“Why don’t we bench press more often?” It’s a common question in the CrossFit world and at our gym. A once well-known benchmark of overall strength, the bench press went from being the absolute measuring stick of men, to somewhat of a back-burner piece that is hardly used in fitness, today. Here’s why…
The bench press is an exercise promising explosive growth and development in the pectorals, delts, and triceps. As someone who has bench pressed a lot and often in my time, I can assure you, it does accomplish this stated results, at least relative to the work put in. It’s an effective method of training those muscles, for sure. The thing is, most people don’t NEED bigger/more explosive shoulders, chest and arms. While they may be a desirable vanity, they’re not necessary for health or function.
Bench pressing is often compared to the squat by its supporters. I think this is a poor, actually TERRIBLE comparison, oftentimes made by “health professionals.” The bench press is much more similar to the leg press, rather than the squat. The squat require full, unsupported midline stabilization. The entire body has to work together to squat – feet, legs, hips, core, traps, through the arms. It’s a full body workout, dependent on balance and core stabilization. The bench press and the leg press allow you to brace against a set object, greatly reducing the amount of necessary core engagement. It’s why everyone can leg press more than they can squat and it’s why nearly everyone prefers the bench press to push-ups, it’s easier. It literally requires less muscles to complete the movement. The problem with this, if it isn’t obvious enough, is that people today already have drastically under-developed core strength and ability, relative to their training approach and goals. How about some stats to BACK this up…
- nearly 80% of adults experience a back injury in their lifetime
- more than 1million back injuries are sustained each year
- low back is the single #1 cause of disability worldwide
People need to do more core-extremity based training. Training needs to reflect more compound movements that allow the core to not only be trained and strengthened in the movement but, to be used as a limiting factor. Leg pressing 1200lbs doesn’t mean shit if you can’t properly perform an air squat! Learn to move correctly, engage and strengthen the core (not just the abs, the CORE) and develop a strong, balanced body.
Overusing the bench pressing in a training regime also runs a serious risk of developing too much pressing strength, relative to our shoulder stability. Training stability isn’t sexy. It won’t get you 100000 likes on instgram like bench pressing 400+lbs will. Stability (or lack thereof) is also why shoulder injuries in male athletes is nearly 70% higher than females. SEVENTY PERCENT. Because guys love to bench press. Also may be related to baseball pitching requiring overhand pitch vs softball, underhand. Males are FAR more likely to overdevelop their front side (chest and shoulders), under train the upper back (traps, scaps, upper back) and neglect stability/lockout training nearly altogether. This is where shoulder injuries occur. You’ll look especially cool in that filled out tank-top with a massive scar and the inability to raise your hand overhead…
There are of course exceptions to every argument and luckily, this won’t take too long. People who may consider increased bench press volume (or dumbbell press – which I think is far more effective and safe in regards to stability) are competitive power-lifters, as it’s one of their three necessary lifts, and body builders, because as mentioned, the bench press DOES do a great job of shaping the pecs, tris and delts. The bench press WILL help you “looked jacked.”
I love the bench press. I love the aesthetic results it provides to me – broad shoulders, barrel chest, and strong arms. I just don’t think it’s necessary or even a good idea for the majority of people. I certainly don’t see how it benefits optimal health, especially vs a movement like a burpee or a strict push-up, focusing on the same muscle groups but, with the inclusion of the core muscles, glutes and even hamstrings. There is a time and a place for it but, it’s not certainly not a movement for everyone. In the world of health*, its argument is weak… in the land of aesthetic, I think it has a sound case. As with most discussion, it’s relative to your individual goals and ability.
Statistics and information drawn from
- University Orthopedic Associates
- University of Virginia
- Bureau of Labor Statistics