Ask any powerlifter what is their favorite chest exercise and most will say the bench press. Its such a common exercise that even non-athletic people know what it is just from watching the movies. Their is a lot of mystique built up around the bench press and almost a cult-like worship of the exercise. Don’t get me wrong, bench press is a great exercise but most people overuse it – its just one little tool in your toolbox. One of the most common questions I get is: “How much can Scooby bench press?” Many claim that bench press increases mass better than any other exercise because:
- Its a compound exercise! Well that’s true, bench press is a compound exercise. There is nothing magical about “compound exercises”! All it means is that you are working out more than one muscle at a time rather than one single muscle as you would in an isolation exercise. So what! If the criteria for determining which exercise is best for chest was the number of muscles that the exercise used then we would all be swimming for our chest workouts! Bench press only triceps, pecs, and shoulders whereas swimming uses chest, shoulders biceps, triceps, quads, hamstrings, calves, lats, and every other muscle in the body. Does that make swimming a better exercise for pecs than bench press? Of course not! In the same way, you cant say that bench press is better than dumbbell flys because it is a compound exercise
- It raises testosterone levels! No more than anything else does! Many people seem to think that squats, bench press, and deadlifts somehow magically are the exclusive copyright holders on this physiological response. Not so!!! Think of it this way. The testosterone levels are raised in response to the muscles being worked hard. How can the body possibly tell the difference between the following:
- 8 reps of bench press followed by 3 minutes of rest (4 min total)
- 8 reps dumbbell fly, no rest, 8 reps mil press, no rest, 8 reps triceps pushdowns (4 min total)
It cant! I would actually say that if you could measure the amount of testosterone produced by the above two activities that the 4 minutes of bench press would produce far less testosterone than the 4 minutes of isolation exercises. Why? Because work = force x distance. There is more work done in the isolation workout.
People always ask how much I can bench press, WHY? Who gives a rats patootie how much I can bench. It really doesn’t matter unless you are a competitive powerlifter and I’m not. I’m someone who uses bodybuilding as a tool to keep me healthy for everyday life and the sports I love, the last 3 years I have been focusing on triathlons. One very important point, please don’t compare what you can lift to what others can lift! Its you against yourself – it doesn’t matter what others can do. Many people seem to swaps stories about how much weight they can bench as if that were some mark of their manliness, its NOT! Comparing maxes just leads to bad form and injury. The only thing that matters is that you give every set in every workout your best effort and that each month you can lift a little more weight or can do a few more reps.
I personally don’t like the bench press and I’ve only benched about three times this decade. Although the majority of bodybuilders and powerlifters swear by bench press, I personally don’t like it. I have found the squeezing exercises like flys more effective at adding chest mass than the pushing exercises like bench press. People tell me all the time that my pecs are too big so obviously skipping bench press hasn’t hurt me too much. One of two things is true either:
- I am right. Squeezing exercises are more important for chest mass than bench press .. or
- I am lucky. Despite the fact I don’t do bench press I have very a large and strong chest.
Obviously I feel its #1 but I certainly cant prove it.
What I do in my training is about 60% squeezing exercises to 40% pushing exercises. For my pushing exercises I prefer dumbbells to barbells.
Why don’t I personally like bench press? Two simple reasons:
- It has always caused shoulder discomfort for me. Using a barbell constrains the motion and the wrist position to a path that’s not comfortable for my joints. I find that by using dumbbells where I have infinite degrees of motion I can push my limits more and therefore increase my strength and muscle mass more.
- Bench press is not safe for home workouts like I do. It is not safe to bench press without a spotter, period. In fact, the way most people bench at gyms isn’t safe either! Very few people are strong enough, attentive enough, and experienced enough to be a spotter. Asking a stranger to spot for you is almost as bad as handing a scalpel to a random person on the street and asking them to remove your appendix. In both cases you are needlessly risking your life. IMO, before people at a gym are allowed access to the benching and squatting area they should be able to demonstrate that they know how to spot correctly and that they can safely dump weights.
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