your bench press, especially when you are lifting heavy.
By getting a video of your bench press, you can determine much easier whether the barbell was failing closer to your chest, closer to the lockout, or if in fact, it was the middle part of the movement.
You may also want to read my guide on Weak Off The Chest In The Bench Press. It’s important to understand how you can get each portion of the range of motion stronger.
Sign #3: Your Elbows Flare Out To The Side
You may be weak in the mid-range of the bench press if your elbows flare out to the side as you begin to fail the rep.
Your elbows in the bench press should either be directly in line with the barbell or slightly in front. Having your elbows flare “out” and “behind the barbell” is a sign of weakness.
As I’ll discuss in the next section, certain muscle groups are responsible for producing force at different portions of the lift. If your elbows flare behind the barbell it’s your body’s way of trying to compensate for muscle groups that can’t do their job properly in the mid-range.
One other resource I want to mention is my guide on Breaking Through A Bench Press Plateau. This guide would be useful if you’ve been stuck at the same numbers on the bench press for months-on-end without seeing any increases in strength.
Why Are You Weak In The Middle Of Bench Press?
Now that you know how to identify whether your bench press is weak in the middle, let’s now talk about why this might be occurring.
There are two reasons why your bench press is weak in the mid-range:
Reason #1: Weak Muscles
If your bench press is weak in the middle it’s because your shoulder muscles (anterior and lateral deltoids) are relatively weaker compared with the rest of your upper body.
It’s important to understand how each muscle group in the upper body contributes to the bench press at different stages throughout the movement.
If you don’t know how your muscle activation changes based on the range of motion, then you need to read my article on What Muscles Are Used In The Bench Press.
In the mid-range, the shoulders contribute the most to the bench press. Therefore, being weak in the middle means your shoulders are the limiting muscle group and you need to work on specific bench press accessories to get them stronger.
Know that not every “shoulder exercise” will transfer effectively to your strength on the bench press. I cover two exercises later in this article that I believe have the best carryover to the bench press.
And, if you want a full deep dive into shoulder exercises, read my guide on How Powerlifters Train Their Shoulders.
Reason #2: Poor Technique
In order for you to maximize your strength potential in the middle of the bench press, you need to have a core understanding of proper technique.
This includes: understanding the role of ‘tempo’, ensuring you have the right grip, and knowing the optimal bar path. I cover these points in further detail in the next section.
However, once you understand the proper technique, it’s important that you become consistent with it every time you bench press. This “consistency” is usually what separates the best benchers in the world from those that are just mediocre.
The best benchers don’t get lazy with their technique. They approach the bench press the same way under lighter sets as they would a max lift. They’re always in constant pursuit of analyzing their technique and bettering the range of motion.
I have an entire category of my site devoted to bench press technique. Feel free to open it in a new tab and check out some of the articles when you have more time.
6 Tips To Strengthen The Mid-Range Bench Press
There are six strategies to implement when you’re weak in the middle of the bench press.
You don’t need to implement each of these into your training all at once.
My recommendation is to pick one or two, and then work with those strategies for 8-10 weeks to see if you’ve made any progress.
Here are my 6 tips for improving weakness in the mid-range:
1. Practice Accelerating Off The Chest
What does accelerating off the chest in the bench press have to do with the mid-range?
If you have a sticking point in the mid-range, then it means the barbell will slow down at halfway between your chest and lockout.
If you can generate more speed earlier in the range of motion where you’re likely a bit stronger (i.e. off your chest), the chances that you can carry that speed through your sticking point is much greater.
Here’s an example: let’s say you hit a wall for about 3-inches during the mid range of the bench press.
If you casually drive off the chest, then you’ll enter this 3-inch sticking point and start to slow down right away and have to struggle for the full 3-inches.
However, if you drive with as much force as possible off the chest, then you’ll enter this 3-inch sticking point with more speed. As such, you might be able to get 2-inches into your sticking point before you feel the barbell slowing down.
In this circumstance, you’ve reduced your sticking point to 1-inch (not 3-inches) by carrying the momentum higher into the range of motion where you’d otherwise start to struggle.
Takeaway: Apply maximum force and always think about driving fast off the chest.
2. Perform The Banded Bench Press
The banded bench press is a great exercise for teaching lifters how to accelerate the barbell through the entire range of motion, including the mid-portion of the lift.
As I said, one of your technique goals should be to explode off the chest in order to carry momentum through the middle of the bench press (where you’re the weakest).
One way to teach this concept is to attach a band to the barbell. As you press the weight out, the resistance from the band gets harder.
This will force you not to get lazy with how you apply force off the chest and through the mid-range of motion. In other words, the greater the barbell is lifted, the more force you have to apply to overcome the additional resistance of the band.
My favorite protocol for banded bench press is (using a 1-inch band):
- Week 1: 5 sets of 5 reps @ 60%
- Week 2: 5 sets of 5 reps @ 62.5%
- Week 3: 6 sets of 4 reps @ 65%
- Week 4: 6 sets of 4 reps @ 67.5%
Takeaway: Use a banded bench press to work on being explosive in the mid-range.
3. Build Your Overhead Press Strength
If you’re weak in the middle of the bench press it’s likely due to a shoulder weakness. One of the best ways to build your shoulder strength is through the overhead barbell press.
There’s not a single lifter I’ve worked with who had a mid-range weakness in the bench press where it wasn’t solved by bringing up their shoulder strength.
The primary muscle responsible for the overhead press is the anterior deltoid. You’ll also activate some muscle fibers of the upper pec. These muscle groups are likely underdeveloped and could benefit from some additional volume through the overhead press.
Unfortunately, getting stronger shoulders is not a quick fix and it can take several months. I would aim for 4-months of focused shoulder work to see improvement and carryover to the bench press.
I wrote an entire article called Does Overhead Press Help Bench Press? Check it out if you want to learn more about its application to increase bench press strength.
So how should you implement overhead press into your bench press program?
If you bench press once per week:
- Place the overhead press on a separate day where the focus is building strength in your shoulders. Start with the overhead press first, and then move to other exercises that target the shoulders.
If you bench press twice per week:
- On one of those bench press days, place the overhead press first in the exercise order, and then move into your bench press. You can then finish the workout with more isolated shoulder exercises, or perform additional shoulder work on a separate day.
In either scenario, perform 3-6 sets with reps of 4-8 and linearly increase the load from week-to-week.
Takeaway: Use the overhead press to build shoulder strength, which will have a high strength carryover to the mid-portion of the bench press.
4. Use The 2-Board Bench Press
The 2-board bench press can be used to develop mid-range strength because you’re lifting within the exact range of motion that requires the most attention.
If you’ve never heard of using board as a tool for building bench press strength, you should check out my article on Why Do Powerlifters Use Boards For Bench Press?
A 2-board is simply stacking two 2X4 boards together and placing them on your chest. Typically, a trainer partner will hold them in place.
If you don’t have access to wooden boards or a training partner, you can purchase BenchBlokz (click for details on Amazon), which strap onto the bar and provide the same benefit.
As you bench press, the boards will prevent you from bringing the barbell to your chest. This will eliminate the role of your pec muscles; however, it will place a greater loading demand on your shoulders. This is what you want since a mid-range weakness means your shoulders are the limiting muscle group.
When you use boards, you can generally lift more load than you normally would for the same rep ranges. This is because the barbell moves less distance, which means less overall work is performed.
For those new to using boards, I would recommend doing:
- Week 1: 3 sets of 8 reps 67.5-75% of 1 rep max (Using 2-board)
- Week 2: 4 sets of 6 reps 72.5-80% of 1 rep max (Using 2-board)
- Week 3: 5 sets of 4 reps 82.5-87.5% of 1 rep max (Using 2-board)
- Week 4: 6 sets of 3 reps 85-90% of 1 rep max (Using 2-board)
If you want a more advanced protocol, I recommend supersetting full reps followed by reps to boards.
Here’s a typical progression for more advanced lifters:
- Week 1: 4-5 sets of 5 reps to chest + 3-8 reps to 2-board @ 75-77.5% of 1 rep max
- Week 2: 4-5 sets of 5 reps to chest + 3-8 reps to 2-board @ 77.5-80% of 1 rep max
- Week 3: 4-5 sets of 4 reps to chest + 3-8 reps to 2-board @ 80-82.5% of 1 rep max
- Week 4: 4-5 sets of 4 reps to chest + 3-8 reps to 2-board @ 82.5-85% of 1 rep max
When you perform the reps to the boards, the goal is to push the mid-range to fatigue, but stopping 1 rep before you think you’re going to outright fail. As you perform multiple sets, the reps to the boards might decrease, which is to be expected if you’re taking each set to fatigue.
Takeaway: Use boards as a tool to increase your mid-range strength in the bench press.
5. Widen Your Grip
Using a wide grip bench press may allow you to break through your sticking point in the mid-range.
There are two benefits you might get from using a wider grip.
- First, a wider grip will reduce the range of motion that the barbell needs to travel. If you can reduce the barbell distance, you will perform less overall work. This is why powerlifters are always trying to reduce the range of motion of each movement as much as possible.
- Second, if you bench press in a narrow grip, you might be unnecessarily prioritizing your triceps over your shoulders. By widening your grip, you can allow your shoulders to contribute to the bench press more. The goal is not to take away the role of the triceps, but to allow the shoulders to function properly.
So how do you know if you should widen your bench press grip?
In powerlifting, there is a general rule you can use. Your grip should be 2X the distance measured between your shoulders.
For example, if the distance between my shoulders is 15 inches, then my grip width on the barbell should be somewhere around 30-inches. If I’m currently benching with my hands at 25 inches apart, then I know I have some room to play to widen my grip.
Takeaway: measure your shoulder width and determine whether your hands can be wider while bench pressing.
6. Press The Bar “Up and Back”
The barbell should travel in an up and back trajectory as you press it off the chest. If you press the barbell ‘straight-up’ off the chest you will stall in the mid-range every time.
Let’s break down the bar path for a moment.
As you start the bench press, your arms are locked with the barbell directly over your shoulders. When you bring the barbell to your chest you bring the barbell forward in order to touch your lower chest/sternum.
From here, you not only have to drive your arms to lock-out (upward), but you have to drive the barbell in a horizontal plane to bring it back in line with your shoulders.
The sooner you can bring the barbell back in line with the shoulders, the easier it will be to transition through the mid-range and lock-out.
This is because the greater time the barbell spends off the plane of your shoulders, the harder your chest and shoulders need to work to overcome the external resistance.
So as the barbell touches the chest, you need to think about driving the barbell up and back toward the face.
Takeaway: cue “up and back” as you press the barbell off your chest.
You can read more about other cues in my article on 13 Bench Press Cues For Max Strength.
If the middle of your bench press is weak, it means that you need to bring up the strength of your shoulders. You can do this by implementing exercises like banded bench press, overhead press and 2-board press.
In combination with that, you should work on your technique, including being more explosive off your chest, widening your grip, and cueing “up and back” as you drive the barbell off the chest.
Building strength in the mid-range is not an easy fix, but after 8 weeks of working on some of the tips mentioned in this article, you should start to see a measurable improvement.