The Holy Grail for every guy who wants to get stronger and bigger, the BENCH PRESS! If you’ve ever stepped in a weight room then the first piece of gear you ever touched was the bench press. Forget the movements that actually mean something (i.e. Squat or Deadlift). Hit that BENCH PRESS! Or should you?
Let’s start off by answering whom SHOULD be bench pressing. Only TWO groups come to mind: 1) Bodybuilders and 2) Football players (college and professional). Bodybuilders are doing just that, building their bodies. Their goal is to have a massive, vascular, proportionate body with as little fat as possible. Bench pressing is one of those movements they need to do in order to achieve this physique. As for football players, they are the only athletes in any sport where you perform a horizontal pushing motion (i.e. bench pressing). While pushing the opposing player is strongly leg based, there comes a point where the leg strength levels out and upper body strength comes into play. Whoever has the stronger bench and squat will win.
Don’t get me wrong. Benching is a lot of fun. It’s simple, builds up your chest and arms, and has become a sign of being ‘manly’ in the gym….but at what cost? Most of us are not bodybuilders and do not have the work ethic/determination/desire to train like a bodybuilder. With very few exceptions, our glory days of football are long behind us. All you have left when you continue benching is the following:
- Chronic shoulder pain
- Hypertonic upper/lower/middle traps (this is a bad thing)
- Tendonitis of the elbow
- Micro tears of your rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis)
- Rounded shoulders (aka douchebag syndrome)
- Oh…and you won’t look any better than yesterday
All these injuries will lead to chronic pain and a weaker bench press. Basically, you’ll lose your very precious ‘gains’. After more than a decade of benching I have found this information to be true of nearly every bench presser I’ve ever known, including myself. I was tired of being in pain, losing my strength, and fighting every month to make those gains back with little success. Much research and thought went into other alternatives to the bench press in order to gain size and keep my chest and arms strong.
First stop was the traditional pushup (military style). Do enough pushups and your bound to add size to your chest and triceps. It’s simple, effective, and can be done anywhere (unlike the bench press). My personal philosophy is to reach 20 perfect military pushups for men (8 for women) with a 1 count down, 1 count pause at the bottom, and 1 count up to the top with perfect form. Anything done too fast and you’re not stimulating every muscle fiber for growth. Perform your reps too slow and you’ll tax your central nervous system (CNS). Once you’ve mastered your pushups you’ll have to move on to other pushup variations to keep your workout entertaining and keep yourself strong. Here’s a list of some of my favorite pushup variations:
- Band resisted pushup
- Diamond pushup
- Divebomber pushup
- Plyo Pushup
- Weighted pushup
- OA pushup
- Sphinx pushup
- Side-to-Side Pushup
My suggestion is to pick 1 or 2 of these variations to do in your workout 2 to 3 days a week. In addition, make sure you perform the same number of reps in a horizontal pulling exercise. These exercises include inverted rows (feet on bench), barbell bent over row, renegade rows, etc. Pulling exercises will enhance your pushup ability, greatly increase muscle size, and keep your muscles balanced. Similar to the pushups you may change up the pulling exercises to keep yourself entertained in your workouts. Now, get off the bench press!
– Joshua Jarmin – Blueprint Fitness – Owner and Director of Fitness (a.k.a. The Mad Scientist)