Sunday, February 18, 2007

Chasing a big bench?

When you think of exercises men do in the gym, what comes to mind? First and foremost are probably curls, and the barbell bench press. I have already mentioned curls being inferior to the deadlift for biceps development, so now it is time to attack the bench press.
With proper technique there is nothing wrong with the bench press, and it is very useful for chest and power development. The question is; just how functional is it? Former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes stated that working the chest was his least favorite, because it just did not apply to what he did. The fact is that unless your sport is bench pressing, trying to bench press massive amounts of weight is fairly pointless.
This does not mean that you should abandon the bench press by any means. One of the reasons I favor kettlebells is for whole body development, so it wouldn’t make much sense for me to yank out a body part. We know that no matter what we do, just about every part of the body is involved, so we must break things down into a matter of percentages.
What this means is looking at your chosen sport or movement, and deciding which bodypart should take precedence in the developmental curve. Let’s take Mixed Martial Arts for example, the chosen sport of Matt Hughes. MMA involves a lot of punching, kicking, throwing, and grappling. The chest is involved in the movements of this sport, but lags far behind the back, legs, shoulders, etc. Knowing this, why would Matt then devote even twenty five percent of his workout time to chasing a big bench?
Most often the pursuit of high numbers on bench press is purely an ego issue. What if, however, it is for the aesthetic? Many agree (and I am one of them) that while the Barbell Bench Press is superior for building strength, power, and widening the chest, for building the visual appeal most look for, dumbbells are actually superior.
Another issue to be addressed is that of shoulder injuries in relation to the Barbell Bench Press. The majority of rotator cuff injuries I encounter are a direct result of barbell bench pressing. Many look at the bench press as a very simple endeavor; you lie down and press the bar. In reality there is a lot of technique, and preferably some pre-habilitation work that is an important part of bench-pressing safely and effectively.
One exercise that is useful in warming up the shoulders for bench pressing is one suggested by Louie Simmons of West Side Barbell. This was originally performed with a kettlebell, but can also be done with a barbell weight plate, starting at ten pounds and moving up to twenty-five pounds. Bracing yourself against the bench with one hand while leaning over, use the other to hold the weight plate and rotate your shoulder in the socket, ten repetitions one direction, then ten repetitions in the other. This is a derivative of standard shoulder rotations.
Understanding that this is not a recommendation against doing the bench press, it is important to understand why we do the exercises we do, and make sure we are not wasting valuable time in the gym, or worse yet risking possible injury when it is entirely unnecessary.

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