(908) 525-1565 nathan@nathanfitness.com

Ah the bench press. This was my pride and joy when I first started lifting. If my bench didn’t go up 5 pounds from the previous week I was miserable. I was obsessed with pumping this number up. Why?

The bench press back then (and is still is to a certain degree) was seen as an indicator of power in a weight room. If you don’t bench a lot, most guys will think you are weak. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked “Yo bro how much do you bench?”.

To me it is a pure ego lift and one that people put a lot of time into. So why do I think it sucks? Show me a single person with a high bench press that has zero shoulder problems. You can’t do it. Every single lifter I have met that bench presses a lot always has shoulder problems. Myself included.

I was bench pressing up until about 7 years ago. My left shoulder always gave me problems and continued to get worse. I decided to drop the barbell bench press and never do it again. Oh the horror! For me it was actually a hard thing to do. I always grew up with the notion that the bench press is the king of upper body lifts and was needed to build a big chest. Well guess what? After just stopping barbell benching, within 6 months I had zero shoulder issues.

I know multiple people that have had shoulder surgery from too much benching. Another guy I know just tore his pec a couple months ago. The list goes on and on. It’s not worth it!

The most ironic thing is that most people (myself included) bench press as a chest exercise. It is an awful chest exercise. Looking back I think it is funny that my chest is my worst body part but my front delts are pretty impressive. They have done studies with EMG and have shown that the chest barely gets activated during a barbell bench press compared to other chest movements.

So what do I do now and what do I suggest you do? There are a wide variety of exercises you can choose. The easiest is to just swap the barbell for dumbbell pressing. To take it step further, do a neutral grip. This puts your shoulders is a much more natural and safe position. Here are some example exercises you can do;

  • DB Bench Press
  • Neutral Grip Barbell Bench (Need Special Bar)
  • Landmine Horizontal Press
  • Flies
  • Push Ups
  • Weighted Push Ups
  • Ring Push Ups
  • Ring Flies
  • Cable flies (from different angles)
  • Cable Standing Horizontal Press

You will see I put push ups a couple of times. I find it comical that a lot of people that cannot even do 10 push ups with correct form will head over to the bench press. Master your bodyweight first.

You will see that I also left out incline DB bench press. This exercise does not put you in the best position biomechanically. It is okay to do with light weight but I would not go heavy on it. Hell even barbell bench can be “okay” if you go light and for a pump (I am talking 20+ reps).

If there was one upper body movement I could erase from people’s programs it would be the bench press. I am sure I will get some hate mail from this but so be it. As I stated before, it was even hard from me to erase it from my programming. But I feel so much better now by doing so. If you take my advice you will be saving your shoulders from injuries to come.