Unfortunately, the Bench Press is a tool countless strength coaches use far too often to help novice female lifters improve upper-body strength.
Why is the bench press a poor choice?
Reason 1: It’s not well-suited for novice lifters but rather a selection more appropriate for intermediate and advanced lifters. That means you’ve had two to three years training experience, ideally under supervision of a strength coach.
Reason 2: Novice lifters don’t take enough time to master technique.
Poor benching technique over a long period of time has been known to cause anterior shoulder and low-back pain, two overuse injuries softball players tend to accumulate over the course of the season. So why risk it?
Reason 3: Many young women have not earned the right to barbell bench because they simply are not strong enough to do more than 5-8 easy reps with just the bar.
A more realistic approach for coaches would be to have athletes master various dumbell and push-up variations to help gain strength and increase confidence.
Note: In order to use the Barbell Bench I make sure my female athletes can crush a 35- to 40-pound Dumbbell Bench Press for sets of heavy doubles or triples and bang out 10 solid Push-Ups.
Why the Dumbell Bench Press is a better variation to help novice lifters Improve Upper-Body Strength and Confidence
Reason 1: You can lift a weight that’s appropriate for your strength levels
With the Barbell Bench, you NEED to be able to press 45 pounds no ifs, ands or buts about it. With the Dumbbell Bench it’s easier to meet the athlete where their strength levels are and build from there.
Reason 2: Helps build context for the barbell bench
The Dumbbell Press or Floor Press requires a solid upper-back arch, full body tension and control to perform correctly. Check out this video to get a quick tutorial on why I coach it this way.
[youtube video=”hATTK3DKfhA” /]
Reason 3: Enhances Proprioception
Have you ever handed a new lifter a dumbell and asked them to perform a Floor Press?
If you have, you understand that newer lifters lack a good sense of where the body is in space. For their first few times, their arm will be flying all over the place.
Note:Use tempos ( 3 seconds lowering, 1-second pause, 1 second up) to help them learn how to create tension, start and end in the same spot.
Reason 4: Dumbbells allow the wrist and elbow to rotate if needed
Some athletes have hyper-mobile ulnar nerves and when they do various pulling or pressing variations it can aggravate the ulnar nerve when it slides over the medial aspect of the elbow.
The Dumbbell Press gives the individual a wider range of hand positions and degrees of freedom to travel. This freedom allows athletes to find a hand position that best works for them. With the Barbell Bench you are locked in with a pronated grip, which does not suit all lifters and their individual anatomy.
Start with the Dumbbell and Earn the Barbell
The Barbell Bench is a great tool to increase upper-body strength for experienced lifters who have earned the right to use it. For novice lifters, start implementing Dumbbell Bench Press variations that are safer on the anterior shoulder and easier to learn.