Bench press is the king of developing upper body strength, period. It massively builds chest, shoulders and triceps strength and is the one movement which allows you to move more weight with your arms than any other exercise. But what is the role of bench press in functional fitness and does it have a place?
In functional fitness, especially with CrossFit, bench press is often overlooked and underutilised. For many, in fact, bench press does not feature in regular training because there is a perception that bench press does not fall under functional fitness exercises. The truth is that it does and it should be a part of your mixed bag of exercises which you use to get stronger and fitter.
Bench press offers hard active work for the chest, shoulders and arms and isometric work for the forearms. What makes it a great exercise is that it teaches the fundamental skill of pushing large loads and is perfect for building upper extremity strength which will transfer into other more common functional fitness movements, like push-ups, pull-ups and the various presses in weightlifting.
In fact there is a classic CrossFit workout which features bench press; “Linda”, which is as follows:
10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 reps of the triplet (for time):
Deadlift: 1 1/2 body weight
Bench press: body weight
Clean: 3/4 body weight
As with any exercise, form precedes the weight moved and it’s important to show proper bench press technique in order to complete the full range of movement and in order to gain the best results. Additionally, by performing bench press with the proper technique you’ll not only see the best results, but you’ll limit the risk of injury and you’ll get stronger faster.
Bench Press Technique
Use a secure grip, with your thumbs around the bar. A false grip might feel like you can push more weight, but it is riskier, so learn to not use it.
Your grip width should be such that your hands are directly above your elbows when extended at the top; almost right above your shoulders. This grip width is also more applicable for bench press results which are related to athletic purposes.
Keep your wrists straight throughout the press. That means do not cock or twist your wrists, as this will reduce power and there is potential for wrist injuries.
Keep your feet planted wide and push them into the ground, spreading the floor as you push through the bench press; similar to when you squat and spread your feet.
Ensure your shoulders set back into their sockets, with your shoulder blades behind you. Your rear deltoids will be lying flat on the bench.
Bring the weight over the chest, and not above the eyes, at the start.
Do not arch your back at any point during the bench press. Try keeping you back as flat as possible, relaying solely on your chest, shoulders and arms to do the work, with your legs offering support and stabilisation. You’ll likely then have a natural standing posture and that means a small natural arch in the small of your back, which is fine.
When lowering the bar, control it’s pace and try breaking or snapping the bar in two – this ensure external rotation of the shoulders.
Pause for a brief moment at the bottom as the bar changes direction, and then push the bar back upwards, “spreading the bar” with the hands on the way up. This activates the triceps.