Stop Bench Pressing
I finally did it. I have created a long, precise list of all those who have to bench press in their personal training. Are you on the list?
People who MUST bench press:
Are you on the list?
Then you MUST bench press.
Bench pressing is a third of the sport. You do not have a choice in the matter. If you want to be considered a good Powerlifter, then you should probably have a decent bench press. It’s not like you have to be good at many things.
You really don’t have many demands being placed on you. Missing a third of your sport would be like a rugby team taking to the field with 10 players.
It would be like Tiger Woods playing in the Open without any golf clubs for the first six holes.
It would be like a basketball player in the NBA, being paid millions of dollars a year, heralded as one of the greatest in his position ever, an All-Star All-American Hall of Fame athlete …….. and not being able to shoot outside the key.
But regardless, the only sport where you are required to lie on your back and press a bar vertically away from your chest is Powerlifting.
So after weeks of careful analysis and deliberation, I came to the conclusion that Powerlifters, and only Powerlifters, need to bench press.
On the other hand, I can list a few reasons as to why you should STOP bench pressing right now. Don’t believe me? Have a read and let me know if I have changed your mind.
Reason No. 1: You Want a Bigger Chest
Monday rolls around again. It’s been a long day in the office, the last thing you wanted to do this morning was bother putting a tie back on after a lazy weekend in front on the TV. Yet here you are, wading through a long laundry list of emails that (if you had the nerve to tell your boss) were entirely pointless and a great big f**king waste of your time replying to. You click “send” on the last one, drain your cup of coffee for the third time today, and check your watch.
A smile crosses your face.
The work day is over.
You’ve started the diet again (we’ll forget about the beers and pizza on Saturday), and you can’t wait to hit the gym.
The journey flies by. You plug in your favourite
Greatest Showman gym soundtrack, do a few shoulder circles, and hop under the bench press.
You work up to a few heavy reps, call it a day.
A few sets of cable flies (the mirror and lighting makes you look really vascular after all), some curls and crunches, a quick hop in the shower and you’re done for the day. You wave goodbye to the personal trainers sitting on the front desk, and head home.
The problem is; your chest never seems to get any bigger.
The bench press is an inferior exercise to build the pectorals.
Let me say that again.
The bench press is an inferior exercise to build the pectorals.
You see the bench press is all about PERFORMANCE.
Your ability to move as much weight as possible, over a short a distance as possible. There are so many muscles that participate in this lift, that the work your pecs do, whilst still significant, is not as great a contribution as you might think.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great bench pressers out there with amazing pectorals, but when you are trying to lift as much weight as possible; things can go wrong.
If you want a bigger chest, your bench press is only part of the puzzle. And it is a part that many bodybuilders disregard entirely.
You can fry yourself lifting maximal weights in the bench press. Or you can get a crazy amount of volume in using other exercises that place more stress on the muscles of the chest, with less stress, fatigue and risk of injury.
High rep dumbbell presses (flat/incline/decline), dips, cable flies and various machine based movements are probably a smarter (and certainly safer) choice when it comes to getting those chesticles to grow.
Reason No. 2: You Have Shoulder Pain
The bench press for many people is a minefield when it comes to shoulder impingement, elbow pain, inflammation around the pectoral insert and general discomfort. Yet still we soldier on because we know that we must.
Now I do not treat pain, or attempt to diagnose why you might be in agony performing a certain lift. That is far beyond my capacity as a simple Personal Trainer. But here is a quick suggestion that you can implement in your routine straight away:
If bench pressing gives you shoulder pain…..
STOP F**KING BENCH PRESSING!
There is probably a very good reason as to why you are hurt. That is step 2. But step 1 is always: stop doing the thing that causes you agony.
Now, you may be getting pain in the shoulder because your technique stinks. This can be a hard pill to swallow, especially if you are like me and hate asking for help (God forbid you have to ask for directions from a local because you can’t read a road map), but is an essential step.
Get over the initial embarrassment of realizing you have no idea what you are doing, and that the extent of your formal training education could be summed up on a post-it note; and ask for some damn help.
That’s what I’m here for. That’s what all personal trainers and gym staff are there for. To help YOU.
The bench press is a little more complicated that simply (bar to chest, then reverse the movement). But until you have been properly coached how to do it, you won’t know any different.
Your shoulder hurts when you bench press?
1: Stop bench pressing
2: Find an exercise that doesn’t aggravate the issue (push-ups/dumbbells maybe?)
3: Find someone to help you learn optimal form
The plus side of getting Step 3 in too?
You’ll lift way more weight than if you stuck to the poor technique you were using previously.
Reason no. 3: You Don’t Enjoy It
This probably due to one of three things (or possibly all if you’re really unlucky).
Either you don’t enjoy it because you never seem to get any better at it, you always seem to get shoulder pain while doing it, or it never appears to help you get any bigger or stronger.
In which case, you can refer back to reasons 1 & 2 again.
Reason no. 4: You Want to be Fast, Powerful & Athletic
Now I know how that feels, like I’ve just kicked sand in your face.
Like I’ve just taken your favourite toy away.
Well guess what?
If you want to be the best footballer / rugby player / Crossfitter / Weightlifter or sprinter; then you do not have to bench press.
Most of your energy should be spent working on the most important things for your sport.
It’s hard to get top quality speed work in on the track if your body is jacked up from the third bench press session this week.
And if you feel like you can’t hit a good number on your Clean & Jerk in training because your shoulders are tired from bench pressing, then your competitive Crossfit/Weightlifting event is going to suffer.
If you pack down in the front row like the lads up here (Chichester RFC) do every weekend, then bench pressing may just be the worse idea if you get “tight” shoulders for days after a session.
Now I am not saying that you can’t bench press. But on the list of priorities, I would say it’s near to the bottom of the list.
You Don’t Have to Bench Press
I can happily reason as to why you don’t need to bench press. If I am to approach the subject with objectivity and a rational mind, then I would most likely never again write another program that included it. But I have something to confess.
I bench press.
Quite frequently actually.
And I have done for the last decade.
Because here is the thing…..
I can give you many reasons as to why you should not.
But I can overrule them all with just one counter argument.
Bench Press If You Want To
If performed correctly, and with the backing of intelligent programming, and overseen by a personal trainer who can make sure you aren’t going to hurt yourself; then there is nothing wrong with the bench press.
I perform it because I want to.
I perform it because I like the exercise.
And I perform it because the only question I ever get asked is “how much you bench?”.
And let’s be honest, you’ve asked it and been asked it too. Trust me, everyone has. For centuries it has been on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
You don’t have to bench press.
If you want to…
Then you better have some decent numbers, and perform it in a manner that doesn’t leave you wanting to tear your arms off to stop the pain in your shoulders and pecs.
That’s where I come in.
Regular workshops, dedicated to specific exercise like the bench press, are something I run frequently. If you need help with a particular movement, or you just want to learn how to improve your mobility, health, fitness or anything in between, let me know.
Whether it’s in a 1:1 setting, or a small group, there is something here for you.
If you ever have any queries, please get in touch using my Contact Page , and check out my social media pages here: Facebook & Instagram , for regular updates, content & offers on all things health & fitness. And make sure to hit the “Like” & “Follow” buttons so you don’t miss out.
Chichester based personal trainer.