Many sports performance experts have started phasing the Bench Press out of their programming. They do not see its value as a functional exercise that will improve sports performance, and they recognize the potential shoulder issues it can cause. While these concerns aren't completely off base, I argue that the Bench Press performed safely is a critical aspect of developing upper-body strength that can be applied to the field.
The root cause of disdain for the Bench Press is an epidemic of poor programming. For too long, the Bench Press has been overused, often equaling or even doubling pulling movements. The chest and anterior deltoid muscles are overdeveloped, while the muscles that act on the scapula are underdeveloped. The result is a forward rounding of the shoulders that causes posture issues and impaired joint mechanics.
To make matters worse, the Bench Press naturally inhibits scapula motion during the movement, limiting a healthy range of motion. Since the muscles that act on the shoulder blades are not engaged, shoulder stability is reduced, increasing the likelihood of an overuse injury.
At this point, you may be wondering why you would ever program the Bench Press? The problem isn't necessarily the exercise itself, but the way it is used. And its upper-body strength benefits are too significant to overlook.
The number one thing you can do to stay out of trouble is to perform at least two pulling exercises for every pushing exercise. The pulling exercises should work the large muscles of the back and the small muscles that act on the shoulder blades. Examples include any type of Row or Pull-Up, Y/T/L/Ws, Face-Pulls, and Band Pull-Aparts. These can be done as part of a warm-up and during the rest interval between sets.
The final piece of the puzzle is to refine your athletes' Bench technique. It's much more complicated than simply pressing the weight up. Several intricacies must be accounted for.
Below are the cues that I recommend providing to your athletes when they are performing the Bench Press.
Bench Press Set-Up
- Set up with your feet flat on the floor and drive through your heels.
- Tighten your traps and pull your shoulder blades back.
- Squeeze the bar as hard as possible.
- When unracking the bar, pull it out rather than pressing it up and out to maintain muscle activation.
- Hold the lockout for one to two seconds before lowering.
- Keep your head in a stationary, neutral position.
- Keep your butt and shoulders on the bench.
Lowering Phase (Eccentric)
- Tuck your elbows so that they are at a 45-degree angle with your body.
- Keep your chest high and row the bar to your chest.
- Touch the bar on the same spot of your chest each time.
Pressing Phase (Concentric)
- Push yourself into the bench, attempting to get as far away from the bar as possible.
- Squeeze your glutes, back and legs while driving your heels into the ground.
- Keep your wrists in line with the bar
- Push the bar straight up.
Bench Press Safety Tips
- EliteFTS CEO and Westside Barbell legend Dave Tate recommends chalking the middle of an empty bar and performing presses with no weight. If the chalk forms a straight and even line, you are ready to add weight.
- Perform each pressing phase as quickly as possible.
- The bar trajectory should feel the same on each rep.
- Consider investing in a pair of wrist wraps if you Bench frequently.
- Perfecting Bench Press Technique for Testing
- The Bench Press Pyramid Workout
- 3 Reasons Your Bench is Weak
Baechle, Thomas, and Roger Earle. Essentials of Strength and Conditioning. 3rd Ed. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2008. 358.
Green, Nate. "Dave Tate's Six-Week Bench Press Cure." T-Nation.com. T-Nation LLC, 5/19/2009. Web. 27 Feb 2012.
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