Saturday, January 15, 2011

Push-up vs Bench Press, revisited

For those of you who don't blog, or don't use blogger, they've got this cool feature that tracks all of you. I know how many readers I have, what they're reading, and where they're from... among other things. It's getting kind of addictive, even morphing into a form of cyber-narcissism.

What's kind of interesting to me is my most popular blog entry, going all the way back to 2008: The Push-up vs The Bench Press. The picture I had of things was that the strength training world was pretty much united behind this exercise as the greatest, most awesomest prover of strength. Apparently, there are more cracks in the ol' fresco than I imagined. Is some of the paint flecking off too?

I recall finding that T-Nation article a few years ago that I linked to in the original post. I admit that my mind functions in ways that don't quite allow me to catch onto medical information with haste. My understanding and retention of such intelligence comes from the sheer will to read it over and over again. What I've managed to keep glued in my mind is the problem with the bench press is the bench. The exercise doesn't lend itself well to exercising the muscles on the shoulder blade that rotate the shoulders upward because you're lying on a bench. What too many end up with if they practice lots of benching is winged scapula and shoulder problems.

Now, I fully understand and agree that many, if not most, exercises, if done to excess, can result in other muscle imbalances. What gets me about the bench press is twofold. First, it seems just a little too easy with this exercise. Secondly, I find it just a little fucked up that this exercise can cause the same problems in the shoulders that affects people who sit in front of computers with bad posture or drive truck for a living! In other words, it could cause the same problem that NOT EXERCISING could cause!

I think that a lot of weight trainers, in the back of their minds, know this already. The just ignore it, pretending it's all a part of the, "no pain, no gain" mentality. Some admit it though. For Example...

Jamie Lewis isn't a fan of the Bench Press either...
Jamie: What, you’re not going to express horror at the fact that my program is bereft of the bench press?

MG: No, the dips and shoulder presses would take care of them for a long time.

Jamie: Look at you. I’m proud of you. I have an ongoing argument with a friend over my hatred of incline bp, which he thinks is essential. Meanwhile, his upper chest looks like shit, and his shoulders hurt. I’ve got a decent upper chest, and no shoulder pain, and he just won’t accept the fact that the log press is far better for upper chest development than incline bp, and better for your entire shoulder girdle.

I guess he just likes laying down when he should be lifting.

MG: Well, any shoulder pressing will hit the upper chest to some degree not to mention the dips.

Jamie: Exactly...

And I caught this one a while back from Matthieu Hertilus
But even though I wanted bigger, stronger shoulders, I realized that I needed healthier, more flexible ones even more. I might not have problems now, but given the amount of benching I already admitted to doing, the writing was on the wall...

To top off my severe dislike and almost non-existent desire to do anything resembling a bench press, I find it funny that this became the go-to exercise to build up the chest muscles to begin with. Okay, the aesthetic ideal for the chest comes almost-exclusively from bench pressing. Let's talk function. It's not like it's the ONLY way to build the pecs. Here's a brief run-down of the pectoral-major's actions:

1. Flexion of the humerus, as in throwing a ball side-arm, and in lifting a child
2. Adducts the humerus, as when flapping the arms.
3. It rotates the humerus medially, as occurs when arm-wrestling.
4. Deep inspiration (breathing)

Or, to put it another way...

Do you see where the three planes meet together, at the upper and front of the body? Well, If your arms move in any direction in front, your pec-maj is there to help them. So, with so many different ways of moving, why limit to just one exercise? There are several exercises that can work the chest...

Double Plate Press

Dips with Chains
(a recent favorite of mine)

Face Pulls

I know, I know, you're starting to wonder when I'm going to mention the push-ups. In a way, I'm saving the most obvious, and maybe the best, for last. The push-ups may not give the most currently-aesthetically pleasing chest but they might be the overall best for balanced chest development that you can get into one exercise. No, I'm not going to say that it's the cure-all but I think it's closer than any other exercise that I've named. The descent down to the ground (when done right, no dropping. CONTROLLED!) give some good work to those muscles that don't get worked with the bench there. Of course, the ascent is awesome for the pec-major.

I know that a lot of you are well past the point of using the plain-vanilla push-up and need something else to make the push-up harder. So, if you're regular readers, then you also know that I've covered how to make the push-up harder many, many times in the past three and a half years. A couple of ideas...

Try 5 of those, with each arm
Whoa, even I haven't done that with the Perfect Push-up!

I'm not going to lie and say that with the right exercises to balance it out, bench pressing couldn't be done without any long term problems. Upper body pushing and pulling work will help out in that respect. It's entirely possible that people can, and they do, bench press without shoulder issues. Like I said earlier, on it's own, I think it sucks worse than a lot of other exercises because it's so incomplete on it's own. If it's that incomplete, then I also find it's popularity so completely asinine. I recall a conversation I had with a friend who told me that in his father's time (who is in his mid 80's) the standard measure of a man's strength with a barbell was the military press I like that idea.

But I'm a bodyweight guy, remember? I like push-ups better.


Paul said...

I injured my shoulder doing incline dumbbell presses on March 5, 2010 and I'm still recovering. Just started to do pushups 2 weeks ago but it's difficult. Been able to continue doing headstand pushups, military presses and dips this past year, but any regular pushups or lifting of the arms in front of me cause severe shoulder pain. It's only now starting to heal. Imagine not being able to lift your arms to the front. It's a very common move in daily life. Even driving used to hurt.

Needless to say, I will never do anything with a bench again.

Chip said...

The variety of force development, mobility or mechanical options for a pushup easily make it an overall groovier exercise than benching. If powerlifting were switched to squat, dead and overhead press, I'd be a happy camper!

On an unrelated note, my 'word verification' for this comment post is "flumily." Maybe street vernacular for a clumsy family?

Justin_PS said...

Yeah, Chip. Putting the overhead press would be more...




Ouch, Paul! Take care of yourself and it's good to see that you didn't throw your arms up in the air (well, not in a quitting motion, anyway). I'm glad that you're able to work around while healing up.

Take care.

Christopher said...

Hey Justin I know your the guy I need to ask about this .. How did you go about installing rings or those towels into the ceiling? I'm asking because I must get my chin up fix lol as a bw guy I'm sure you understand. Thanks brother

Justin_PS said...

Hey Chris,

You need to get a hold of a stud finder, a thick lag hook, and a drill with a bit smaller in diameter than the lag portion of the hook. That's very important!

Start out by using the finder to locate the studs in the ceiling. Find the center of the stud and mark it with a pencil.

Next, drill the hole in the center of the stud roughly the same depth as the lag portion of the hook. If you use a drill bit the same diameter as the lag, it won't have any wood to grab to... and you'll pull the hook out of the ceiling.

Now, screw the hook into the ceiling. This will get very hard and you may want to grab a thick screwdriver or some sort of hard rod to use as a handle to get the hook all the way in.

One hook should support about 180 lbs without bending. Anything more than 200 lbs and it may bend the hook. In which case, you'll need to put up two, one for each hand.

For training purposes, it's a good idea to sink several so you can vary the hand placement for pull-ups and chin-ups. If you use a suspension rig, then you'll need some anchor points that are extra-wide for when you do your push-ups, dips and flies.

If you don't understand any of the terms that I just used (lag, stud finder, stud, etc) then I don't recommend that you do this yourself.