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Barbell Omitting the Bench Press-Mistake?

Wyanokie

Level 2 Valued Member
Hi Everyone,

In short, I am on the starting strength program listed in the book "The Barbell Prescription". I've been on it since September and am making steady progress.

I've had some shoulder problems in the past (including torn rotator cuff, jacked AC joint and shoulder impingement) so removed the bench press from the program and added push ups (and a finishing set of chins to round things out). I am really embracing and enjoying the overhead barbell press.

I'm wondering if my rationale for removing the BP is incorrect here. It seems to me that just about everyone who I know who bench presses eventually develops shoulder issues. I know more than one 'big bencher' who can't raise their arm overhead, despite being very strong, and I've read a number of articles supporting my suspicion about the BP. A few of them state that the bench press does not equate to shoulder health because of the lack of scapular movement, among other things. I'd be happy to keep the movement in the program but am hesitant because of others' eventual negative outcomes with it.

Three questions:

Did I make a mistake by discarding the bench press (in other words, is this a completely safe movement if done correctly)? This would tell me that most of the folks I know who do it are doing it incorrectly.

If it is a safe movement if done correctly, can anyone point to reliable resources?

If it is better to omit the BP, is adding pushups a satisfactory replacement for a pushing exercise in that movement plane?

Thanks for any help you can offer!

-W
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
Sinister
I think it's safe, but it's a common exercise for people to push a bit too far in terms of volume and intensity. If you keep both reasonable, and your technique is good, then I think it's generally a safe exercise.

Just based on what you've said there, I would say keep it in your program as written and just be fairly conservative on your weight selection and increases relative to the rest of your program. You can still get a lot of good out of 3 sets of 5 at 70%... or RPE 8... or "moderately hard". Meanwhile you're also practicing your technique and slowly building tolerance.

The most obvious mistake would be if your elbows are out at 90 degrees, as wide as your shoulders. Don't do that. Keep them 45 degrees or so at least, towards your ribcage. Also, chest up, shoulders retracted. Bench press is a bit challenging to do a video form check, but you're welcome to post one for critique.
 

John K

Level 7 Valued Member
Discarding it because of shoulder issues is one thing, discarding it because it bothered your shoulder issues is another. I have a long history of shoulder issues, none from lifting. Benching bothered it. Pull-ups on a straight bar bothered it. Pressing overhead didn't, and pull-ups on rings or neutral grip didn't. People told me I should avoid all overhead work. I didn't listen. Good thing too, or I might as well have just squatted and deadlifted (oh yeah, but then I got that trick knee and everyone knows deadlifts are bad for your back...)

Eventually I got my shoulder issues taken care of, now I can do any of those pain free.

So part of it is - does it bother you or not? And part of it is - if it does, are you working on getting that taken care of?

There's a lot that goes into folks with shoulder issues "from benching." It isn't as simple as benching or not, or even a technique or not. If done correctly, from technique to programming to injuries, it is fine.
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
Great comments in here already.

I know plenty of people with a great bench, from the gym to the absolute top at the platform, and I would never associate the exercise in itself with injury..

Of course, there is always a chance of injury, even if it is like winning something in the lottery. But if you're competitive and push your limits and do tens of thousands of reps, your chance of winning the lottery goes up, right?

Then again, some times in the gym I meet people who complain about permanent shoulder issues. Most of the time they don't really have textbook form at all. Maybe their permanent issue would go away if they did it better, maybe not. Sometimes we get dealt a bad hand.

I do think the bench is more technically challenging than most other lifts. But it's more about performance than safety. Take a moderate width grip of the bar, keep your scapulae in your back pockets, tuck your elbows, bring the bar low, meet it halfway with your chest, and push the bar only as far as you need to. Avoid failure until you get it down and don't go crazy with the amount of sets you do.
 

Philippe Geoffrion

Level 6 Valued Member
I wouldn’t blame the basic barbell lifts for causing injuries. No exercise is “completely” safe anyhow. People get hurt running…

As Dan John said “it’s not the exercise that’s hurting you, ya how you’re performing it”.

That being said unless you’re a powerlifter or trying for the NFL combine, you don’t have to bench.

The bench press is notorious for being an ego lift. The same could also be said of the squat and deadlift at times but once again…how you perform it. To also throw in the lack of proper posture, technique, focus, etc

I think for upper body (read full body) strength lifts, it is tough to beat. As a measure of absolute pressing strength, it is and will remain being the epitome. But of course, if you can put a couple plates over your head, will you be worrying about your upper body strength?
 

Alan Mackey

Level 6 Valued Member
Hi Everyone,

In short, I am on the starting strength program listed in the book "The Barbell Prescription". I've been on it since September and am making steady progress.

I've had some shoulder problems in the past (including torn rotator cuff, jacked AC joint and shoulder impingement) so removed the bench press from the program and added push ups (and a finishing set of chins to round things out). I am really embracing and enjoying the overhead barbell press.

I'm wondering if my rationale for removing the BP is incorrect here. It seems to me that just about everyone who I know who bench presses eventually develops shoulder issues. I know more than one 'big bencher' who can't raise their arm overhead, despite being very strong, and I've read a number of articles supporting my suspicion about the BP. A few of them state that the bench press does not equate to shoulder health because of the lack of scapular movement, among other things. I'd be happy to keep the movement in the program but am hesitant because of others' eventual negative outcomes with it.

Three questions:

Did I make a mistake by discarding the bench press (in other words, is this a completely safe movement if done correctly)? This would tell me that most of the folks I know who do it are doing it incorrectly.

If it is a safe movement if done correctly, can anyone point to reliable resources?

If it is better to omit the BP, is adding pushups a satisfactory replacement for a pushing exercise in that movement plane?

Thanks for any help you can offer!

-W

Unless you are a powerlifter, you don’t have to do bench presses. Do it because you enjoy it or do it because it’s a fantastic exercise, but not because it’s ”mandatory” in any conceivable way.

I find incline bench WAY more shoulder friendly and a happy medium between overhead and flat presses. Dips, if you can tolerate them, are my favorite upper body push movement. Dumbbell flat bench presses are wonderful too.

Your options are endless.
 

watchnerd

Level 6 Valued Member
I do a pretty ridiculous amount of overhead work (snatch, jerk, push press, press, overhead squat), but almost never bench for more than 3-4 weeks a year because it starts to reduce my shoulder mobility for snatching.

My main "chest" exercises are ring push ups and dips -- the inherent instability of these actually helps my overhead work.

As others have said, unless PLing or combining, benching isn't some kind of "must do", although I do think every barbell practitioner should learn to bench it properly. And then use the bench, but never exclusively, when it suits your goals.

I saw a Joe Rogan interview with Pavel and he mentions, at least for a few months, doing swings and dips:

 
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watchnerd

Level 6 Valued Member
Unless you are a powerlifter, you don’t have to do bench presses. Do it because you enjoy it or do it because it’s a fantastic exercise, but not because it’s ”mandatory” in any conceivable way.

I find incline bench WAY more shoulder friendly and a happy medium between overhead and flat presses. Dips, if you can tolerate them, are my favorite upper body push movement. Dumbbell flat bench presses are wonderful too.

Your options are endless.

I'm with you on all of that. Landmine press is also good.

But dips are just amazing for me.

"The upper body squat" designation has certainly turned out to be true for me.
 

Period

Level 7 Valued Member
Hi Everyone,

In short, I am on the starting strength program listed in the book "The Barbell Prescription". I've been on it since September and am making steady progress.

I've had some shoulder problems in the past (including torn rotator cuff, jacked AC joint and shoulder impingement) so removed the bench press from the program and added push ups (and a finishing set of chins to round things out). I am really embracing and enjoying the overhead barbell press.
Three questions:

Did I make a mistake by discarding the bench press (in other words, is this a completely safe movement if done correctly)? This would tell me that most of the folks I know who do it are doing it incorrectly.

If it is a safe movement if done correctly, can anyone point to reliable resources?

If it is better to omit the BP, is adding pushups a satisfactory replacement for a pushing exercise in that movement plane?

I am not familiar with the program, so I am not 100% who and what it is for. Also, your goals would play a certain role. For hypertrophy of the chest, I would rate the bench over push-ups generally. You can get similar effects from push-ups, but you have to play with exercise variations, rep ranges and external loads quite a bit.
If hypertrophy isn't a main goal, I generally favor push-up variations, also because I'm more familiar with them. I have done standard flat bench presses for a total of two months in my training career, just to get to 1.5x BW for some strength standard I was aiming for at the time (found that not too difficult based on my ample background in push-ups), then I moved on, since I wanted to avoid unneccessary hypertrophy due to weight class issues, plus the bench was logistically more of a challenge. I should however point out that there are variations of the bench that you may want to consider, such as one-arm benching with a dumbbell or kettlebell, as well as floor presses. These could help you find a version that you are comfortable with, while keeping some of the benefits of bench presses, including easy adjustments of the load. The variations all have their unique benefits and drawbacks. If you do choose push-ups, you might have to familiarize yourself with more variations (one-arm, incline, decline, width, potentially also HSPU etc.).
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
If it is better to omit the BP, is adding pushups a satisfactory replacement for a pushing exercise in that movement plane?
If you're going to use pushups I would highly recommend pairing them with sandbag on your back.

Like any other exercise, once you get out of the teens in terms of reps, strength gains are going to slow way down. Loaded PUs are my favorite press, they combine a high tension plank with horizontal press with a closed chain exercise, recruit a lot more lat, and you can shuck the load if you run out of gas, so inherently safer than bench press. A pushup board is a smart addition if loading them heavy, your wrists will thank you.

That said, bench and slightly inclined bench are great exercises to include. My shoulders tolerate them far better than OHP. I would also say if your shoulders tolerate it OK, use basic bodybuilding technique and less weight as opposed to a powerlifiting arch, which is mostly designed to increase the load you can press from a competitive standpoint.
 

Alan Mackey

Level 6 Valued Member
If you're going to use pushups I would highly recommend pairing them with sandbag on your back.

Like any other exercise, once you get out of the teens in terms of reps, strength gains are going to slow way down. Loaded PUs are my favorite press, they combine a high tension plank with horizontal press with a closed chain exercise, recruit a lot more lat, and you can shuck the load if you run out of gas, so inherently safer than bench press. A pushup board is a smart addition if loading them heavy, your wrists will thank you.

That said, bench and slightly inclined bench are great exercises to include. My shoulders tolerate them far better than OHP. I would also say if your shoulders tolerate it OK, use basic bodybuilding technique and less weight as opposed to a powerlifiting arch, which is mostly designed to increase the load you can press from a competitive standpoint.

These are amazing too:

 

DocMike

Level 5 Valued Member
51yo powerlifter here and so BP is essential for me to practice and get good at. Can currently press 400lbs and still going heavier. Have only had 1 injury related to benching and it was a left triceps tendonitis that lasted 4 weeks (just worked around it) but no shoulder issues. With this movement it is essential that you mobilize the tissue and get very strong support muscles. Most people bench really poorly, even the very strong, and it is only a matter of time until an injury pops up. You have to master this movement and I think a PL style bench (elbows out at 45degrees) is much better than a BB style bench (elbows out at 90degrees).

I highly recommend the 2:1 or at least 1:1 back:chest ratio in terms of workload and to treat the back as if it is a prime mover as well (work it hard). I employ push-ups, OHP, dips, pullups, all kinds of pulls and rows, and shoulder stability drills (instability bars) be worked into a bench program. I also employ banded pullaparts (palms up) that touch the chest where the bench touches the chest be done between all sets except the very heaviest. TGU is a shoulder saver and should be done as well (I do them 4 days a week).

Avoid anything that hurts the elbow and try different exercises for assistance that give a great pump but cause no pain. This is atrial and error process. I also highly recommend unilateral work (shoulder presses, DB Bench) and bilateral DB work.
 

Pantrolyx

Level 5 Valued Member
Discarded it completely after a bad shoulder injury back in the mid 2000's.
My mobility in the eft shoulder/arm has been limited ever since.
However, it was probably more about retarded bench pressing than the excecise per se.
At the time, I could go directly from a night shift as a security guard to do sets with 140 kilos in the morning, before going to a university lesson. It felt like a time efficient plan in my early 20's but was an obvious recipe for disaster.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
Regarding dips, see the top of page 50 of the print edition of Q&D.

Regarding the bench press, I am happy with the simple approach I take - every year, I do approximately 3 months bench press leading up to a powerlifting meet, and I do this twice a year, so I spend 6 months of each year bench pressing and 6 months not.

And while I'm in a bench press cycle, either on the non-benching days or before my BP on a moderate BP day, I do 5 reps x 2 sets each side on the one-arm standing kettlebell military press using a bell that's about 75% of my 1RM press bell and I focus on reaping the full benefits of the kb mil press - I usually do the C&P version, I suck my shoulder down and pause briefly in that "coiled" position before each press rep, I go for full extension with a decided pause and almost a stretch at the top of each rep, and I perform an active negative on the way down. On the last rep of each set, I go for a longer pause and even greater extension and stretch. So on my heaviest day of each week in the BP, I skip the kb press, but I try to do them on most other days.

-S-
 

Starlord

Level 5 Valued Member
Hi Everyone,

In short, I am on the starting strength program listed in the book "The Barbell Prescription". I've been on it since September and am making steady progress.

I've had some shoulder problems in the past (including torn rotator cuff, jacked AC joint and shoulder impingement) so removed the bench press from the program and added push ups (and a finishing set of chins to round things out). I am really embracing and enjoying the overhead barbell press.

I'm wondering if my rationale for removing the BP is incorrect here. It seems to me that just about everyone who I know who bench presses eventually develops shoulder issues. I know more than one 'big bencher' who can't raise their arm overhead, despite being very strong, and I've read a number of articles supporting my suspicion about the BP. A few of them state that the bench press does not equate to shoulder health because of the lack of scapular movement, among other things. I'd be happy to keep the movement in the program but am hesitant because of others' eventual negative outcomes with it.

Three questions:

Did I make a mistake by discarding the bench press (in other words, is this a completely safe movement if done correctly)? This would tell me that most of the folks I know who do it are doing it incorrectly.

If it is a safe movement if done correctly, can anyone point to reliable resources?

If it is better to omit the BP, is adding pushups a satisfactory replacement for a pushing exercise in that movement plane?

Thanks for any help you can offer!

-W
A couple of things. In the British Army the most common medical issue an infanteer will acheive none deployable status on medical ground is shoulder issues.

The most common reason is the excessive amount of push ups. So the lack of scapula mobility is not the issue for shoulder issues in the bench press.

In fact if you try to bench with scapula mobility 1.5 times your bodyweight I guarantee you will snap your shoulders and rotator cuffs in no time.

The problem is the more of a specialist you become at something, the more a minimalist approach doesn't work.

Sounds a bit odd right? Bear with me. When I benched 180kg I basically went into the gym 6 days a week and benched a max single for the day.

But what was also happening was the warming up of the rotator cuff, the upper back, the lats, the delts, pecs and tris. The direct upper back work and rotator cuff work after hitting the bench.

Then we have people who are FAR better at the bench than I was at that time. What do they do? Well look at Kiril Sarychev, Julius Maddox, Scott Mendleson etc. They have a maximised approach at that time.

So that's big benchers aside.

Does that mean you need a maximised approach? No. But doing the bench with a good warm up for the rotator cuff and then some actual rotator cuff work post benching would be a great idea.

Prevention is huge and the research is only getting better and better in this field overtime.
 
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