Is the bench press overrated?
Many sports require the total body movement of pushing while standing. Football linemen are excellent examples of this, wrestlers and MMA athletes also clearly demonstrate the need to exert pressing force while standing. This same pressing movement is also important in daily activities for the general population. Many functional activities are done while standing and pressing, like pushing heavy furniture, or helping push a car off the road. The ability to exert push force while standing is important for sports and daily life. Traditionally personal trainers, strength coaches and recreational weightlifters have gravitated to the bench press as the primary way to increase pressing power and build upper body musculature. And for good reason, the bench press is great way to increase the demand of the pecs, shoulders and triceps under heavy loads. This is great for muscle building and revving up your metabolism for increase fat burning. However because the bench press is done laying down the question arises: Does the strength developed in the bench press transfer over into daily activities that are done while standing?
One of the more popular studies in the strength and conditioning community examined the relationship between max bench press strength and maximum pushing force while standing. The study by Santana, and others including one of the leading low back experts, Dr. Stuart McGill, compared the bench press and the standing cable press. 14 recreational weight lifters preformed a maximum bench press test and a standing cable press with the electrical activity produced by muscles being examined. The researchers thought that the standing cable press would be limited the core musculature.
The subjects were able to push about 95% of their body weight during the bench press and while standing and preforming the cable press, they were only able to do an average of 40% of their body weight. Generally the best way to increase lean body mass and strength is through heavy loads. However, what they found was that core muscle activation was much higher during the cable press and was actually the limiting factor. The authors stated that, “data seem to indicate that chest strength may not be the most important factor when pressing from standing positions”. Despite having strong chest, shoulders and arms, if your core is weak, the strength won’t transfer over onto the field or help more heavy stuff. Basically power and strength is being lost in the core.
The bench press is a great exercise to increase lean muscle mass and for those with healthy shoulders a viable option. Although often neglected in weight training programs, for athletic performance and daily function, core strength and specifically core strength while standing, may be more important. So while bench presses and crunches are good, challenging the upper body and core while standing should to be addressed in your weight training program.