Sunday, January 6, 2013

How Much Ya Bench?

Has anyone ever seen that skit with Chris Farley from Saturday Night Live? How Much Ya Bench? - It was hilarious. That use to be the question of the day back in my younger, "weight lifting" days. I guess a better question today would be: "Who cares?"

If you love to bench press, I will go ahead and apologize now. I am sorry. What I am about to discuss will not thrill you. The bench press, while it may pack people into gyms and I'm sure it still helps sell health club memberships, is a relatively useless exercise. The granddaddy of all weight lifting exercises, the ultimate quest for every teenage boy and all would be puffed up chest wielding men, has very little life enhancing qualities. Unless having a big chest does enhance your life - and in truth it can, although it is a superficial enhancement.

What I mean by this is that the bench press is good for making a big chest, putting on mass, and getting you noticed by the public. It can improve your confidence and self esteem - if you place your value on how big you look or how much weight you can press. So there is merit there. But as far as real-world life enhancing abilities, the bench press is lacking. It will not improve your overall ability, performance, or resiliency like the simple pushup can.

What? Yes, the pushup is a "better" exercise when it comes to improving the quality of your life. Remember, I believe that "life" encompasses being able to move well and being able to conquer your golden years with vitality. The pushup does this. It is a great life skill to possess. If nothing else, the pushup will teach you how to get up off the ground should you ever find yourself there. Not only that, the pushup helps tie your whole body together, it helps strengthen your center. It is very arguable if the bench press does this. Yes, if performed properly, the bench press is a whole body exercise - connecting the feet up through the hands, but very few people actually bench press properly. 

Anyway, the pushup can help prepare you for life. It connects you. Done properly and progressively, the pushup can prepare you to move, to push, heavy obstacles without getting injured. The bench press can leave you lacking here. I've seen plenty of big chested "pressers" who did not have the core strength to do a solid pushup. That is a travesty. These same "pressers" would not even be able to push a car up a driveway as well as a man who could do a solid pushup. Think about it - no where else in life will you find yourself braced with your back against something so you can push heavy loads. But, you will find yourself having to push something, and you will want your center strong enough to handle the force you will need to generate. The simple, lowly pushup offers this.

Pushups also build good physiques - real physiques. They can be made more challenging too with different hand positions, foot positions, one arm, one leg, one arm and one leg, etc... Pushups can build a powerful, life capable, body.
They wont add size to you like bench pressing will, but who wants a big chest today, and droopy boobs tomorrow? Just kidding. But think about it anyway!

I'm not saying you should never bench press. It has it's benefits. I just think you should really consider the wonders of the pushup - especially if you want to enjoy your life with strength and vitality when you are 96 years old. No one will ever care how much weight you could press "back in the day", you won't either. There will be a day when being able to bounce up off the floor without help will bring more joy than a big bench press ever could. 


Ondřej Tureček said...

While pushup has benefits in terms of skill, I believe that a balanced full-body workout that does include bench press and doesn't include pushups can prepare you for anything in life, and the skills you need, you'll learn out of the gym.

Ondřej Tureček said...

Balanced full body workout could include bench and miss pushup and it could still prepare you for everyday's life, while the specific skills are learned out of the gym anyway. I don't include pushup because progression is more complex than with other exercises I do - with dumbbells.

Tim Anderson said...


I agree with you. The bench press can be part of a balanced full-body training system that can prepare the body for anything life throws at it. And yes, you can learn the skills you need for life outside of the gym. At least, if you are living, you will learn skills outside of the gym. However, not everyone will actually go outside of the gym to try to engage life. Many people use the gym as their jungle, and rarely stray far from the chair. Also, many gym goers try to add strength on top of a faulty foundation that is not well prepared for what they are doing in the gym. I've seen many bench pressers who had no core stability and couldn't even do a good pushup.

I really have nothing against the bench press. It used to be my favorite thing to do.

Thank you so much for reading and contributing to my post!


Jim Mara said...

Tim, I love your post! I used to love the bench press and realized it did nothing to enhance athleticism or functional strength. Look at the example of a gymnast. They never touch weights and are pound for pound among the strongest people on the planet! Life is about movement and using our whole body to move and perform exercises. That's why I feel bodyweight and kettlebell training are among the most functional ways to develop functional strength that can be carried over to any sport or activity of daily living. On a side note I did backward crawls up a fairly steep hill and was amazed at how my core and shoulders were burning! Not to mention the increased heart rate. Great movement.

Tim Anderson said...

I am with you. Several years ago I started thinking about the statue of David tha Michaelangello carved. There were no gyms back then, that I konw of, yet I know people were walking around looking like that sculpture. Anyway, I too believe bodyweight exercises offer treasure that few people will find.

Yes! Backwards spider-man crawling up a hill is brutal! It will make you just as strong as you ever want to be!

Thanks for contributing!

davor said...

Dear Tim,
I've been practicing crawling and rolling on and off for a while,but since hoovering up information from this blog over the last week or so,I intend to start training in earnest again.
If I could do body weight exercises like push ups,pull ups,squats I'd be over the moon. If I could take it to the point of doing more advanced versions (1arm,1leg) it would be living a dream.
Being detrained,I plan to start with very rudimentary moves(crawling,rolling,NGU,planks,lunges) while enjoying some outdoor movement too.
I do plan on adding some weighted carries,as I feel life places such demands day to day (shopping bags full of the right foods aren't light).
Those men of yore probably never lost their original foundation strength since the only tablets they were fiddling with weighed about 5kg and required a hammer and chisel for each tweet.
The fitness info out there at the moment is really great,with a lot of it very bodyweight orientated. I'm looking forward to really focusing on crawling though,to see if it's a shortcut to get me where I want to be.

Tim Anderson said...


Thank you so much for reading! I think you have a solid plan. I can't wait to hear your experiences and results. Please keep me posted.

I love your comments about Tweeting, btw. Funny cause it's true!