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If you believe the hype and everyone in the gym on Monday’s, the bench press is the king of all pressing exercises. Well, I’m here to give you a different perspective.
The bench press is a great exercise if you know the proper form, you have good posture and are working with minimal dysfunction. But, if you have a slouched upper body (kyphotic) posture, shoulder issues or poor technique, you could be adding to the problem and your potential for injury.
Better choices could be push-ups, neutral grip dumbbell military press, dumbbell floor press or various dynamic stabilization movements challenging the humerus in different positions (example: bamboo bar).
Push-ups can be modified in an infinite number of ways and you are only really limited by your imagination. Truth be told, if trainers would implement more push-ups instead of the bench press, their athletes improve their pressing technique and function. One variation that we like to do, was highlighted in our last EXTREME DVD – band resisted ring push-ups with the feet elevated.
Progression is the key to development and nothing says progression for push-ups like this exercise. It has everything. The feet elevation and the usage of rings means the core stabilization factor is increased and the band resistance adds the final overload to the movement. Focus on keeping neutral with the torso (which will be a big challenge once fatigue sets in), keep the upper back tight and drive fully through to lockout.
Floor presses are a great way to limit the range of motion of a bench pressing movement when there are shoulder issues or you are trying to target and build the triceps. In my experience however, many athletes have trouble reversing the movement without banging their elbows on the ground. Also, when low back pain is present, creating stability on the floor can sometimes stress the back more during the drive phase.
Foam pressing is one alternative to floor pressing and it provides many of the same benefits. Another variation that we like to use is the floor press while on the bench press. I know this sound kind of strange and hard to picture, but stick with me. By setting up two flat benches next to the main bench, you can create a floor press situation. This not only allows you to focus on the triceps and limits the range of motion, it also allows the lifter to setup better in a more optimal position, i.e., as if they are performing a standard bench press. This is much easier to perform and has less potential for elbows issues during the reverse of the press. It can also serve as a transitional exercise for the conventional floor press movement, to teach competency in the lift.
As a side note, if you are using this setup because your athlete has back issues, you can further lessen back strain by raising their feet up onto 45 lb plates.
Jim Smith is a highly respected, world-renowned strength and conditioning coach. A member of the LIVESTRONG.com Fitness Advisory Board, Jim has been called one of the most “innovative strength coaches” in the fitness industry. Training athletes, fitness enthusiasts and weekend warriors, Jim has dedicated himself to helping them reach “beyond their potential.” He is also the owner of Diesel Strength & Conditioning in Elmira, NY.