Why You Should Ditch the Bench Press

July 25, 2013 | Lee Boyce

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As an athlete, you shouldn't train like other guys in the gym. Oftentimes, exercises may make you look good but are a waste of time when it comes to improving your game on the field.

For example, strength coaches often exclude Bicep Curls from their programs.

That's right. Come to grips with it. Curling your arms up and down doesn't do much for you as an athlete.

What may come as even more of a surprise, the Bench Press falls into this same category. It's universally accepted as a measure of upper-body strength, but I argue that you should avoid this popular exercise.

It's a bold statement...I agree. But, let's look at the facts.

Fact: The Bench Press is a Horizontal Push

During the Bench Press, you lie flat on a stable surface and press weight up and away from your chest. How much does this translate to a basketball player who has to fight for position under the rim, or to a football player who has to dish out a block?

Okay, it does a little—but not much.

In-game movements require dynamic stability and balance, since there is no base of support. Also, the plane of motion of most pressing movements in sports tends to be horizontal, not vertical, further reducing the crossover to athletics.

Fact: The Bench Press Calls for a Wide Grip

The Bench Press is often incorrectly performed with a wide grip. If we go back to the examples of a football player blocking and a basketball player fighting for position, they use a narrow grip. Once again, the Bench Press falls short of matching up with athletic needs.

To make matters worse, the standard grip can leave your shoulders in a compromised position at the bottom of the movement—especially for tall or long-armed athletes.

Fact: The Bench Press Immobilizes the Scapulae

It's time to get technical. Your shoulder blades should be pulled back and locked on the bench to increase stability when holding heavy weight. This technique will help you lift more, but that doesn't matter when you need both scapula stability and mobility.

A pitcher or quarterback does not throw a ball with a fixed shoulder. The scapula moves with the arm, as it should when you train. It's important to perform exercises that allow your shoulder blades to move freely to enhance mobility and strengthen the back muscles that act on the scapulae.

Superior Alternatives

Fear not. Other exercises can build chest strength and transfer to the playing field. Here are a few examples.

Standing Cable Chest Press

Cables aren't often associated with sports training, but this exercise will challenge your balance, neuromuscular coordination and standing chest strength more than the Bench Press. You'll be surprised at how humbling the exercise is when done correctly.

  • Adjust cable level to shoulder height.
  • Hold the cable handles in front of your shoulders with an overhand grip and your elbows at a 45-degree angle.
  • Step forward with one leg into a split stance.
  • Press the handles forward in front of your chest.
  • Bend your elbows to return to the start position.

Sets/Reps: 3-4x6-8

Single-Arm Landmine Press

If you aren't familiar with this exercise, it's time to make it your best friend. It trains your pressing power in the exact plane of motion used on the field. It also works each side of your body independently so that your left and right arms are equally strong.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the top end of a weighted bar (attached to landmine machine) with your right hand at chest level.
  • Lower into a quarter squat and explode up through your hips, knees and ankles.
  • Drive the bar forward with your arm as forcefully as possible.
  • Lower the bar to the start position and repeat for the specified number of reps.
  • Perform with your opposite arm.

Sets/Reps: 3-4x4-6 each side

DB Incline Bench

If you feel you must bench in some capacity, do a high incline bench with dumbbells. It will simulate the path of a pass or block when standing upright, and adequately train the upper chest, triceps and shoulders. Plus, the dumbbells reduce the stress placed on the elbows and shoulders, while allowing for some shoulder blade movement.

  • Lie on an incline bench holding dumbbells at your shoulders with your elbows at a 45-degree angle.
  • Press the dumbbells straight over your chest, keeping them close together throughout the movement.
  • Lower the dumbbells to your chest, and repeat for the specified number of reps.

Sets/Reps: 3-4x6-8

Hot Off the Press

It's a little known fact, but the Bench Press is overrated—especially for athletes. Do yourself a favor and give it a rest. Invest your time in exercises that will put you a step ahead on the playing field and help you avoid injuries at the same time. Beast mode is only a few changes away!

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Lee Boyce
- Lee Boyce is a strength coach based in Toronto who works with strength, sports performance and conditioning clients. He contributes to many major magazines, including...
Lee Boyce
- Lee Boyce is a strength coach based in Toronto who works with strength, sports performance and conditioning clients. He contributes to many major magazines, including...
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