Posted by jake justice on Feb 16, 2016 in
Could the Bench Press Be Injuring You?
Ask any high school athlete what their favorite weight room movement is. I guarantee you they will answer with conviction, “The Bench Press.”
What lifts make a high school athlete?
When I ask this question, many answers I get are:
The bench press is always atop the list of these. So, why do so many athletes/coaches focus so much on the bench press?? Why is lying on a bench and pushing a great deal of weight off of your body so critical to the performance of the athlete??
Looking back at my high school career in the weight room, nothing could be farther from the truth. If anything, it is the other lifts that make an effective athlete. The clean demonstrates how powerful you can be with another large center-of-mass object. The back squat tells how strong the largest muscle group (legs and hips) are. And the deadlift is an indicator of overall strength. So, then, what does the bench press tell us about our overall strength?? To me, it shows absolutely nothing.
Sure, it tells us how strong our upper body is. But, this means nothing if we give the bench press 90% of our attention.
In the sport of powerlifting (squat, bench, deadlift), the bench press is taught to be initiated by the legs and hips and by staying tight underneath the bar. In many weight rooms today, the athletes are basically dropping the weight onto their chests hoping that the momentum will be enough to push the weight back up (sounds really familiar to me). This approach puts extreme stress on the shoulders.
When the athlete’s shoulders are wider than the bench itself, the shoulders are put in a very disadvantageous situation. This allows the shoulders to splay out over the edges of the bench creating a great deal of torque on the anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder) and rotator cuff. What’s more, the athlete is not staying tight throughout the whole body as taught in powerlifting.
WHY DO WE USE THE BENCH PRESS?
The bench press is used in the weight room to strengthen the pectoralis major muscles (chest). Many sports, (like football and wrestling) use these muscles quite a lot. So, it makes sense to train these muscles. But for sports such as baseball, volleyball, among others, the bench press is not necessary. However, we still need to train the chest muscles to make the athlete more athletic.
A SAFE ALTERNATIVE TO THE BENCH PRESS
I have found that the safest and most effective way to train an athlete’s chest muscles is with a weighted (or regular) push-up. This is much safer for the shoulders (if taught correctly) and takes up much less space. Another reason why this works so well is that the weighted push-up is a closed kinetic chain movement. This means that the athlete’s body is moving towards the limbs which are “anchored” to the ground. On the other hand, the bench press is an open kinetic chain movement because the limbs are moving toward the stationary body of the athlete.
BALANCE IT ALL OUT
If you bench press, push-up, overhead press; it is critical that you perform some type of pulling to keep the shoulders healthy. Many athletes (and coaches) think that they should be pressing all of the time because 80% of the contact is in a pushing manner. This is not untrue. This makes sense, if we make sure that we stay on top of the balance of the shoulder and perform as much pulling as we press. When we perform a great deal of presses without pulling, the humerus (arm bone) will start to drift toward the muscle. This ends up leaving the rear ligaments/muscles of the shoulder in distress because they are constantly having to pull the humerus back into its natural position. This is why it is extremely important to do as much pulling with the shoulders as you press.
PROPER BENCH PRESS TECHNIQUE (If you can’t get away from it)
Stay tight underneath the bar
The feet should be planted flat on the floor
The glutes (butt muscles) should be as tight as possible
The movement should be initiated by a “lift-off” from a spotter
The grip should be slightly outside shoulder width (Closed-Grip Only!)
The grip should be as tight as possible (Attempting to break the bar)
Lower the weight slowly and carefully (No Bouncing!!)
The elbows should be directly underneath the hands and 45 degrees away from the torso
Once the bar makes contact with the sternum, the athlete should push from the floor with the feet with a transfer of energy into the bar
Once the arms achieve the lockout position, the spotter may assist in racking the weight
Here is a great video tutorial of how to bench press with excellent form:
Always protect yourself. It is critical that you do not bite off more than you can chew. If you are unable to perform a weight correctly, then take some weight off! It doesn’t help your ego if you blow a shoulder or pec out (I literally did this). Leave your ego at the door and do the movements that are going to make you the best athlete, not the best bench presser.