Tag Archives: Bench press

Why golfers still need the bench press

Today’s post is a guest post from Bobby Dattero. Bobby is Co-Owner and Sports Performance Coach at Evolution Sports Performance in Easton, MA, USA. He holds a Master’s degree in strength and conditioning, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and TPI certified. You can catch more of him at his blog or on twitter.

The fitness industry is often guilty of very all or nothing thinking, this leads to different people in the industry often stating seemingly completely contradictory or opposing things, this I’m sure can be really confusing and a little disconcerting.

But why does this happen?

Training is not black and white. As Dan John is a fan of saying “everything works until it doesn’t”. There is no such thing as a bad exercise only a bad fit for that particular person at that particular time.

Training for golf is no different. You can get conflicting opinions on methods or programs. Some of this also stems from controversial headlines used to grab a reader’s attention (which hopefully this did).

Unfortunately, this is the way things go. It is much easier to write an article that asks you to “throw out your bench press” than it is to say that “all upper body exercises are pretty much OK to do unless you have an individual reason not to.” There is nothing that’s going to grab your attention with that second example.

This is why it is essential to look at the whole picture and when designing fitness programs and making choices regarding exercise selection.

So, let’s get to that old staple of the weight room,  the bench press. There are a few reasons why someone might not want to bench press.

  1. If you have a shoulder injury bench pressing may be painful. Never train in pain
  2. The scapulae are not allowed to move freely in the bench press so it’s “bad”
  3. The exercise is often loaded too heavy which results in missed reps and a lack of progress
  4. Stability is created by the bench and not the user
  5. Some gyms are small and cannot fit racks and bench presses in them

With the exception of point 1, I don’t buy into these reasons. If someone has a physical reason why the bench press is not a good fit for them, I have no problem eliminating it from their program.

A combination of points 2 to 4 is oftentimes rephrased with regards golf fitness as “golf is played on our feet so we should train on our feet, its functional.” This is has lead to exercises like the cable press gaining huge popularity amongst golfers. Now, someone can work their pushing strength while on their feet.

The body needs a variety of stimuli to adapt and develop all the facets of fitness required to play the game of golf. The bench press can be one of the best means to build upper body strength and, well, the cable press isn’t perfect either.

“When appropriately programmed and loaded the bench press is one of the best exercises for developing upper body strength”

The Bench Press can be Progressively Overloaded

Progressive overload is a term used to mean that over time we must continually add stress to the body in order to adapt to training. If the training load never increases then progress will cease. Training load includes sets, reps, and weight.

The bench press’s best advantage is that it can be loaded extremely well. We get to use both hands to push against the bar and the bench provides support for us. It basically isolates pushing.

A cable press is limited by stability. You can only load the cable press as much as you can avoid being pulled back by it. This makes progressive overload a challenge.

Take myself for example. I weigh 68kg/150lbs. It is really hard for me to hold the cable resistance in place without getting controlled by the machine. The press is not as hard as getting in position for the movement. A standard bench press is only limited by how strong I am. It will be easier to gain strength with a bench press than a cable press.

Forgive me because I do not have a research study handy, but strong people usually have a good bench press. That means something. If you want to be strong, it isn’t wise to completely disregard its use.

As I’m sure you’re aware Rory McIlroy has added some significant muscle and strength to his golf game in recent years and the bench press has seemingly been a part of a what is doubtless and balanced program of pressing variations to help him get there

Bench Press and Shoulder Health

The bench press can expose shoulder issues and its disproportionate use can potentially cause them. If that is your main concern then you need to really take a look at the risk of the golf swing on the body. More shoulders are beat up because of the golf swing and daily life than through bench pressing and this article is not getting into backs, knees, and hips.

There are steps we can take to protect our shoulders for improved performance and long term health.

  • Monitor Volume – Volume can be problematic for joint health. I would like to see most golfers keep their bench press reps at 6 or less. We can get our volume elsewhere.
  • Add Pushups – Pushups allow the scapulae to move freely. This helps train rotator cuff health while improving push strength and core stability
  • Use the Cable Press – Just because the cable press has limitations does not mean to stop using it. Again, the scapulae move freely and we train core stability with the movement. It’s a win win.
  • Use DB’s and Neutral Grips – A neutral grip is more shoulder friendly than a pronated grip. Use that with DB’s or specialty bars to spare the shoulders.
  • Incorporate Posterior Shoulder Work – Add a lot of Y’s, T’s, external rotations, and breakaways to train the shoulder stabilizers. High reps/volume works well here.
  • Row/ Pull double: If you do 3 pushes in your program, try to have 6 pulls. This will give the shoulder and upper back the kind of strength it needs to fend off cranky shoulders.

I do not want to make this argument to make the cable press seem bad, because it is not. It should be in most programs. The core stability developed and pushing strength is definitely going to complement your training.

When appropriately programmed and loaded the bench press is one of the best exercises for developing upper body strength. Continue to use it if you want to hit the ball further and shoot lower scores.


Four random golf fitness thoughts

Here are four tips to help your strength and conditioning programs, and help you play better golf:

1. Self myofascial release (SMR) can make you swing better.

Golf may not be a fast moving, full contact sport, but it is certainly repetitive and dynamic. When muscles and tendons are put through repetitive motions (often that are ineffective or technically poor) over-use injury and soft tissue damage is, to varying degrees, bound to occur.

These issues can affect movement as it reduces tissue quality, even causing scar tissue build up, reduced range of motion and loss of strength. Nervous pain and tendonitis, can also result, as a shortening muscle places tension on surrounding tendons. It is obvious that any of these conditions will affect your golf swing, and if left untreated over the long term cause injury.

SMR works to improve the quality of the muscle fascia, restoring movement to the muscle, and balancing tension around the joint, alleviating these possible issues. Take a look at these videos from Eric Cressey and Jeff Alexander below to see how its done:

2. Reducted movement assessments can offer all the benefits of the full screening, in a more time efficient manner.

In this post earlier in the week I discussed the importance of screening to identify the physical limitations, limiting your ability to make a powerful, efficient golf swing.fms-overhead-squat

Recent research on the functional movement screen (FMS) has found that a reduced model of just four exercises, in this case the in-line lunge (ILL), hurdle step (HS), trunk stability press-up (TSPU), and active straight leg raise (ASLR) explained 82% of the variance in the full 12 exercise FMS. This means with just 1/3 of the exercises we can predict 80% of the results.

We here at Stronger Golf only really use 5 screening to identify most everyones short comings relating to mobility in the golf swing; namely the overhead squat, wall touch test, shoulder external rotation test, seated trunk rotation and single-leg glute bridge iso hold. Not only does this save valuable time, but it allows us to more quickly identify imbalances and conduct further appropriate screenings on that area.

3. The bench press and your golf game.

The rationale usually goes like this, “golfers shouldn’t bench press because it’s not sport specific.” However, I’d like to take exception. In reality no exercise is truly sport specific. We make the physical attributes gained in the weight room specific by playing golf and learning how to transfer these attributes to the course. Don’t get me wrong, certain exercises are more productive than others. Remember that it is impossible to duplicate the speed, intensity and technique of the golf swing in the weight room, and it’s something that golfers shouldn’t try to do.

The bottom line is that the bench press is a great, multi joint, free-weight exercise for developing strength in the chest, triceps and shoulders. And there’s nothing wrong with that! The chest, back and triceps musculature have been shown by Dr. Sergio Marta in multiple studies to be the most important muscles in the upper body for the golf swing.

I’m not saying that the bench press is the most important exercise for golfers, but it can and should be incorporated into the training programs of most golfers.

4. Band resisted training for power.

Bands enable athletes to be able to train power more aggressively, and more frequently.

This is because they lower landing stress on horizontal and lateral jumping exercises. As an example, ‘athlete A’ does 3 sets of 5 broad jumps, then lets us know how his shins feel 36-48 hours later. The soreness level is usually pretty high. ‘Athlete B’ does the same volume but with a band around the waist and secured at the other end to something sturdy, like a power rack. Utilising this protocol, I bet athlete B has dramatically less soreness in the post training period. This is due to athlete B being exposed to less ground reaction force. Put simply, you go up but you don’t come down as much – much like a box jump.

Additionally, the dangers of jumping and the large forces it creates when carrying excess bodyweight are well documented, this reduction in ground reaction force could also be useful in allowing heavier individuals to training power.

Focus on your weaknesses, not your strengths when it comes to the gym.

How many times have you seen something similar to this in your local gym; the guy who is to tight to squat properly drops squatting from his programming all together (usually replacing it with more sets of bench press). Conversely, the hyper mobile woman taking another yoga class instead of hitting the free weights, and becoming yet more flexible.

“Just because you like doing it – doesn’t mean its good for you”

Dr Greg Rose, Titleist Performance Institute.

Chances are the girl taking the yoga class already possess adequate joint mobility to perform the golf swing. However (like most women actually) stability and strength are likely limited, indeed a lack of strength and stability are likely to be the limiting factors to golf performance. For this individual improving in these areas will have a much a greater effect on performance than further increasing flexibility. Similarly the strong, tight guy has plenty enough strength, stability and power but lacks the mobility to fully exploit this within the range of motion of the golf swing. A yoga class or two, some pilates, or introducing some dedicated mobilisation work is likely to do a lot more for this individual than adding another 10kg to his bench press PR.

The moral of the story is, honestly determine your strengths and weaknesses are (or better yet have a qualified professional do it for you!) and then attack them in the gym. Don’t just perform exercises that you are good at or that you like, they are probably the last ones your body really needs!