The Death of the Bench Press (And What to do Instead)

This title isn't a joke.  A form of click bait, yes.  But a joke?  No.

You're skeptical.  I get that.  How could a meathead like myself throw in the towel on benching?  

But this isn't an overreaction to headlines that NFL teams are adopting Turkish Get-Ups instead of bench presses. And if someone's stated goal is to bench more weight, well guess what?  We're going to bench.  

But if someone's goal is to move better and feel better?  Forgive me, Lord Schwarzenneger, but we probably won't bench. Ever.

That's because most people have at least one or more of the following:

  1. Poor shoulder mechanics
  2. Bad benching habits
  3. An overinflated, extended thorax.  Or as Mike Robertson likes to call these people, "the extended bro."

Bench pressing will only create more problems down the road for these individuals.  So instead of benching, we're going to get more for our investment if we choose something like push-ups, get-ups, or crawling.  Here's why:

1. You Need to Reach.

While many of us aren't as extended as Marky Mark, we're usually plagued by a flat upper back or thoracic spine.  Contrary to what you may think, having a flat upper back isn't good posture - it's somewhat of a problem.

The last thing an extended bro like Marky Mark needs.... is more bench press.

The last thing an extended bro like Marky Mark needs.... is more bench press.

Our scapulas control our shoulders and are curved pieces of bone.  When you have a curved surface (shoulder blades) sitting on a flat one (upper back), a variety of issues can develop: "winging" scapulas, people that can't turn off their backs, and hardcore belly breathers.  Throwing our backs on a bench, pressing our shoulder blades together, and pressing weight is only going to make things worse.

Instead, we need to reach.

By incorporating a reach into exercises like push-ups or crawling, we get a ton of benefits. For one, you restore the natural curvature of your upper back, fixing those "winging" scapulas. And once you have stable scapulas, all of your pressing and pulling will be that much more effective.

Taking that a step further, if we can add an inhale after we reach, that's when the real magic happens. We'll be relaxing our backs, opening up our posterior mediastinum, and turning off the systemic extension pattern that plagues many of us.  In other words, you'll finally be able to loosen those tight quads and calves without much stretching, while also getting you stronger.  That's what I call "the holy grail."

Here's a short video on how to incorporate reaching and breathing into your standard push-up.

As you'll see, I'm doing a full exhale before I do my push-up with an emphasis on reaching.  The reach is just like the letter "B" in subtle, as we don't want to resemble Quasimodo.  When I reset into the down dog, I'm inhaling and reaching, trying to fill up my upper back with as much as air as possible.  It looks a bit like yoga, but I'll use anything that gets people strong and moving better.

2. Increase Your Movement Efficiency.

Back when I was a newly minted personal trainer, I thought some form of pressing was needed in everyone's program.  If someone was already strong, let's throw them on a bench press!  If they weren't, let's learn the floor press!  And you know what?  A few of my clients actually improved their preexisting shoulder issues.

But it was only because I fumbled my way there.



Nowadays, I'm much more successful with improving people's shoulders, back pain, and a variety of issues.  Why?  I've placed a premium on restoring flexion and rotation in someone's thorax - the exact opposite of what we get in a bench press.

Breathing, reaching, crawling, and push-ups will cure many mobility, stability or impingement issues.  It places us in a more flexed position, while allowing our ribs to move.  And if we can move our ribs, we'll have an easier time moving our limbs.

3. Push-ups and Get-ups Offer More Carryover.

Bench pressing gets people strong.  I'm not arguing that.  But how much does bench pressing translate into simulating our daily movements?  Or getting us more athletic? Not much.

I'd argue that push-ups and get-ups better simulate the position, movements and strength we need in everyday life. There have been multiple reports about how desk jobs have apparently weakened the male species, and the inability to stand without assistance is highly correlated with mortality.  The better we can simulate everyday movements and maintain or build our athleticism, the better off we are.

Again, if someone's goal is to bench 300 pounds, we're going to bench press.  But we're also going to reach, breathe, and rotate in order to undo all of the negative effects benching can have on our bodies.

Sorry, Lord Schwarzenneger.