Lynne, Linda, Roney and Justin. What do these 4 names have in common? Are they all going out on a double date? Are they the newest band on the X-Factor? Nope – they’re all benchmark CrossFit WODs which feature bench pressing.
In the year and a half I’ve been doing CrossFit, I’ve managed to avoid doing any bench pressing in WODs, and have benched maybe two or three times during the skill and strength portion of a class. But what’s the big deal? CrossFitters don’t need to bench press, do they?
Actually, benching may be more beneficial for functional athletes than you may think. I chatted to PT and powerlifter Tom Ludley about why benching is important – he also happens to be a firefighter, so knows a thing or two about real life functional fitness…
Why should CrossFitters include benching in their training?
We already know that CrossFit tends to have little chest work programmed, apart from press-ups in high rep ranges. “The addition of bench pressing for strength in various forms (incline, decline, dumbbell) may help a CrossFitters’ athletic performance in a variety of ways”, says Tom.
“Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, it helps with muscular balance. CrossFit features a good amount of upper back work: pull-ups, deadlifts, row variations, etc. Attaining greater balance in the upper body by bench pressing more will help stabilise joints and benefit posture.”
Don’t forget the general physical benefits, too. “Generally a strong chest will equal strong triceps and anterior deltoids. All of these aspects will greatly improve all-round upper body strength and function – doing this will ultimately lead to a stronger and safer lift capacity which will transfer into the other lifts and upper body work.”
How does benching transfer to functional movements?
A common argument is that bench pressing just isn’t a functional movement – after all, you’re laying down and isolating muscles, aren’t you? Tom argues differently: “What we need to consider is that it is a pushing movement, in fact the most important compound pushing movement we make. Whether it may be pushing open a door, lifting yourself off the ground or trying to bump start a car, chest and upper body strength is vital.”
“For crossfit it will help improve explosiveness, upper body stability for all other barbell movements, press up and dip variation strength as well as throwing power and distance. There is also evidence to suggest that a strong well balanced upper body will greatly improve sprint times – you only have to look how jacked 100m sprinters are!”
“All in all I think the functional aspects of good and balanced chest work can really help all athletes, plus the aesthetics of a well-developed chest can’t be ignored!”
What are some common mistakes people make when benching?
Not benching so frequently in a CrossFit programme will mean that your coach’s keen eye won’t have seen you perform this movement much, and you may be making one of these common mistakes.
“Easily the most common mistake all PT’s or coaches will see in the bench press is that people try to go too heavy. Going too heavy in the bench is not only potentially dangerous, but also negates most of the benefits of the movement through loss of form,” says Tom – and I think we can all agree that our egos can sometimes want to go heavier than form allows.
“Easily visible mistakes also include partial range of motion, which goes hand in hand with putting too much weight on the bar. On each rep the bar should touch your chest, if it doesn’t full range of motion hasn’t been achieved and we’re losing the benefit of the exercise. Another is the bum lifting off the bench; again possibly going too heavy, or poor foot placement. The glutes should stay in contact with the bench throughout the movement. Take care of your back, you only get one. Put your feet in the floor, especially if there is a significant weight on the bar – feet on the bench is unstable, unsafe and can compromise the shoulder joint. Not cool.”
What’s the best way to get stronger at benching?
Bearing in mind all the other movements we have to practise in CrossFit, how can we improve our bench press and reap the benefits? “The best way to get a stronger bench is easy. Bench.” (I was afraid he was going to say that, but what other answer would there be?!) “Workouts don’t have to epic in length, but do need to be consistent and progressive. There are a million and one bench programmes out there but in my experience to see decent gains benching twice a week is the minimum.”
“I like to work my programming based on 1RM percentages, worked out over a 12 week cycle broken into 3 parts. This is fairly standard programming, but seems to get results for me. Most powerlifting-based programmes follow a similar format and are designed to add weight to the ‘big 3’ lifts.”
“One major aspect with all the barbell movements is consistency of form – ideally the first rep should be identical to the last. This is certainly true for bench pressing, and once you’ve got your form sorted the movement becomes much easier to grasp. That’s not to say you won’t tweak your form over time but get the basics right and you’ll set off on the right course.”
“CrossFitters can pick and choose which aspects of bench press programming they choose to adopt, and I think it can be added in without taking away from all other work. Even if it’s just the inclusion of 5 sets of 5 twice a week, progress would definitely be made.”
My bench 1RM is a pitiful 40kg – less than half of my squat – so I think it’s about time I heed this advice and added some bro sessions into my training!