I think the bench press is stupid and outdated. I don't think it's essential for the average person. In fact, outside of a sport such as power lifting or maybe bodybuilding, I think everyone could get away with ever having to perform the bench press.
The Bench Press Is Dangerous
Come on, do I really have to describe why loading a bar full of heavy ass weights, then laying down under that bar and lowering it down towards your chest/neck is stupid or dangerous? There's a reason why when you bench you need spotters, or bars on either side, to guard you from having your ribs or trachea crushed if you fail out on a rep. From a danger stand point, the bench press is dumb.
The Bench Press Is Unnatural
The bench press is an unnatural movement. Most of the time when we're in a position to push or press something, we're standing. Not laying down on a bench. We push to open doors, move shopping carts, shove heavy objects or even people. Even throwing punches could be considered a "pushing" type movement.
When we push things from a standing position, it challenges our fascial slings, hips, and core musculature in a way that laying on a bench just does not. That is, as long as your back isn't up against a wall while you're performing your standing push exercises.
Just because you can bench press 300+ pounds doesn't mean that you wont feel weak or fall apart kinetically while performing a standing, single arm, cable push. Actually, most people who don't train their pushing from a standing position, and only train forms of bench press, are surprised at how weak they feel during standing push exercises.
Any time that I've taken a client, who only performs bench presses, and worked with them on standing cable or resistance band presses, they fall apart and compensate in order to perform the movement. That's not good from both a mechanical and athletic stand point.
If you want to train your push more effectively I would suggest any of the following exercises
- Standing cable or resistance band pushes (single arm, both arms, one leg, staggered stance etc.)
- Push ups
- Sled pushes
- Med ball pushes/throw variations
So You Like Push Ups But NOT Bench Press? What Gives?
While the push up isn't as effective at replicating natural pushing mechanics as standing cable pushes, it's still leaps and bounds better than the bench press.
The core is worked harder during the push up as the spine isn't being supported by the bench. The core needs to fire during pushing movements in order to protect us and improve the strength behind the movement.
The hands are also not forced into a fixed position during push ups, as they are with the bench press. When you bench press, you're forced to hold onto a straight bar. This puts your hands and shoulders into a fixed position. This position isn't right for everyone and locking someone into that position might lead to injury. Shoulder injuries during bench press are common, even while using exceptional form. The push up allows for a little more freedom in hand placement due to the fact that you're not forced to hold onto a bar. This allows the trainee to find the right position for them, that's safe, and feels comfortable for their unique body type.
Traditional Bench Press Doesn't Have Much Carry Over
People have evolved over millions of years to stand, walk, and run on two feet as a priority. These actions are facilitated by our fascial slings. Our fascial slings work by oscillating to move our bodies forward or backward. When one sling shortens, the opposing sling lengthens, and a whole series of muscles from our upper body, core, and legs activate - working as a team.
If we're looking for greater carry over, from an exercise, to our every day lives and athletics we must use movements that train the slings in ways they were designed to move - from a standing position and oscillating. The bench press doesn't train the slings in this manner.
By laying on a bench, we disconnect the core from needing to fully engage. By pressing with both arms at the same time we're not using the slings in oscillation. By not standing up during the exercise, we're not performing the push from the position we find ourselves in most of the time. The bench press doesn't train your body to perform the way it was designed to perform through evolution.
One example of an exercise that does train the slings effectively, in a manner that resembles natural movement is the standing, single arm, staggered stance, cable press. In both looks, and function, this exercise will help replicate the demands placed on the body during not only standing pushing, but also movements such as ...
- Pushing/ shoving
... and more. If you're goal is to move better in life and athletics, while improving your functional pushing mechanics/strength, the bench press might not be your best option.
Should You Bench Press?
I'm not your mother, I can't tell you want to do. If you like bench pressing, go ahead. If you're a power lifter, you're going to need to bench.
But, in my opinion, if you're the average person you don't need to bench press - and you're probably better off if you avoid it. There are better ways to train your push. Ways that are safer, have greater carry over to everyday life/athletics, and respect evolution. Don't be surprised if in the upcoming months, you see more and more coaches/trainers removing the bench press from their programming.
It takes time for things to change and become "the norm", but I do believe the bench press is on it's way to becoming "benched" as an exercise for the everyday person.