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The Bench Press is the most widely used exercise to test upper-body strength. It’s used in high school strength programs to measure progress and in the NFL Scouting Combine.
Although it’s an effective test of upper-body strength and endurance, many experts believe it’s a poor test for athletes because it fails to measure power, which is the critical skill athletes need to be successful on the field. Power is also the reason why the Vertical Jump is widely considered one of the best predictors of overall athleticism.
In a recent STACK article by strength coach Joseph Potts, three top strength coaches shared their thoughts on the Bench Press test.
“The Bench Press max rep test just tells me if an athlete likes to train and/or who had a good or terrible college strength program.” —Kurt Hester, director of sports performance at Louisiana Tech
“I don’t like to say there is a least relevant test, but it could be the 225 Bench Press, just because it is a test of muscular endurance; and even though a football game may take 3 hours to play, it is done in a series of short bursts.” —Ron McKeefery, nationally recognized strength coach and vice president of performance and education at Plae.
“The Bench Press doesn’t really tell me anything. I’ve seen weak benchers who had long careers in the NFL.” —Jorge Carvajal, performance coach and consultant for pro athletes
Even though the Bench Press is a popular exercise, many athletes lack the proper form needed to safely lift heavy weight. Some athletes, like quarterbacks, often avoid the exercise altogether to save their shoulders.
Instead, the Med Ball Throw appears to be superior to the Bench Press. Although you only throw a lightweight ball, in contrast to the amount of weight you can bench, it’s a measure of explosive power. Essentially, it’s as close as you can get to a vertical jump for the upper body.
The Med Ball Toss is easy to perform. You simply throw a ball in front of you as hard as you can. You don’t need to know advanced powerlifting technique, and anyone can do the test, barring a restrictive injury.
How to Perform the Med Ball Throw Test
You can perform several versions of the Med Ball Throw Test. But you must stick with one variation for consistency and to properly measure progress.
Here, we cover the Seated Med Ball Throw variation, which is used at the NHL Combine.
Setup: You need an 8-pound medicine ball (you can use a different weight as long as you always use the same weight). Place a tape measure on the ground starting at a wall. Have a partner stand approximately where the ball will land to record the distance of the throw.
- Sit on the ground next to the tape measure with your back against a wall and your head slightly off the wall.
- Hold the med ball at your chest.
- Explosively throw the ball at a 45-degree angle as far as you can. Drive the med ball; do not throw it like a basketball. If your back comes off the wall, you must redo the attempt. You get two practice throws and three test throws. You best throw is your score.
As a general guideline, the top score in the 2013 NHL Combine was 246 inches. In the video above, we demonstrate what the test should look like. We used the Push Band to measure power, which provides an actual power output number measured in velocity. This is more accurate than distance because it directly measures how explosively the ball is launched.
Another popular version is the Kneeling Med Ball Toss, which is used at Nike Sparq Combines. You can see it here.
As an athlete, this is a great test to perform before and after a training program to measure your progress. You can also compare yourself to your teammates to see how you stack up.