Come Monday every gym goer and their brother is headed to the gym for their favorite workout day- Chest Day. This more likely than not includes the bench press as their main exercise. The bench press is often proclaimed as the best upper body builder and it seems everyone is trying to increase the amount of weight they can push. Not only for “armor-plated” pectoral muscles but often to win the respect of their peers, as well as, for the bragging rights.
In the minds of the ordinary lifter, the bench press is considered to be at the top. Yet, is it actually the most effective exercise to use to bring about massive improvements to your chest? If you're learning how to build muscle fast there are a few things you should know about the bench press before making it your chest exercise of choice.
A lot of trainers have much respect for the bench press and some athletes get chosen by testing them on how much they can bench, making it an almost mandatory lift. However, there are some top coaches that feel like the bench press does not deserve all the hype it gets. From their point of view the bench press has destroyed more shoulders and torn more pecs than it has perfected. So, should you include the bench press or not?
Please allow me to try and bring clarity to the question, and maybe give you a little more information to help you make the right choice.
It is hard to say that the bench press is “good or bad” because like many areas in life, it is not a black and white issue. There a gray areas in between where the bench press is optimal for some and not for others.
In my opinion, it is not that the bench press is a "bad" exercise, but rather it is a technical lift that involves some skill in order to execute it correctly. If you lack the understanding of what you are doing and lack the understanding of the proper bio-mechanics of the bench press than it is very probably you will end up with shoulder injuries. This is not a great thing and could put a huge damper on your upper body training.
The Key to figuring out if the bench press is a “good” exercise for you is to first figure out if your body was designed for optimal bench pressing. It is also very important to learn how to execute the lift correctly and tips for modifying or adapting the bench press to suit your specific anatomical structure.
Let us take a closer look at the main problems with bench pressing and I will recommend a couple solutions you can apply if you do choose to include the bench press in your routine:
THE PROBLEM: A lot of people end up bench pressing with improper form because they follow the example of bodybuilder's who use the flared elbows style of bench pressing. This is the most common way that you'll see guys bench pressing in the gym and this is a sure method to destroy your shoulders sooner or later. The upside is that it puts more tension and stress on the chest muscles but the huge downside is that it puts excess stress on the shoulder capsule and can, overtime, lead to shoulder impingement and a host of other shoulder problems.
THE SOLUTION: If you choose to include the bench press, I recommend learning the proper form that powerlifters use. This is a more bio-mechanically correct technique and is safer because the elbows are tucked in closer to the body. Although it takes some of the stress off of the pecs and puts it on the triceps, it will save your shoulders and allow you to lift more weight in the end. That's great news!
ANOTHER PROBLEM: The bench press is for the most part well suited for guys with big barrel chests and shorter arms. This means the bar has less distance to travel and reduces strain on the shoulders due to the limited range of motion. This is why you see the short, stalky guys lifting mad weight and putting others to shame.
Most underweight, ectomorphs have thinner torsos and longer arms, which means that the bar has to move a lot larger of a distance. It also means that by lowering the bar all the way to our chest, our shoulders get placed in a detrimental position which places large amounts of stress on the shoulder joint. Allowing your shoulder to be placed in this compromising position can lead to an injury in a hurry.
SOLUTION: While performing the bench press, do not let your elbows go past the bench (as viewed from the side.) Most likely if you are doing this, then the bar will not come all the way down to your chest, but you'll keep a 90 degree angle between your upper and lower arm. This will keep your shoulders and elbows safe. Another method is to bench in a power rack and set the pins at an appropriate level so that your elbows do not go too far down. If you do not have a rack, you can do the same thing by doing floor presses. These work great because it does not let your elbow go past the floor.
CONCLUSION: Personally, I limit how much bench pressing I do. When I do include it, I take the above precautions. I also focus on the Incline press at a 30 degree angle more so than the flat bench press. I also highly recommend floor presses and flat or incline dumbbell presses on the bench (but careful not to let your elbows drop too low.)
I also highly recommend push-ups. You can use a weighted vest, chains, plates, backpack or whatever to add resistance and make them tougher. Many coaches also suggest performing push-ups suspended from rings or straps to make them even more difficult. Push-ups are one of the best chest builders and have been around for a very long time. Where the bench press destroys shoulders, push-ups and their variations actually work to build, strengthen and stabilize the shoulder joint. That is something to keep at the front of your mind.
So, it's not that the bench press is "bad" and everyone should avoid it, it is merely that some people are better suited for it than others. One last tip I can give you is that you MUST work your back by doing a variety of rows. At least as much pulling exercises (if not more) than your pressing exercises for your chest. If not you will develop muscular imbalances and this can lead to rounded, stooped shoulders and bad posture in general.
Hope this saves your shoulders!
About the Author:
Brandon Cook is creator of The Awakened Warrior Blog, and co-creator of HardgainerMuscleBuilding.com, a website specifically configured to teach the hardgainer the laws and scientific principles for building a classic, muscular and functional body.
HargainerMuscleBuilding.com features a free email class covering the basic principles of training naturally, eating a nutritious, muscle-building diet, and understanding the truth about supplements. The website is filled with free articles, videos, and the programs you need to create your ideal body.
Please visit us at http://hardgainermusclebuilding.com