Stop Benching!

If you’re an avid bench presser, you probably don’t want to read this article. But you probably should. There is a better way to strengthen your chest and arms than bench pressing. In fact, over time, bench pressing can cause significant shoulder pain and dysfunction.

It all started decades ago, with the popular floor press. In the 1930s, the floor press evolved to a wooden “bench” or box with the use of a barbell. By the 1950s bodybuilding was on the rise, and with it, the popularity of the bench press grew. The bench press started becoming over-emphasized as a training exercise in the 1970s. As a disproportionate amount of focus was placed on the bench press, the movement grew in popularity as a common benchmark of masculine strength. For decades it has been considered the gold standard of upper body strength lifts. But it is not and should not be a standard of strength.

Again, it is not and should not be a standard of strength. The bench press is inherently non-functional, because it is done lying down without the need for core stabilization. More importantly, it dangerously compromises the integrity of the rotator cuff. Since the bench press is an open chain movement, done while lying on the shoulder blades, it places undue stress on the rotator cuff, leading to eventual breakdown.

The dangers of the bench press are:

  • Fixing the shoulder blades increases the glenohumeral joint motion needed to attain the “bar to the chest” position.

  • This increase in glenohumeral joint motion increases the need for rotator cuff stabilization of the joint

  • Over time, the rotator cuff tendons breakdown leading to shoulder pain and dysfunction

  • By doing exercises while lying on a bench there is a decreased need for core stabilization, most athletic activities require a transfer of energy through your core. This mechanism requires stabilization and as such it needs to be trained.

The good news is, there are plenty of effective exercises that you can substitute for a bench press that will get you even better results than the bench itself. The exercise that will get you the most bang for your buck is any variation of the foot elevated decline push up, since it keeps the body entirely in a closed chain movement.

A few replacement exercises for the bench are:

  • Foot elevated push up

  • Resisted foot elevated push up

  • Foot elevated push up on the CKC Trainer with strength band resistance

  • One arm pushups on the CKC trainer

Single arm, assisted push-up

We know that the thought of stopping benching is scary, but if you want to stay strong and healthy for years, then it is what you need to do. To help you take the plunge into your no-benching training, here are a few of the commonly asked questions that we get at CKC Fitness to help you make the transition with confidence.


If I can’t do bench press, what can I do?

The best alternative to a bench press is a declined (foot elevated) push up. A push-up in this position puts the body into a proper closed kinetic chain position and maximizes the strength output demanded by the chest and triceps. Additionally, you can add resistance to this exercise by using bands, a plate or the CKC Trainer system.

decline, resisted push-up

I have clients who are obsessed with hitting a certain number on their bench press, how do I convince them to be open to alternative types of training?

You are the professional. Remember that clients pay you for your knowledge and expertise. When you introduce a client to new chest / tri programming in a closed chain, and explain thoroughly why you are doing what you are doing, they will understand. More than that, they will be glad they are paying a trainer who is committed to always continuing their own professional education.

Seriously, is benching really that bad for you?

Yes! Your scapulae are locked into a fixed place during movement, inhibiting them from natural movement. As a result, this evokes excessive strain on the rotator cuff.

What am I really risking?

By benching, even at seemingly small loads (300 pounds and less), you are putting undue stress on the long head of the biceps tendon and the supraspinatus of the rotator cuff. Due to the limited vascularity of tendons, these tendons, if compromised, take months to heal. Shoulder pathology that is induced by bench pressing will necessitate complete rest, meaning that you will have to take months off from upper body strength exercises, which we know you don’t want to do.

Can I really get bigger and stronger doing push-ups?

Any exercise that follows the

principles of overload training will metabolically affect the tissue it has targeted in the same way. So, yes, you can really get bigger and stronger doing push-ups. Say you are in a strength phase; your goal is to improve your neurological coordination and fire all motor units at the same time. The muscle reacts to the load not the exercise. If you load a push-up where you can only do 6 reps, than the response from the pectorals and triceps will be the same as if you did the same thing with a barbell. However, for the reasons mentioned above the push-up is a much safer option.

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