Should Athletes Bench Press? Great Debate Series

October 13, 2009

Should athletes bench press?  This is a huge question that I get asked by a lot of coaches (not strength coaches usually but sport coaches.

Sooo, for you long time Synergy Athletics readers, I’m finally bringing back the great debate series (check out older entried here – The Great Debates) !  It has been nearly 3 months since we have had one of these discussions, and that’s my fault.  Let’s get right to it.

The Debate:  Should Athletes Bench Press (please post your thoughts in the comments!)

Bench press rep should Athletes Bench Press? Great Debate Series

My opinion:  Yes.

Reasoning:  Before I get into my reasoning, I need to outline a few assumptions that need to be made in order to rule on this case.

1. This is a generally healthy athlete

2. The athlete has no lingering shoulder issues

3. The bench is PART of a well balanced program

4. The person has good form (ie, arm angle, breathing, full ROM, etc)

If those 4 factors are in place, then I think the bench press is a great upper body strength and mass builder.  The bench utilizes the chest, shoulders, and triceps while activating musce fibers in the delts as well.

Bench Variation – Shoulder Rehabd – From Our Trip To Westside Barbell

I’ll qualify this statement by conceding that the bench press is hugely overused.  I’ve seen high school athletes that bench every other day all week….pyramid style (12, 10, 8, 5, 3, 1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 12 for reps).  That is poor use of the bench press, and probably a real posture killer.

Here’s my bone to pick.  Coaches, who usually recommend against the bench press, push for either the incline bench – stating that is how a football lineman is more realistically going to push someone – or for just pushups.

I enjoy both of those exercises, but they have their limitations as well.  Pushups are a closed kenetic chain exercise, meaning that your hands are fixed to the floor.  When you lower yourself to the floor, the hands cannot move to adjust to the pressure of your body.  Therefore if you have a bad set up, you’re screwed.

With the bench, the bar can be moved to a certain path that can be adjusted based on the angles.  The only true factor that makes a pushup “safer” is that it is much lighter.  If  someone would just bench with a very light weight they would be just as safe.  Again, I love pushups, but I want to put this argument in perspective.

The sticking point (in the argument, not the bench) is that bench press does not necessarily mean sport success.  Actually, it is a very poor indicator of success in athletics.  HOWEVER, so is most other upper body exercises.  The squat, hang clean, tire flip, and deadlift are all better indicators.

What does that tell us?  In order to be successful in sports, the athlete has to have rock solid legs.

Post Your Thoughts In the Comments!

– Joe Hashey, CSCS –

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