Start talking strength and most people will ask “So, whadda ya bench?” Your response should be “What do you Deadlift?” I know it is like I have quota for plugging the Deadlift. But seriously, the Bench Press (BP) has gotten a bad rap over the years due to the push into “functional movement” and “core” exercises. I know the bench itself does much of the core stabilizing work, but there is still a time and a place for the BP. Most people think of the BP as a body building chest exercise, which is a true and sadly incomplete statement. So, what is so great about the BP? Done properly it requires T-spine mobility, scapular stability, tremendous leg drive, and it is super important to build strength and power in the golf swing. Ready for something controversial? According to electromyographical (EMG) studies of the muscles most active into impact, the pec, lat, subscap, and teres minor on the trail side are the most active muscle the last 18 inches into impact (Read: Muscle activity in the golf swing). Hey, those are some of the muscles that I use in the BP. I know what you are thinking, ‘my pro says to pull with the left side and take my right hand out of it.’ Yeah, go for it and throw away all of your power. Sure use that lead hip but the trail hand/arm/shoulder/chest is important in the acceleration phase of the swing. It is your last power booster, and as long as you get your lead hip out of the way you can let that trail side fire hard without fear of scooping/casting. (note that I just said ‘let the trail side fire hard’, not throw your hands at the ball).
This is where strengthening the chest, shoulders, and back come into play with the BP. A BP should begin with a proper setup, where the athlete assumes a squat width stance before s/he sits on the bench. You want your feet connected to the ground so you can drive them into the ground to create more force. After you set them in place you will not move them until you are done with the set. Once on the bench the athlete will create a tight arch in the upper thoracic spine, not by jamming the lumbar spine into extension. The chest should be inflated and the feet should be driving into the floor. If your quads aren’t getting tired you aren’t doing it right. Use your legs.
The first move is pulling the bar to the chest. Notice I didn’t say “lower the bar”. We want to stretch the pushing muscles on the way down like a spring. So, we want to actively pull the bar down to the sternum so we can explode with it on the way up. Breathing? All of your breathing happens at the top. Breathe in at the top, breathe out at the top. Keep your eyes off of the bar, pick a spot on the ceiling and stare at it. Push out some quality reps and never go to failure, we want to put in good motor patterns. Failure is not positive feedback for the brain. This is probably different from what you know as a BP, so quit doing upper-trappy BP with your elbows winged out all over, impinging your biceps tendon. Improperly done BP will destroy your shoulders regardless of how much grip work you do, just like a bad golf swing will eventually wreck your back. For all of you who know a thing or two, I know, I left some things out, but this is not a BP instruction manual, just enough to give you a new appreciation for the BP.
BP isn’t for everyone. Maybe an athlete would have more benefit from the trunk stability required by a pushup for his/her pushing strength. Hands down the BP is the best way to build upper body pushing strength but this is not your green light to make all of your training favor BP. You still need to squat and do hip-hinging movements (that is code for deadlifting and kettlebell swings) Is BP right for you? It could be. We love the overhead pressing movements but sometimes a BP is more appropriate for an individual who currently lacks the mobility to go overhead. Just like any other movement the BP has to be appropriate for the user and when it is, it is a phenomenal way to build upper body strength for golf.