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Iron Man November 2007 Excerpt: Bench Press Under Fire: How To Keep The Flame Burning.

The bench press is no doubt the most popular exercise in all of weight training. The following is an excerpt from the November 2007 issue of Iron Man magazine!

This month it's all about training and gaining—like PXP. No, it's not a new pharmaceutical. It's Power X-Rep Partials, and they could be a key to a new, bigger you. Then we have Eric Broser's new FD/FS—fiber damage/fiber saturation—training. Buff-sculpting stuff with a scientific twist!

Speaking of science, we continue the longevity theme with Jerry Brainum's look at testosterone, growth hormone and related therapies. We also have Dan Decker's back routine. So put your muscles through the size blender with the big November IRON MAN.

The following is an excerpt from the November 2007 issue of Iron Man magazine:

Bench Press Under Fire:
How To Keep The Flame Burning.

The bench press is no doubt the most popular exercise in all of weight training. Most bodybuilders and strength athletes believe it's the very best upper-body lift for adding size and power to that area.

+ Click To Enlarge.
Barbell Bench Press.
Video: Windows Media - Real Player

Since the early '70s it's replaced the military press as the standard of strength. People no longer ask, "How much can you press?" but rather, "How much can you bench?" to determine your strength level. The transition came about when the military press was dropped from Olympic competition and at the same time the sport of powerlifting emerged and strength training for all types of sports became the norm.

In high schools and colleges with meager equipment, the flat bench could still be done. I knew of several high schools that did the exercise on locker-room benches. It was easy to teach and fit in nicely when the strength coach also happened to be the sports coach.

When Tommy Suggs and I formulated a simple but effective program for coaches that could be done with a minimum of equipment and in a limited space, we selected the bench press as part of the Big Three. Why not the overhead or incline press? At that time the overhead press was getting lots of, well, bad press.


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Improving The Big Three.
In the following series of articles I have discussed some of the most effective way of improving these lifts.
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Many authorities had declared that pressing heavy weights overhead was harmful to the lower back. So we figured that would create difficulties for athletic directors and coaches. We really preferred the incline over the flat bench, but there was a problem—there weren't many incline benches available, even in fitness facilities and YMCAs. Shaky as they might be, flat benches were plentiful, and they did build stronger upper bodies. So they became a fixture in strength programs even after incline benches became more prevalent.

Everyone was happy—until lately. A number of people have sent me comments that they've pulled off the Internet concerning the damaging effect the bench press is having on the chest, back (primarily the rotator cuffs), shoulders and elbows. They contend that the lift should be eliminated from all programs and replaced with inclines as it's especially harmful to youngsters and older trainees. They wanted to know what I thought.

    Forum Threads:

    • Shoulder Injury - Rotator Cuff? - Started By Project X
      "I hurt my shoulder over 6 weeks ago while doing cleans - I felt the shoulder come out the joint and then go back in so it wasnt exactly dislocated. Is this considered a rotator cuff injury?"
    • Tore My Rotator Cuff 4 Weeks Ago. - Started By b1schoff
      "Well I tore my rotator cuff 4 weeks ago from doing skullcrushers too heavy... And anyway as of today I've begun to start doing treatment from my chiropractor... however I've lost a fair amount of muscle..."
    • Shoulder Problem, Unsure If It's The Rotator Cuff. - Started By iK0n
      "Last week I did pull ups and felt an uncomfortable feeling around my rear deltoid. The next day I didn't think anything of it until I tried to do pull-ups again and felt the same pain in the same area so I decided not to do anything shoulder related."

As most readers know, I'm a big fan of the incline bench. I like it because it hits the target muscles very directly and because there's less opportunity to cheat on the incline. Also, the motion of the incline is closer to the actual movements made in nearly every sport, whereas the flat-bench press relates to only a few athletic activities. I'm not, however— by any stretch of the imagination— anti-bench. It was one of the first exercises I did when I found a weight room, and I include it in all of my routines.

+ Click To Enlarge.
Barbell Incline Bench Press.
Video: Windows Media - Real Player

The exercise is not an evil movement just waiting to do harm. When done correctly, the bench press is a safe exercise and helps enhance strength in the chest, shoulders, and arms, the key word being correctly. When it's grossly overtrained or when trainees repeatedly use sloppy technique, injuries occur—but that's the case with any exercise. The lift is not at fault; the lifter is.

Overtrain If You Don't Want To Gain! Overtrain If You Don't Want To Gain!
There are some general rules that I feel should be followed by the drug free bodybuilder in order to avoid overtraining and to optimize gains.
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The reason ugly form shows up so frequently on the bench press is linked to its status as the gauge of strength. Back when the military press held that distinction, the bench press was regarded as an auxiliary exercise and no one paid much attention to how much a person could bench. That's all changed.

It's the one lift used to test athletes in nearly every sport. Quite often, a football player's best bench press is listed right next to his time in the 40-yard dash. That makes the bench press extremely important. A lofty bench might catch the attention of a coach at a Division I college and translate to big bucks.

For the complete story, get the November 2007 issue of Iron Man or visit