How Functional is the Bench Press

Written by: Steve Mologousis NASM CPT, PES, CES, IHP FTS, IHP MMA SCC

Anyone who has been around a gym for any period of time, has most likely heard this a million times. How much do you Bench? Or What is your Max on Bench? All legitamate questions. But do those age old questions really matter when it comes to being a successful athlete. Other than a Powerlifter who’s main goal in their sport to be successful is to lift the heaviest load they can. So, why does everyone ask these questions, 1- Yes it is great for the ego, 2- not so bad for developing your pecs,3- and last but not least the chicks dig it.

The question we should be asking is “Will the bench press make you a better athlete?
In order to answer the above question we must first examine just how functional is the bench press?

First, I’d like to start by saying that I personally feel the bench press is a great exercise to have in your toolbox of training. I believe it is a great movement for developing maximal strength in certain functional positions. The problem is, a majority of coaches put too much emphasis on how much their athletes can bench. I don’t believe an athlete’s strength should be judged solely by how much they can bench press. The way I see it, “ If your athlete is on their back pushing up they have already lost the battle”. Unless you are a power lifter and bench press is specific to your sport, there is no other reason to put so much emphasis on the movement.

Instead, there are many other functional push movements that we incorporate at The Functional Athlete to assist in building pushing strength for athletes. By using these more realistic movements that athletes will encounter during competition, along with the old school bench press ( which by the way I’ll always have a soft spot for) the results will speak for themselves.

As a matter of fact, we have found that our athlete’s bench press will increase, not from just bench pressing all the time, but from all of the other functional push movements we incorporate throughout the training cycle. Remember, the bench press is a great exercise and should be treated as such. It is not, the end all or be all of strength training. There are many ways to achieve results. Be creative and have fun, incorporate other exercises along with the good old bench press and you will be amazed at the outcome.

As I stated before, I definitely feel that the Bench Press is extremely important in building maximal strength for pushing movements. There are not many exercises that will allow you to load up the kind of weight the bench press allows you to. At the end of the day, I would incorporate the Bench Press along with other functional push movements into your workouts. This will allow you to build maximal strength while also and most importantly keeping you athletic.

So to answer the question, “How functional is the Bench Press”? I would say it is the least functional push movement out there. The main reason being, it only trains one plane of motion ( sagittal ). Another problem that came up in a conversation with (my esteemed colleague Shaun Wasso), is there is very rarely a situation in life or sports, where you have a solid object that is bracing you while you push your opponent or an object away. Even though the bench press is the least functional of the Big Lifts, it is the most necessary for building the maximal strength needed to perform the more functional push movements that are needed to be successful in sports and in life. “Because without strength we CAN NOT be anything else”.

And to answer the question, Will the Bench Press make you a better athlete? In my opinion I definitely think it will make you a better athlete if it is used as tool to help build Maximal Strength and Power. In order to be a successful athlete you must recruit as many fast twitch fibers as possible during your training session. This is achieved by moving the bar as fast as you can with control. So in more simple terms “The speed of the bar has to be as fast and explosive as possible. Even though the barbell appears to be moving slowly, your muscles are contracting quickly which will result in the recruitment of fast twitch fibers needed to be a successful athlete.” So if you are an athlete and you use the old school bench press please remember these two words bar speed, If you train explosive you will compete explosive. Unless you are a bodybuilder do not train with the slower tempo that bodybuilders usually use because their goals are different than other athlete’s. “Don’t train until you get it right, Train hard until you never get it wrong”

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