The 4 Horsemen will usher in a new age of fitness. The traditional versions of Conquest, War, Famine and Death are represented in our focus on Goals, Competition, Nutrition and Metabolic-conditioning. We firmly believe that strength, power and fitness are best achieved by utilizing CrossFit methods and the 4 Horsemen of Lifts: Squats, Presses, Deadlifts and O-lifts.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Wanna Be Bench Press

This is a calling out of all those wanna be bench pressers. You know who you are! You are the ones that spend hours sitting on the bench with at least 2 plates on each side of the bar (225+) talking to your buddies more than actually lifting the damn weight. Now I really don’t have a problem with you having a social life at the gym, what I do have a problem with is that 225# you have on the bar. The problem is not in the weight itself, as 225# is not really that much, but rather the fact that you can’t even use it. Now I say use it as opposed to lift it because I know you can lift it. I see you lift it off the rack, lower it an inch and rack it again. That’s right, I have a problem with your range of motion. You are the bench press equivalent of the 1/4 squat. To be straight up with you, what you are doing is completely useless. I don’t know where you got the idea that you should stop at the point when your arm make a 90 degree angle. Yes it is true that at 90 degrees and above you can lift more weight and when people tell me this my reply is usually “Really! No shit!” it’s all about leverage and common sense. But here is the problem, you are missing the most useful part of the moment! The most useful aspect is to strengthen the muscles at their weakest points (the point of lowest mechanical advantage). The only way to efficiently do this is to work the muscles through their full range of motion. I promise I will hammer this point over and over and over again – FULL RANGE OF MOTION. That means on the bench press the bar comes off the rack, travels down to the point where it just touches the chest and then travels back up to the top and is racked. Now the bar just “kisses” off the chest before it travels up, don’t bounce the weight off the chest as you could break/crack a rib that way. Now why does it matter that you go all the way to your chest? First like with the squat if you don’t go all the way to the bottom it is impossible to compare one workout to the next. You think you are stronger because you lifted 5# more than the last workout, but as it turns out you just didn’t go down an extra 1cm from the time before, this mechanical advantage means you could move the larger weight but didn’t actually get any stronger. Now if you always touch the chest then the distance is fixed (basically your arms aren’t going to change length from week to week) so any increase in weight lifted means a direct increase in strength. Second, say you are walking down the sidewalk on a windy day and a tree falls over and you are trapped underneath it (see picture). It is not a big tree and some of the tree is touching the ground so it’s more like a lever system. Now to lift the tree up at the point it is touching your chest requires say a 205# push. This is great because your bench is a big 225#, but wait, that’s only to 90 degrees. That extra ~6 inches (from chest to 90 degrees) in your range of motion is not 225# strong it is only about 185# strong at best. Meaning you will die trapped under the tree! So much for your “big” bench press. On the other hand if I put myself in a similar situation back when I could only bench 205#, I would be able to lift the tree up and off my chest, take a breather and thrust it out of the way and live. Why? Because I do my bench press right to the chest so my muscles are strong through the entire range in which I might need to use them. Basically all I’m saying in this rather long rant is that I don’t care what you have on the bar just as long as you do it right. You are only as strong as your weakest link. So if you are in the gym to get stronger, why not work at it properly and get stronger. Now, in case I haven’t gotten through to some of you as to you would want to start lifting properly. Well… doing a movement right increases efficiency (through better mechanics etc.) and results in an increase in strength (max weight you can lift) and more reps at a given weight. This increased strength means that you are able to perform more work in the same or less time, so you therefore have increased your power output and thus increased your intensity. This increased intensity will make you fitter, and being fitter makes you a better athlete and it also means you’ll look better naked! Now get fit and have fun!


Sean B-H said...

ha .... funny post...i have never had anyone tell me that above ninety thing. Although, i never used to bench much.

So true tho....the "two plates" is a big deal for people.

Monika said...

I think next time I'm at the gym and see this type of plate abuse I will make it my goal to refer that individual to read this post....HA HA HA, so funny but so true!

Bill said...

Terrible advice.

If you do the bench press primarily to increase strength or size in the muscles in your chest, you aren't doing that at the bottom of the lift if the bar touches your chest--you are training your shoulders. And it is during the concentric, upward push at the bottom of the press that most bench press injuries occur, especially to those with arms long in proportion to their body.

This is why smart lifters stop the lift a few inches from their chest, at the point the arm is at a 90 degree angle (especially if they have long arms proportionally--the guy with arms like a t-rex and the guy with arms like a monkey shouldn't train the same way).

But if you are more concerned with pushing a tree off your chest than the long term health of your rotator cuff and shoulders generally, continue following the advice in this article. Until you destroy your shoulders, that is.

Sean B-H said...


Shoulder problems occur because people do not know how to bench press.

First off, I am concerned about strength so I do not look at workouts as mainly a "shoulder" or "Chest workout" I am concerned about improving the functional movement around my joints. I am not a body builder or a guy who wants to impress other guys in the gym.

Secound, elbow position in the bench is essential for effficiency and safety, and yes it will differ from a t rex to a monkey. The correct angle of the humerus should be between 45 degrees, halfway between right angles and touching the ribs, to about 80 degrees. If the elbows are at a full ninety degrees, in line with the shoulders, then the tendens and biceps and rotator cuff muschles are put in a bad position. - no matter what your angle is it is important it doesnt change during the rep, the ecentric phase should be the same as the concentric. The lats and the deltoids are what keep the humerus in constant position - any variation means they are not doing their job and this can lead to shoulder problems.

So Bill, people hurt their shoulders, not from doing a full range of motion bench press, but doing the movement wrong. Other injuries come from focusing too much on their "chesticles" which leaves other other neglected muscle weak as shit. What does this mean? Well you may look good for the ladies but a Christmas tree may not be the only thing you cannot push off of yourself.

So you are the one giving our terrible advice Bill and let me think squatting below parallel is bad for the knees?

Michael Murphy said...

Well put sean, couldn't have said it better. Bill what happens when you are benching heavy and you can't stop the bar from going lower than when your arms are at 90 degrees? You have not conditioned your shoulders/rotator cuffs for this stress, of course you will injury yourself. They need to be conditioned to work under load. We are talking about the best way to get strong, not the best way to build weak, for show, muscles. You may like your chesticles but I enjoy getting strong, looking good is just a side-effect.