With the exception of the barbell curl, the bench press is probably the most popular exercise in the world. Despite this, I have never been fond of the exercise. However, it is important to understand why the bench press is considered the ultimate test of pressing power.
Because if not the bench press, what else?
There is no other pressing movement that can be reliably used to determine one’s pressing power. Overhead presses were contested in weightlifting before 1972, but anyone familiar with weightlifting history will tell you that it had to be dropped from competition because the degree of cheating in the overhead press had distorted its reliability. In 1972, there were athletes who were overhead pressing more than they could clean and jerk (by utilizing back bending techniques). So all overhead presses are out. Floor presses also are easy to cheat on, just look the old “belly toss” method of pressing the bar. Not to mention it does not test strength through a full range.
Pushups and handstand pushups are highly dependent upon bodyweight and body fat percentage, putting heavyweights and athletes from power sports at a serious disadvantage. The only reliable way of testing pressing power is the bench press.
For sure, the bench press has its issues- Shoulder instability, lack of space for the shoulder blades to rotate and of course it being a open chain movement. But ultimately, the bench press is a full body exercise, and its usefulness has to be determined for every individual trainee. Those who need to routinely demonstrate their strength, like powerlifters, will find it functional. Remember the purpose of the sport is to display strength. Other athletes might find the close grip bench press more useful, as it mimics the pressing actions of actual play. It is also a great mass builder for some people, though others may find the dip or military press more useful.
For those who love the bench press and want to be strong at it and healthy while doing so, here are some tips-
1. For every rep of every pressing exercise you do, perform one rep of bent over flys (Also called rear delt flys). It may seem like a chore but do it. All other back and pulling work is over and above this. And remember, huge traps and rounded shoulders are nothing to laugh at.
2. Like any other exercise, technique is everything. Perfect your technique and you will get great results.
3. The first thing you must learn is how to be tight. Grounding your feet and heel in the ground, tightening your glutes, tightening your spine until your arch is rock solid and it hurts will all improve your bench press by several dozen pounds.
4. The second thing you must learn is how to protect your shoulder. Your upper back has to tight, and your shoulders pulled down and back and the chest puffed out.
5. Bench consistently and focus on the bench first and only then other extra exercises.
6. Among extra work, your tricep and delt training is paramount. Some great choices are the close grip bench press, the one arm (arm in) pushup, Handstand pushups, board presses, rack presses, floor presses, dumbell press, kettlebell presses, California presses and weighted dips. Pick any 3 and train them hard and heavy 3-4 times a week.
7. You must do lots of chin ups and pull ups and rows. Your back development provides the base for your pressing power.