How Much You Bench Bro!?
The Barbell Bench Press
It’s been called the “King of Chest Exercises”. Millions of people do it every day. It’s in almost every fitness book and fitness magazine, and almost every gym in the world has a bench press area. In fact, the “bench press” (specifically the flat) has become so popular, that many people use it to measure the overall strength of an individual. The common question being, “…how much do you bench?” (... or simply, "how much do you lift?"). Yet, mechanically speaking, the bench press has a couple significant problems. Is it truly the best exercise for chest development? Let’s evaluate...
When deciding the true effectiveness of an exercise we can look at three main variables:
Path- this being, does the exercise follow the anatomical path of the desired function of the working muscle. This is refers to the entire path a muscle travels from fully stretched, to fully contracted. Anatomically, the pectoral muscles (essentially) want to have your arms bent and out to the side, and then move inward toward a position where your arms are directly in front of your body when straightened (when laying down on back). This is true for about 2/3 of the path of the bench press.
Alignment- this being, the concentric movement and position of the muscles and exercise should be in direct opposition to the resistance. In this particular case this would be the opposition of gravity and the weight on the bar. And yes, in this particular case the bench press is relatively in alignment of the opposing force.
Range of Motion- this being, that the range of motion is enough (i.e. greater than isometric or static holds) and is both safe and effective ranges as to not promote injuries. As stated in the path of movement, the the last 1/3 of the movement does not finish with peak contraction of the pectoral muscles because it does not allow the arms to move inward toward the center of the body at full contraction. Therefore, it is not an effective range of motion. Furthermore, at the stretch/bottom position of the movement we see an unfavorable/unsafe range of motion (assuming you are like almost everyone who touches your chest with the bar). This position bends/over-stretches the pec muscles and puts it at a mechanical disadvantage or compromised position that can lead to shoulder issues and pec minor tears. So overall, range of motion for the bench press is poor… it doesn’t allow for peak contraction and it over stretches in the eccentric portion of the movement.
What do we need to take away from this? Ego does not correlate with physiology. Meaning, even though we can technically bench press more with the bar (in relation to dumbbells) and in turn makes us feel strong… this does not correlate with effectiveness and true functionality of our muscle. This can be translated to àdo more dumbbell and cable work if you want true pectoral stimulation and growth. On top of what we have already established with the barbell bench press (path, alignment, range of motion), we see more triceps recruitment (instead of pectoral muscles) and the bar is more stable (i.e. easier) than 2 separate dumbbells that will require greater stabilization, etc.
For beginners, the bench press is fine. It will allow for overall strength of the ‘pressing’ muscles (chest , shoulders, triceps) to increase. But, after years of training and specificity becomes the desired goal, try doing these exercises:
- Supine (flat bench) Dumbbell Presses
- Incline Dumbbell Presses
- Decline Dumbbell Presses
- Cable Crossovers (standing / bent over)
- Incline (bench) Cable Crossovers
- Cable Crossover on a Flat Bench
- Butterfly Machine
Overall, try replacing the ever-so popular barbell bench press with exercises that don’t overstretch the shoulder, and allow the pecs to fully contract with each repetition, and you’ll be surprised to discover that you can get all the pectoral development you need (and more) – without the risk of shoulder injury, typical of bench press.
To add an extra push (pun intended) on your bench press, don't forget to use CREATION pre-workout!