Go into any gym across the world, and one of the most prevalent lifts you will see is the bench press. It’s one of the first lifts most people learn and a staple for a ton of mass and strength building programs.
But to get bigger and stronger, do you really need to bench press?
The truth is, the bench press beats me up, and a lot of people I know, more than any other barbell lift. A lot of coaches are getting away from it, and even some big athletes in the biz are dismissing it as an “ego lift”.
I won’t go that far…but some science will tell you that the bench press is bad (particularly for your shoulders) and an unnatural movement. It causes internal rotation of your shoulders and kyphosis (rounded shoulders), and forces your scapulae to move unnaturally.
But the other ugly truth is, sitting at a desk all day long, poor posture, neglecting upper back work, poor programming, and not using proper technique will wreck your shoulders and joints too.
This is why I am not rallying against the bench press, especially if you A) are a powerlifter and B) just love to bench press.
But from my experience, and that of my peers (I realize this is anecdotal), it can be an unnecessary evil for athletes, strongmen, and people that are just looking to get bigger and stronger. No sense in beating yourself up if it doesn’t translate to meeting your goals.
Strength is strength and you can turn yourself into a bad ass mofo by just training overheads, squats, deadlifts, clean and presses, loaded carries, and high-volume accessory work.
For athletes especially, bench press does not translate to any real-world performance on the field (full-body strength, explosiveness, quickness, agility, force production).
Bottom line: Is bench pressing kicking your ass and you don’t really care about the lift from an ego perspective? You can never bench again and you wouldn’t skip a beat in the big picture of your training as a strength seeker or athlete. Don’t think about it, don’t worry about it, and don’t read on any further from here.
(For me, since I train for Strongman, bench is a supplemental lift, and I only do incline.)
So for those of us that don’t want to drop it completely, I offer some sage wisdom.
#1: Ditch the Barbell
Dumbbells help save your joints. They also allow for greater range of motion and the center of gravity in the dumbbells is more favorable to your body. I also like dumbbells because they promote single-arm movement, and balanced strength and function.
They will still allow you to add plenty of bulk to your frame as well.
#2: Focus on Incline
For a lot of people, especially people that want to add chest mass, pressing strength, or boost total body performance, I have them focus solely on incline bench (30 degrees).
In the performance realm, incline pressing leads to better overhead pressing and more upper body power. It will translate to real world performance more so than flat benching.
#3: Scale Back Bench Press Frequency
Frequency is by far the most important training variable there is when it comes to making gains.
I squat, deadlift, and overhead press twice a week. But I bench press only once.
This schedule has led to major gains in strength and size.
#4: Bigger Overhead Press = Bigger Bench Press
As I said, I train overhead press multiple times a week. To me, this is the most important lift in my arsenal at the moment and I think it’s a great indicator of your true total body strength.
Training my overhead means lots of upper back work (deadlifts, pull-ups, face pulls, band pull-aparts, Zydrunus press, farmers carries, high pulls, dumbbell and plate raises).
A weak upper back can lead to the shoulder problems and postural issues I spoke of at the beginning of this article.
A big, strong upper back is the foundation for your bench. And the more my overhead press numbers go up, the bigger my bench gets, even though I don’t emphasize it and only train it once a week (which coincidentally saves me from the wear and tear that I alluded to).
- Bench press is a great lift…
- But unless you are a powerlifter, it is not necessary
- Bench press does not translate to athletic performance
- But if you love to bench press, incorporate some of my guidelines to not only improve your numbers, but keep you healthy.
All the best,