The bench press has been considered by many to be the king of all upper body exercises and the ultimate barometer of physical strength.
For example, it is a major strength test at most of the heavily scouted football combines (from high school to professional level). It is also one of the “big 3” powerlifting exercises. And in any gym, you can hear members asking each other, “Hey, how much you bench?”
In many ways, I can see how the bench press got its reputation. After all, it does work the chest, shoulders and triceps very effectively. In fact, if maximal pressing power (in the horizontal plane) or maximal pectoral growth is your goal, the bench press can deliver these results faster than any other exercise out there.
But that is only a small part of the story…
There is a serious dark side to the bench press. It places an incredible amount of stress on the shoulders. In fact, I can say with confidence that the bench press is the most common cause of shoulder injuries in the gym today.
So what should we do? Should we stop benching all together? For most of the population, I would actually say yes! If your goals are to be lean, fit and healthy, there is no need to ever perform a barbell bench press. It’s just not worth the risk. There are plenty of alternative exercises that are very effective, train the same muscle groups/movement pattern, and are biomechanically safer.
But what about football players who will be tested on it? Or powerlifters whose primary goal is to increase their strength on this lift? And last but not least, what about the guys who want to gain mass and upper body strength as fast as possible? As you can probably guess, the bench press will remain popular among these populations, despite the risks involved.
Even at my own training center, we still use the bench press when we feel it’s appropriate. So instead of trying to completely outlaw this exercise, I will discuss who should use it and how to minimize the risk, as well as who should avoid using it and what alternatives they have at their disposal.
Who Should Use The Bench Press- I recommend this exercise for the following populations: Powerlifters (obviously), football players (or any other athlete getting tested on the exercise), and skinny guys who want to gain size and strength as fast as possible.
How To Minimize The Risk- There are several things you can do to lessen the risk of the bench press. Here are the two most important:
1) Never go to failure on this lift. In other words, every set should end while you still have at least one rep left in the tank. This helps to ensure that your form doesn’t break down due to excessive and unnecessary stress. This takes us to the next point.
2) Maintain proper form. This is important for all exercises, but since the bench press is such a high risk movement, perfect form is even more imperative. After writing down a list of instructions on how to perform a bench press properly, I realized it may be confusing. So I deleted the list and shot this video for you instead:
Who Should Avoid Using The Bench Press- To be frank, everyone whom I didn’t mention in “Who Should Use The Bench Press” (see above) should avoid the barbell bench press all together!
I’m going to provide you with a brief list of great exercises that will train the same muscles/movement patterns. They are effective, safe and (in my humble opinion) much more fun. Here they are:
● Plyo Push Ups
● One Arm DB Press
● Ring Push Ups
● Ring Dips
● 30 Degree Incline Barbell Press
● Floor Press
So if I were to sum up my advice on the bench press, it would be simple: avoid it! That is, unless it is truly unavoidable. And if you must do it, take great care to use picture perfect form and never go to failure.
Follow these tips, and you will practically guarantee yourself the healthiest shoulders possible that will enable you to exercise and stay in shape for the rest of your life!
Feel free to leave questions or comments in the comment section below. I look forward to the discussion with you.