To Bench Or Not To Bench: That is the Question

Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,

I know what you’re thinking. You would have been far more attentive in your language arts classes if your teach told you that Billy Shakespeare was really talking about bench pressing.  The famous Hamlet soliloquy makes more sense now, doesn’t it?
The bench press is one of the most popular exercises in training; Bench Press Monday is just short of being a federal holiday.  Hell, even while benching is my least favorite of the three powerlifts, I still love to bench.

None of my clients bench.  Few of my athletes bench.  You don’t need to bench.  Before I’m burned at the stake as a blasphemer, consider that I’m coming from.

 

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I’ve competed in two powerlifting meets, and plan on competing in many more.  For all intents and purposes, I’m a “powerlifter”. The sport is to squat, bench, and deadlift as much weight as you can.  It’s picking up heavy shit.  The sport is picking up heavy shit, and learning how to do so as effectively as possible.

If you’re reading this, you probably aren’t a powerlifter.  Your goal isn’t to build a bigger total, but I believe that you want to get strong.  You want to look good naked.  You want to feel good in the gym, and when you’re doing the other things that you love.  Benching doesn’t really help with that.

In fact, on a long enough time line, most people and up feeling like crap from benching a lot.  It’s not the bench press’ fault; that’s a damn good lift.  It’s the user‘s fault.  Maybe they don’t have the requisite mobility to bench, and it’s very likely they have bad technique.  If the bench can be such a bitch; then why worry about it?

misc-beginnners-muscle-building-programme-141211-medium_new

 

The barbell bench press is a false god.  It’s not the best exercise for pec development, or tricep development, or deltoid development.  It can be deleterious when performed improperly.  It’s only considered sexy because it lets you lift more weight than other variations.  This is just like using the leg press instead of squatting or deadlifting.  Don’t be that guy.  That guy is a sissy.

There isn’t anybody that I work that has an explicit need to bench press.  I don’t train any powerlifters.  I train athletes that want to kick ass on the field, and clients that want to be stronger and sexier.  Rather than programming a technique-intensive lift, we focus on exercises that allow for quality movement and then train them aggressively.  I’ll take a well executed single arm DB bench or suspension trainer push-up over a barbell bench press any day of the week.  Let’s look at those two. Mariachi:

I used this variation as a horizontal pressing exercise after military pressing last week.  The hip bridge increases hip activity, and using one arm creates a large anti-rotation component.  Is it a lift designed for maximal effort lifting?  Not unless you want to get hurt.  Is it an exercise that lets you target the chest as well as hip/core stability?  Hell yes.  Progressing/regressing single arm dumbbell bench press variations is the closest that most of my clients come to barbell benching, unless benching is appropriate for them.  Why not push-up instead?

During my trip to North Carolina I used a different suspension training device, the PurMotion AirFit, which allowed me to try out an alternating single arm push-up.  It’s one of the hardest push-up variations I’ve tried; that video is actually the second take because the first one was so awkward.  Using just body weight, I got my ass handed to me with a unilateral variation.  Regular training would allow me to progress to elevating my feet with a box, or increasing load by wearing a weighted vest.

While my pressing muscles are getting stronger, I’d also be getting a massive core training component by fighting rotary forces, and my upper back would get stronger because it would be stabilizing my shoulder blades.

3313395130_21bfe2c5ffBefore we make it mandatory that everyone and their first born barbell bench presses on a regular basis, consider your training goals and your training needs.  If you’re training for powerlifting or for a specific bench-press event; then you should bench.  The rest of the time, it may not be the most advantageous or efficient lift for you to include.  In the end, the decision is yours, and I’m more than happy to help you make the right decision.

Now I’m going to bench press.  Carry on.

 

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12 thoughts on “To Bench Or Not To Bench: That is the Question

  1. How often do you bench? I hate benching myself, but I feel like I need to keep it in my programming all the time if I’m serious about considering powerlifting (which I am!).

    1. I’ve been benching between 1-2 times per week. Twice per week while preparing for the two powerlifting meets with a heavier day and speed day. Now I’m “scheduled” to bench once per week, and on my other upper body day I’ll do a single arm dumbbell variation. On both days I also include a metric shit ton of push-ups. (Metric cuz ur in England.)

      When are you thinking about doing a meet?!

      1. I appreciate the metric reference, but you spelt tonne wrong 😉

        I am in the very early stages of considering it! I joined a powerlifting gym five days ago and it’s lit a fire under me to compete in either powerlifting or Strongwoman events.

  2. Was that the ultra wide fat gripz attached to the dumbbell? I always use the original blue fat gripz. Any future write ups on the new orange ones?

    1. John, it was! The Fat Gripz Extreme are a little too big for my hands to row with, but I absolutely love them for pushing exercises. I can sure do a write up with them soon!

  3. Do you have the same view for dumbell bench press? I don’t barbell press because the hand position hurts my shoulders, but do dumbell press.

    1. Chris, I don’t. Barbell pressing, in my opinion, should really only be used by those who are competing/testing their bench; powerlifters and certain athletes. The rest of the time, using dumbbells can give you a bench variation that’s comfortable with a lower injury risk. Make sure you’re getting in at least equal if not more (preferred) volume of rowing, and go to town.

      1. Thanks Harold. Good site, btw, lots of good info. I’m a bit older (40+) and its good to have someone focused on something other than just ‘building guns’ and who treats the audience as intelligent ( ie not backwards baseball cap bros)

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