The bench press is obviously a great exercise for building incredible pressing strength, but it may not be the best exercise to focus your energy on long term. Here are 3 reasons to stop bench pressing...at least not so much.
Reason to Stop Bench Pressing #1: Shoulder and Back Health
The bench press is a great exercise, but it can put the shoulders into a compromised position; especially for people with less than perfect bone structure for performing the bench press or who have not been taught proper technique.
Aside from the potential hazard presented by bad form and genetics, the bench press can overly develop the front deltoid muscles, pulling the shoulders forward and potentially exposing the shoulder, neck and upper back to long term issues and over-use injuries.
If you sit at a desk all day, chances are your back and shoulders are already rounded enough, so bench pressing every workout may only make the problem worse.
In addition to shoulder pain and injuries, rounding of the back and overly developed front shoulders from bench pressing, can lead to upper back and neck pain from pulling the head forward.
You don't have to stop bench pressing all together; just cut back or at least off-set each pressing rep with adequate pulling and rear delt work to keep the shoulders stable and in proper alignment. If you can't stop bench pressing, make sure to do plenty of chest stretches to help keep them from getting too tight. This will help open the chest and take pressure off the upper back.
Reason to Stop Bench Pressing #2: It's Not Functional for the Average Guy
To be honest, the average person has no need to try and hit new PRs on the bench press each week. If you're not a powerlifter, football player, crossfitter, or other strength specialist, then max bench pressing is absolutely not necessary.
For the average person looking to build muscle and maximize their health, simply being able to bench press their bodyweight is about all that is needed to safely perform most of life's tasks.
Additionally, the bench press has very little carry-over into average everyday tasks. The average person is more likely to overhead press a heavy box or deadlift a heavy piece of furniture, than press something +200lbs away from their body. The average person looking to build functional strength is better off concentrating on overhead movements and deadlifting.
Again, you don't have to completely stop bench pressing, just scale it back and place more emphasis on other exercises and movements that have more carry-over into everyday life.
Reason to Stop Bench Pressing #3: The Bench Press Isn't the Best Exercise for Building Big Pecs
It may seem counter intuitive, but the bench press is not the best exercise for stimulating the growth and development of the pec muscles. According to trainer Chad Smith from ChadSmith.fitness, "the primary function of the pectorals is to move your arms across your chest; pressing is a secondary function."
When you bench press, a large portion of the stimulus is placed on the triceps and front shoulder muscles. If your goal is to stimulate pecs and chisel them out, then you are better off using the pec-deck machine or the cable cross-over machine to better stimulate the deep fibers of the chest.
You are not going to develop the same level of strength with these type of movements, but they are superior in our opinion for getting to the momentary muscle failure that triggers growth. They are also safer to perform for most people.
Tip: If your goal is to build solid pecs, try using super-slow repetitions (10 seconds up and 10 seconds down) or time static contractions (isometric reps for 30 second holds) to fully exhaust the pecs during your workout. Give it a try and feel the difference.
Conclusion: Again, the bench press is amazing for building upper body strength, but unless you are a strength specialist like a powerlifter, the bench press probably isn't the best exercise for you. Should you stop bench pressing all together? Absolutely not, just keep it balanced with the rest of your work; especially with your pulling movements and rear shoulder work.
Too much bench pressing combined with too much sitting and bad posture can lead to some serious neck, back and shoulder issues long term. Something the average guy I'm sure wants to avoid.
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