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.
- If you have a shoulder injury bench pressing may be painful. Never train in pain
- The scapulae are not allowed to move freely in the bench press so it’s “bad”
- The exercise is often loaded too heavy which results in missed reps and a lack of progress
- Stability is created by the bench and not the user
- 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.