The demise of the bench press has been greatly exaggerated. In this video, I’m going to show you how the deficiencies of the bench press as an exercise are easily overcome and therefore are no reason to avoid the exercise all together. There have been many to say that when it comes to building muscle, bench pressing is inferior and incapable of doing a good job. I disagree and I’m breaking out the muscle markers to prove my point.
That said, it begs to reason that we would start with a discussion of the main function of the chest at the shoulder. The movement called horizontal adduction is what the pecs are most responsible for. This is the act of bringing the upper arm from a position away from the midline of the body to a position closer to the midline of the body.
This does not have to cross midline or even reach midline to be considered horizontal adduction in the same way that bending the elbow just a little bit during a curl is still elbow flexion (albeit not full flexion of the elbow). This brings us to the question of whether or not the bench press is training the key function of the chest at all. Many people that concentrate on only what the forearm is doing when the arm is moving will say that the arms are not horizontally abducted during the bench press and therefore not working the chest as well as it should (or at least not as much as the shoulders and triceps).
That is false. If you look at the demonstration of the upper arms in both the bench press and the crossover you will see that the mechanics are very much the same. The only thing that is slightly different is the amount of range of motion that the upper arm is going through into adduction during the movements.
There are other differences however that need to be considered. While the range of motion of shoulder adduction are less in the bench press than they are in the crossover, the amount of weight that can be loaded during the bench is superior. This means, that you are able to overload the chest more effectively with the bench despite its shortened range.
That doesn’t have to be the end of the argument however. Since we know that full chest activation can be achieved by performing loaded horizontal adduction across midline, we can simply opt to compliment or accessorize the bench as the main lift with a few sets of crossovers for max chest recruitment. This is something we have covered here before by including some high to low or low to high crossovers after your main bench work for the day.
Those that use the range limitations are selling this exercise short and not understanding the full picture. In much the same way, the deadlift is an exercise that we all will readily agree is capable of building a bigger, stronger back. However, if you look at the range of motion of the lats and other back muscles in the lift they are surely not being brought anywhere near the limits they are capable of by acting on the joints the muscles cross. This doesn’t hold back the movement from being a gains producer however.
The bottom line is, you have to define your training goals. If hypertrophy is your main goal then you will want to find ways to make sure you leave no gaps in your training. Perform the complimentary exercises to fill in range gaps or strength curve gaps. If you are simply looking to build strength in the bench press, as a competitive powerlifter however, seeking ways to expand the range beyond what would be needed for the lift is unnecessary.
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