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November 23, 2016

Bench Press: King or Pretender?

bench press

The Barbell Bench Press. It has been called the “King of all Chest Exercises.” But is it really?

For lots of guys, the barbell bench press is the ultimate lift. “How much can you bench?” is a question countless young men have asked one another. It’s also a lift the NFL uses (225 lbs X ?) to gauge how strong a potential player is. And if you’re a Powerlifter, you don’t even want to hear any argument against the king of all lifts.

As a measure of raw strength, the barbell bench press is hard to beat. You probably won’t hear many people asking “how much do you use on the Pec Deck?” But if we’re looking at moves to develop the chest, just where should the venerable bench rank?

Well, sorry there’s a bit of controversy today. According to many experts, the bench ranks way down the list. They will tout instead moves that have a better range of motion and path, like: Dumbbell bench presses at varying angles (incline, decline, etc.), Cable Crossovers at varying angles and the Pec Dec.

Of course, you will find still others who insist the barbell bench press remains the undisputed king. Muscle & Strength, long-time strength training publication, still ranks this lift #1 in chest development, as do others.

smithmachinebenchpressOne thing that is probably for certain — there is no single movement that is perfect. You should do a variety of chest exercises (dumbbell moves, flyes, crossovers) to fully develop your chest.

The benchpress puts a lot of stress and strain on other muscles, as well. Ask guys my age if their shoulders hurt from benching. You’ll get an earful. The bench also hits your delts, triceps and lats, as well.

In the video below, I’m benching 610 pounds x 2 (590 on the bar, plus 20 for the bar itself). It’s back in 2012, just before my shoulders went on strike. The machine is a Powertec Workbench. It’s a leverage machine so it’s not embraced by powerlifting purists for official lifts. But if you’re working out alone in your basement, nothing beats the workbench. Built in safety spot and a great ‘real weights’ feel. There’s no bar to bounce off your chest or drop on you.

Brian Patterson bench pressing 610 pounds

I used to love heavy benching. I looked forward to it. Frankly, it was more about my ego than muscular development. I was doing the other exercises to more fully develop muscle. I let myself get to a point with the bench, where it was all about hitting a new Personal Record.

That’s great when you’re a younger person, but by my mid-50’s, my body just couldn’t take that kind of pounding any longer. My shoulders in particular were a sore spot. Today, I still bench, but I use lighter weights for higher reps and I no longer try for PR lifts in the bench or anything else.

If you really want to see where you stack up with your bench press, has a nifty calculator that will tell you. There is one for men and one for women. You input your weight, and it tells you, at varying experience levels, how much you should be able to lift.

As always, please add your comments or questions below. I’ll get back to all. You can also drop me a line at

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