What to do if you (really, really) hate the bench press

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It’s the most popular exercise done in every gym around the world. In fact, the first question most of us get asked when people discover that we train is:

“So, what do you bench?”

The bench press is such an accepted, even venerated, compound gym movement that if you go through your chest workout and don’t spend time on the bench, you’re likely to get called out for it.

Yet, a lot of guys don’t find the bench press very much fun – in fact, they actually detest the exercise.

Are you one of them?

Welcome to the club! In this article, we investigate why people hate the bench press and what can be to get past those negative feelings.


Why do people hate bench pressing?

If you hate the bench press, you’re not crazy.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to avoid this exercise. Here are just a few:

Intimidation

The very fact that everyone does it is a major reason why so many people have an aversion to it.

The bench press has, rightly or wrongly, become the measuring line for upper body strength and, by extension, manliness.

There’s an expectation that you will be able to put up a certain number — like a 225 bench, for example.

When you walk into the gym and see other guys benching two, three or four 45 pound plates on each side of the bar, it can become extremely intimidating.

Even if others aren’t looking on and judging you, you are convinced that they are. This enough to make anyone want to turn and run.

Fear of Failure

Another reason why people hate the bench press is because of the sense of fear that they are about to get stuck under the weight.

Getting trapped with what, to you, is a massive weight pushing down on your ribcage with no chance of getting it back up is a nightmarish prospect, especially when there’s a gym-ful of people looking on.

People get injured and can even die when heavy weights fall on them.

With a few safety precautions, that shouldn’t happen to you — but doing the “roll of shame” to get out from under a loaded bar can be pretty embarrassing.

Plateau

A third reason that a lot of guys detest the bench is that they get stuck on a plateau.

They might make some initial progress but then the weight increments come to a sudden halt.

No matter what they do, they simply cannot make any forward progress. That becomes extremely frustrating, and a lack of progress is absolutely brutal for your workout motivation.

Injury

If you have lower back injuries or suffer from a shoulder impingement, then you will find it particularly uncomfortable to do the barbell bench press.

Even worse, if you suffered a previous pec or shoulder injury from bench pressing, you may be a little shy to get back under the bar again.

No Chest Activation

A final reason that many people have actually given up on the bench press is that they do not feel it in the chest.

What has been promoted as the ultimate chest developer, seems to hit them only in the front deltoids.

The next day, their shoulders and not their chest is sore. As a result, they are not able to build any decent mass on their chest.


Is Benching Necessary for Strength & Muscle Development?

The question of whether the bench press is necessary for strength and muscle development are two entirely different issues.

Let’s take a look at them separately.

Benching for Strength

When it comes to strength development, the barbell bench press is considered to be the king of upper body movements (with the squat being the lower body equivalent).

The bench is a compound movement that teaches you to coordinate your chest, shoulders, arms, core and legs in order to produce the maximum amount of strength force to push the weight off your chest.

The bench press will develop the individual strength of all of the muscles that are involved in the movement. In addition, it will enhance your pushing power.

It is largely responsible for the ability of professional football and basketball players to push other guys around during game time!

You can be assured that every pro athlete who plays a contact sport spends plenty of time under the bench.

With that said, however, the bench press is not essential for strength development.

Here’s what Dave Schenk, co-CEO of LIFT Society, has to say about the bench press as a strength exercise:

“The bench press… is not absolutely necessary for strength training.

“As long as you are doing some of the other big compound lifts like the squat, deadlift and military press then you could theoretically replace the bench press with other pushing exercises that target similar muscle groups and you will continue to grow stronger.”

So, yes, the bench is great for building upper body power but it’s hardly a requirement.


Benching for Muscle

This may come as a bit of a surprise, but:

The bench press is not the best choice for building chest muscle.

Yes, you heard that right!

When you use a barbell on the bench press you restrict full range of motion. Your upper arm (humerus) can only come down to the point where the bar touches your chest. This is far short of full pectoral contraction.

Another problem with the bench press is that your hands are stuck in position about three feet apart from each other. This prevents you from bringing your hands together at the midline of the body.

This prevents the chest from completing a full range of motion at the top end of the exercise.

The bar path in the flat barbell bench press encourages the front deltoids to take over in the exercise. That’s why your front delts and not your chest feel sore after a workout!

For these reasons, a lot of trainers recommend the dumbbell bench press as a superior muscle builder to the barbell bench.

But at the end of the day, if muscle and hypertrophy are your main goals, you may not need to bench at all.


What to Do if you Hate Benching

With a better understanding of why so many people hate the bench press, and whether it’s actually necessary for your goals, we can tackle that fear or hatred head on.

Here are some things to try if you don’t enjoy bench pressing as much as your fellow lifters:

Figure Out Your Purpose

The first thing you need to do if you hate the bench press is to figure out what is the reason that you are doing the exercise.

Is it for strength development or muscle development?

If the answer is strength development, then you need to follow the hacks that follow to help you get beyond your hatred of the movement.

If, however, you are doing the barbell bench press to build your chest muscles, then you have plenty of options to replace it.

Rotate through other pushing chest movements like:

  • The cable bench press
  • Dumbbell bench press
  • Landmine press
  • Dumbbell chest flys
  • And more

Together, these will be plenty to grow your chest — and you may see better gains that you did when you were benching.

Stop Comparing Yourself

Gym bros love to brag about their bench numbers, but if you dislike benching you need to avoid this chatter at all costs.

The only reason you should go to the gym is to improve yourself. That means competing only against yourself and your own past performance — not worrying about what the guy next to you is lifting.

That requires that you develop the mental strength not to care about what anyone else is doing, or what they’re thinking.

Do not compare yourself with others when you are working out. The weight that you are able to lift does not define you or prove your worth.

It’s just an exercise – don’t give it too much weight!

Ensure Safety

Bench pressing success starts with thinking of safety first.

This is a potentially life-threatening move, especially if you’re training at home alone.

So, be sure to place secure collars on the end of the bar when you’re starting out, no matter how light the weight is that you’re lifting.

Once you get a little stronger and more accomplished at the movement, you may want to consider ditching the collars so that you can dump the weights in the even of a failed rep.

If at all possible, bench press with a spotter or inside of a power rack with the safety arms set at the proper height.

That way, if you fail a rep you’ll avoid serious injury.

Replace the Exercise

If you have lower back or shoulder injury, then you should replace the barbell bench press with other movements that are less problematic.

Here’s Dave Schenk again:

“One of my favorite modifications for bench press is the floor press, which takes a lot of the stress off the shoulders and the low back while hitting the same muscle groups and replicating the same movement pattern,” he says.

Schenk adds: “If you are looking to tweak the bench press to make it more enjoyable, then try hitting the same muscle groups but at different angles. Instead of doing traditional bench press all the time, alternate it with both dumbbell and barbell incline bench press.

“This will give your chest, shoulders, and triceps more variety, which will help you continue making strength and aesthetic gains while also breaking up the monotony of doing the same thing every time.”

Blast Past Your Plateau

If part of your aversion to the bench press is because you are unable to make progress then you need to work on your form and implement some techniques to break out of your plateau.

First, tighten up your form:

  • Squeeze your glutes together
  • Push your feet into the floor
  • Use leg drive to power the bar up
  • Keep the shoulders back and down
  • As you push the bar back up, breath out forcefully
  • Do not bounce the bar off your chest

Once you’ve fixed your form, try switching up your training to break through that plateau:

  • Switch from barbell to dumbbell bench
  • Increase benching frequency and/or volume
  • Try variations like the floor press, pause bench, or incorporate bands and chains for varying resistance

A combination of fresh programming and better benching form should get you back on the progress train in no time.


Wrapping Up

There’s no reason to fear the bench press.

Instead, you need to bypass the mystique of this exercise and decide if you really need to be doing it.

If you’re determined to build upper body power and don’t want to miss out on the benefits of the barbell bench, you’ll need to shift your mindset to stop comparing yourself to others and switch up your training so it’s more fun and more effective.

If you just like to lift recreationally and want to put some muscle on your chest, there are plenty of great bench press alternatives you can rotate through. If you really hate the bench press that badly, it’s not completely necessary for msot people!

Before you go, check out this guide to bench press motivation — and here’s what to do if you hate squats.

Hope this helps!

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