Should Basketball Players Bench Press?

STACK Expert T. J. Allan discusses whether basketball players should perform the Bench Press. There is a wrong way and a right way. Learn more at

Bench Press for basketball players

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Over the years, we've seen an exponential increase in the number of basketball players performing strength training. The size of players like Karl Malone, LeBron James and Dwight Howard  have made it necessary for serious players to get stronger. When done correctly, strength training can have a huge impact on your game. When done incorrectly, it can have devastating consequences.

The barbell Bench Press for basketball is controversial. Some strength coaches don't allow it in their programs. Others have no problem with their players benching once or even twice per week. The NBA uses it in its Combine for rookies. But a question every player has to ask is: Will the Bench Press hurt my shooting percentage?

It depends. Performed incorrectly, benching can alter your normal shooting form and reduce your shooting percentage. Done correctly, with the right antagonist exercises, it can actually extend your shooting range. So are you doing it the right or the wrong way?

The Wrong Way

Guys love the Bench Press. If you spend any time at all in the weight room, it almost becomes a measure of your manhood. We're naturally addicted to it, because when we first started lifting, it was one of the easiest exercises to continually progress. In the beginning, it seemed like we could add five to 10 pounds to the bar with every workout. Naturally, we benched two to three times per week.

Unopposed and without proper mobility/flexibility work, however, too much bench pressing leads to tight pectorals, rounded shoulders and loss of shoulder mobility—all precursors to poor shooting. Why?

If a shooter's shoulders have rounded forward and lost mobility, his shots become flat, with very little arc. Essentially, lack of shoulder mobility restricts a shooter from shooting "up through his eye." Instead, the shooter's follow-through extends at a 45- to 55-degree angle, decreasing the chances of the ball going into the basket.

The Right Way

Shooters can still perform the Bench Press. However, they must balance it with the right antagonist exercises. The following exercises should be part of every shooter's strength program.

T-Spine Bench Extension

When and how many: During your upper-body warm-up. Perform 2 sets of 8 two-second holds.

How to:

  • Kneel in front of a bench with your knees directly under your hips.
  • Place your elbows shoulder-width apart on the bench in front of you.
  • Holding a small PVC pipe or any cylinder that's 8 to 16 inches long, drop your hips toward your feet. You should feel a mild stretch in your upper back.
  • Hold it for two seconds and repeat 8 times.

Why: Without proper T-spine extension, the shoulders become stuck and lose their mobility. Playing video games, sitting with poor posture in class and benching too much all lead to loss of T-spine extension.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

When and how many: During your workout when you bench. The most efficient way to incorporate Dumbbell Rows into your workout is to perform a set of Bench Presses, then a set of Dumbbell Rows. Rest and repeat. Perform 8-10 repetitions per set and do the same number of sets as you do for the Bench Press.

How to: There are multiple ways to perform the Dumbbell Row. I prefer to have my athletes use a bench.

  • Grab a dumbbell and place your opposite knee and hand on a bench.
  • Keep your core tight and don't round your upper back.
  • Start with your arm holding the dumbbell fully extended. Pull the dumbbell up toward your lower chest.
  • Focus on pulling through the elbow instead of the hand.
  • Return to the starting position, repeat and switch sides.

Why: Too much bench pressing leads to strong, tight pectorals. If they aren't balanced by a strong back, the pecs will pull the shoulders forward, leading to rounded shoulders. Rounded shoulders prevent you from extending the shot up "through the eye."

Seated Cable Rope Face Pulls

When and how many: At the end of your upper-body workout. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions.

How to:

  • Sit at a low cable row machine.
  • Attach a triceps rope to the handle.
  • Keeping your core tight, pull the rope towards your forehead.
  • As you reach your forehead, externally rotate your shoulders so your palms face away from you.
  • Focus on squeezing your upper back as hard as possible.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat.

Why: Like the Dumbbell Row, the Seated Cable Rope Face Pull strengthen the back to prevent rounded shoulders.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock