Most people get frustrated when their bench press numbers start to plateau. While you can change variables like rep range, tempo, total volume, and even range of motion, often the most neglected variable is changing the angle you’re pressing at.
If you’re constantly training a flat bench press, you might notice your shoulders start to feel achy even with a lighter load. If you want to keep your shoulders healthy and improve your bench press numbers, make sure you’re changing up your angles each microcycle or training block. Remember angles above strengthen angles below!
There are four categories you can organize upper body presses into: Overhead Press, Incline Press, Flat Press and Dips.
Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is to train two pressing angles that are 90 degrees apart from one another within a training block or microcycle. For example, bench press and overhead press or incline press and dip. The angles chosen need to allow for sufficient training stimulus and recovery. If the angle is too close (example: incline press and flat press) the recovery is too low to allow for a significant positive response from the training program, and can result in overuse injury. If the angle is too far apart (example: overhead press and dip) the lifts aren’t able to build upon each other leading to a less favorable response as well. This concept is referred to as the 90 Degree Principle developed by Stephane Cazeault.
With this in mind, you can better plan your training blocks or microcycles in advance, as well as better be able to compare your previous performance to your current lifts.
If you’re training upper body twice per week, for example, your Block 1 Day 1 would start with a flat bench as your primary lift and an overhead press as your secondary lift. Block 1 Day 2 would then be overhead press as your primary and flat bench press as your secondary lift. Once complete, your Block 2 Day 1 would be incline press as the primary and dips as the secondary. Block 2 Day 2 would be Dips as the primary and incline press as the secondary.
Think of this plan as a skeleton or rough draft for your workouts. There are countless variations you can include to be sure you’re training optimally. Vary you incline press angle between 15-75 degrees. Be diligent about changing your hand position between neutral and pronated as well challenging unilateral strength just as often as bilateral strength. Use different implements such as barbells, neutral grip barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and bodyweight. If you aren’t yet strong enough to perform full range of motion dips, train the decline press or replace it with direct tricep work. The options and variations are truly limitless – be creative, but be consistent. Remember to track your workouts so you can go back and compare your progress.
If you want help or guidance with your upper body lifts, email us for a complimentary consultation with one of our coaches!
B.S., NASM CPT