Without question, the most maligned and simultaneously ballyhooed exercise on the planet is the bench press. I've taken a steaming shit on it over the years for one reason- I fucking suck at it. I'm fairly certain that is the reason most people trash talk the bench- it sucks to be so bad at the one exercise virtually everyone does. As such, you simply sidestep the conversation by decrying it as a pointless and useless feat of strength fit for naught but bodybuilders and sundry weightroom dilettantes. In the end, however, the people who yell most loudly about the uselessness of the bench press are probably the same guys masturbating to it like a pedophile at a McDonald's Playroom. They're looking at great benchers in the gym with jealousy on a level generally reserved for flat chested gold diggers when they spot a big tittied woman working a guy with an Amex Black. They hate the fuck out of themselves for sucking at the lift, but not enough to get fucking good at it, so they make excuses not to do so. It's time, however, for that shit to end- everyone needs to sack the fuck up and admit that if it's good enough for Dmitri Klokov, it's damn sure good enough for them.
You've disappointed Dmitri and his Uncle Hitler.
I suppose a great deal of most peoples' frustration stems from the fact that benching seems to come easy to some and not to others. I've come to the realization, however, that like everything else in the gym, big weights come to those who break their asses for them. If you suck at benching, it's your own fucking fault. I was a disgrace to my lineage at the bench press until what I thought was a shoulder injury (which ended up just being knotting) forced me to change my bench press style. I worked hard at learning the new form and experimenting with it because I had to, and I've become considerably less of an embarrassment to family and friends at the bench since..
THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU SHOULD START REVERSE GRIPPING. This simply means that if you suck on the bench, you need to re-examine every single facet of the lift, including your grip width, your elbow flare, your arch, your foot placement, the bar path, the strike point on your body, the assistance exercises you do, and the number of times per week you train the lift and accessories. Over the last year, I've played with every possible permutation of my new form and frequency to arrive at what I think works best for me, and it's nothing whatsoever like 1) people would generally suggest, or 2) what I started with. Thus, this is one more instance wherein you'll stop taking advice from every half-assed guru on the planet and fucking figure it out for yourself. Know which form is the right form? The form that gets white-lighted at a meet and allows you to move the most weight. If it doesn't meet either of those criteria, you're fucking up. Again.
I'm glad you asked, nameless moron who make idiotic statements in public forums and likely cried themselves to sleep upon hearing of Donna Summers' death! Allow me to elucidate all of the reasons you should get good at the bench press.
- Like it or not, the bench press is one of the most basic standards of measure for physical strength in the gym. It's a universally accepted measure of upper body strength for lay people and lifters alike, and it's consequently utilized everywhere you go, from the grocery store checkout line (I'm constantly asked by customers and employees how much I bench) to the NFL Combine to the gym. Thus, it doesn't fucking matter what the pencil-necked pussy on a message board thinks about the efficacy of this measure- it's the standard. Refusing to adhere to the standard would be like trying to pay for your Jamba Juice with back issues of Hustler- no matter how much better a measure of personal wealth you might think they are, you're fucking wrong.
- The bench press is an event in one of the three most popular strength sports in the Western world. Sucking at it limits your ability to prove your mettle and compete in competitive sports that don't involve stupid pants played by people who are waiting to die.
- Sucking at the bench press is generally evidence that you're either a woman or are considering becoming one, as it is again the most accepted measure of upper body strength, and upper body strength is associated with manliness. If you are a woman, consider this- kicking ass at an upper body lift like the bench makes you pretty much the top of the fucking food chain. Case in point: 132 lb natural female powerlifter Jennifer Thompson has benched 315 in a non-sanctioned meet, raw. That sound you're hearing is thousands of guys violently opening kitchen drawers in search of anything sharp with which to slit their wrists.
- There are plenty of instances wherein you need to have the brutal strength necessary to violently shove objects away from your chest- never mind shit falling on you or holding up the car while someone changes a tire, fellas. Having a strong chest, shoulders, and triceps means you will fuck better. If you cannot envision how this is possible, you're either a virgin or retarded. In either case, just focus on the aforementioned reasons.
- Arnold had a huge chest, and everyone revers Arnold. The bench press will give you a better developed chest, just like Arnold. Arnold benched often and he benched heavy (he hit 540 lbs at one point). Therefore, bench.
Now that we've got that ridiculousness out of the way, I'll address the fact that there is no universally perfect bench press form, no matter what anyone fucking tells you. If anyone argues, treat them as you would any noisome blight and cave in their head with a rock or hammer. To wit, some of the greats' form:
Ted Arcidi- Virtually flat back, wide grip, elbows flared feet away from bench and slightly wide. Ted was the first person to officially bench 700 lbs
Ryan Kennelly- Hard arch, fairly close grip, elbows in, feet a little tucked. He benched 1074 shirted and at least 650 raw.
Marvin Eder- Practically a snatch grip, completely flat back, and legs nearly straight.
This discrepancy extends beyond the setup and execution of the competition bench, as well. The greatest benchers of all time have wildly different routines, in addition to different execution of the lift itself in training. Some of the best benchers I know, for instance, train with a touch-and-go method and the occasional massive bounced off their sternum. This includes two guys I know who bench over 500 and incline in the mid 400s. Additionally, they do all of their rep work with incomplete ranges, basically doing bottom-half reps throughout. This does not, however, prevent them from putting up big numbers when they try paused benches. For myself, I find that like Ken Fantano, I have to practice the paused bench to be good at it. If I practice touch and go in the gym, my form breaks down and I lose the tightness I need to move big weights. Other guys seem to find that the looser form yields greater strength when they apply it to strict form.
I could go on, but I think at this point it should be fairly apparent to those of you with developed nervous systems that there is no one golden bench press technique, and that anyone who claims to know of one is a fucking liar worthy of a full-on Islamic stoning. In the next installment, I'll cover the routines of some of the best benchers ever, so you can see how they in no way resemble one another, except for their utilization of the bench press and their total lack of excuses for why they don't do the lift.
Bench press badass (he benched 545 at 242 in competition with 3 broken ribs) Doug Young says,
"Stop making excuses and go bench, pussy. Just know you'll never have chest hair like this."