Picture this: you are bench pressing a 1RM attempt, you push with all you got and halfway through the barbell seems so much heavier than when you pushed it off the chest.
What’s happening? Well, you just reached the sticking point.
If you’ve been lifting for a while, you should know that a certain weight doesn’t feel the same throughout the whole movement.
Take the squat as an example: you come out strong from the whole, you then slow down and actually feel the high weight on the barbell, you push through and finally, the last portion of the movement becomes easy (there’s a reason why many bros only half-squat!).
But maybe the description doesn’t suit you well: it’s possible, every athlete is different, with different levers, different strengths, and weaknesses, different sticking points during the lift.
You may have a hard time at the bottom of the lift in the bench press, for example, or, you might be extremely explosive throughout the movement and then hit the wall at lockout.
Why do sticking points happen?
Well, truth is we don’t know for sure, but many strength coaches have their own methods and ideas:
- Many Americans think it’s a muscular issue
- Many Europeans and Russians think it’s a technique issue
- C. Thibaudeu & L.Simmons think it also may be caused by an explosive deficit issue
- Il pensiero di Thibaudeau e condiviso da Simmons ed altri, che attribuisce lo sticking point anche ad
What do I think? Personally, I think we have to look at the single athlete before jumping to conclusions.
An athlete may have a muscular imbalance in the Squat, and a technical problem in the Deadlift, for example, we don’t know for sure and we need to screen the athlete to figure it out.
What happens during the sticking point
The barbell slows down: we can finish the lift if we can keep on generating maximum force through the sticking point itself. If the deceleration is too high, and bar speed drops too much, eventually the bar stops moving and we then fail the lift.
If you’ve participated in any powerlifting meet and you called the 3rd attempt at 105% you know what I’m talking about.
What do you need to do
First of all, you should assess what the main issue is: are you lacking strength in a certain muscle? Are you too slow? Do you have a technical problem?
Based on the answer you gave yourself, you should:
- Work on the weak muscle
- Work on technique
- Work on explosive strength
One thing I do with my powerlifting athletes is attacking the weak point with overcoming and yielding isometrics, and partial range movements, like the board press, for example.
In case you do this yourself, make sure to place the isometrics right below the actual sticking point: you have to learn to keep accelerating in that exact moment. The same thing goes for the partial range movements.
Let’s say you have an issue at knee height during the deadlift.
You can try and do a long pause deadlift at about 1 to 2 inches below the knee itself: stay there, suffer there, then accelerate and finish your lift.
Congrats: you’ve just successfully worked on your sticking point.
Make sure to rotate exercises because everything works, but nothing works forever [Simmons].
Which muscles should I attack?
Let’s start from the bench press.
If you fail at chest height, you probably have weak pectorals and front deltoids.
If you fail half way through, you should work on your front delts, once again.
If you fail near lockout, it probably means you have weak triceps.
Let’s now take a look at the squat.
If you fail at the bottom of the lift, or in the first part of the movement, you may have weak glutes and hamstrings.
If you fail half way through, weak quads may be the biggest limiting factor.
If you fail in the last portion, which rarely happens because you now have good leverage, the quads are responsible if you have a muscular issue.
What about the deadlift?
If you fail at the beginning of the lift, you may have quads issue – once again – or a tight psoas.
If you fail at knee height, the lower back may be your biggest enemy.
Finally, if you fail during lockout, glutes, and hamstrings may be the problem if the issue is a muscular imbalance.
It’s very hard to understand why you are failing a lift.
Sometimes you just aren’t strong enough during a single part of the movement, which is why it’s very useful to work on the sticking point. Doing more total work (volume) isn’t always the answer as many powerlifters think nowadays.
A good powerlifting or strength coach should be able to figure out the reasons why you are failing the lift: is it muscular? Is it a technique? Maybe both? Are you too slow?
Ask your coach or film yourself and try to find out: hopefully this guide has helped you in your path to a bigger PR.
- Westside Barbell Book of Methods (Simmons)
- Westside Barbell Squat and Deadlift Manual (Simmons)
- Bench Press Manual (Simmons)
- Sticking Point Therapy (Thibaudeau, T-Nation)