There are a great many exercises that you can do that will most definitely help you to develop your muscles, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do them. These movements that I’m referring to are unnatural and not something you would ever do in your day to day life, and therefore they aren’t something you would build a training program around. Like those obscure exercises you see those strange, grunting, barrel shaped people in the gym performing. Exercises like the bench press.
What?! If you haven’t stopped reading out of sheer confusion and disgust for my obvious lack of knowledge and or respect for the only exercise other than biceps curls that you ever need to perform, then please let me explain. Or let me provide an example and then explain by way of the example. How many times in your life have you been lying flat on your back and needed to press something off of yourself using only your arms? I can think of only one scenario where this may apply and it involves having your sex partner expire in a moment of intimacy, the likelihood of which is slim at best. Even should that happen, you could always wriggle your way out as opposed to pressing the person off of yourself. Before we begin a discussion which has nothing to do with this article, let’s not spend any more time on this, ok?
Using the bench press as an ancillary movement in a well rounded program is a great idea. Using it as the cornerstone, unless you’re a powerlifter that competes in this specific event, is not as good an idea. It isn’t a very natural movement as referred to above and therefore isn’t one that is going to provide as much benefit as say a standing overhead press. Incidentally, overhead pressing is the best way to get your bench press stronger. If by overhead pressing, your bench press numbers will go up, it stands to reason that the overhead press would be better suited as one of those cornerstones. See how that just makes sense?
But the bench press is such a great chest developer, you say. For some it is I guess. Those that would develop a big chest anyway. But the function of the pectoral muscle is to draw the arms across the body, not to push away from the body. It’s the triceps and shoulders that will push the weight away from you. Even powerlifters know that focusing on shoulder and triceps strength is the key to a bigger bench.
So in order to develop a hulking chest, or even just one that holds a t shirt nicely, dumbbell presses are a much more natural movement as are flies and even cable based crossover movements. Or even that old fashioned exercise, the push-up.
Yes, the push-up has the same limitations as the bench press in regard to the straight up and down path that the arms will follow, but the push-up is a much more complete exercise. It requires the whole body to work together. You know that core exercises are always a top priority and the push-up is exactly that as you are required to stabilize your spine throughout the movement.
Another issue with lying down on a flat bench is that you are artificially stabilizing your shoulder blades, spine and core. This is where a standing overhead press or push-up has the advantage as well as you are forced to stabilize many more muscles than you would have to if you are pinned to a bench.
The introduction to weight training for most of us was with the two exercises that we assume get us that big chest and bulging arms that we all covet at the early stages of our lifting, the bench press and biceps curl. While they definitely will pack on the muscle in the early going, they both have their own limitations and probably shouldn’t be anything more than complimentary exercises to a complete full body training program. Next time, in the newest series I’m introducing, ‘Exercises You Don’t Need To Do’, we will take a look at that other exercise that was made mention of in this piece a few times already, the barbell biceps curl.