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Last Update  On November 11, 2011
Why The Bench Press Is The Most Popular Lift?

By Rusi
There are a lot of people who have never ever visit a gym in their whole life and yet they know what a bench press is. I guess you wonder why this lift is so popular and is the number one reason for shoulder problems among gym rats.

Let's start from the very beginning.
There are a lot of people who have never ever visit a gym in their whole life and yet they know what a bench press is. I guess you wonder why this lift is so popular and is the number one reason for shoulder problems among gym rats.

History of the Bench Press

According to the current information the bench press was born around 1930. Of course at that point the fancy benches with adjustable racks and safety pins used in competitions today were yet to be invented.

Many lifters were using the bench in the locker room or a some kind of cheap wooden box. Of course the crazy ones used to perform the movement right on the floor. Today this exercise is known as the floor press. Another way to perform the floor press was to place two wooden block under the barbell plates so that the lifter can go underneath the barbell and press without the fear of having his face smashed. At the same time very often lifters would perform bench presses without racks. They used two guys to lift the weight for them.
IFBB Mr. North America  Alan-Stephan
Masahiko Kimura benches without a rack
Other lifters would even bridge their backs like wrestlers and bench from that position while lying on the floor. In the old days this movement was called “belly tossing” and was actually considered as a pretty honest lift but still most people knew that it was easier to lift more weight than the floor press not because of upper body strength but rather as a result of the reduced range of motion and levers during the movement. In fact there was so much jerking during this lift that the arms were were only locking out and the rest of the force was coming from the hips. In of his book Bob Hoffman has expressed his negative attitude towards the lift: “The arms catching and holding the weight only near the completion of the lift. Retaining the bar upon the abdomen, the body is lowered until the buttocks almost touch the floor, then, with a quick raise of the abdomen, or toss, the bar is thrown from its position across the body backwards over the face. There the lift is finished by a strong pressure from the arms.”
There were two main events that have increased the popularity of the bench press tremendously - the first edition The Strongest Shall Survive by Bill Starr and the success of powerlifting.
The Strongest Shall Survive is a strength training book designed mainly for  sports such as football or rugby and presents a strength routine based around the big three - power clean, squat and bench press. Later on Bill Starr has admitted he prefers the incline bench press and the overhead press over the classic flat bench press but due to the fact that many “authorities” at this point were considering the overhead press dangerous since it was already removed from the Olympics when the first issue of the book was published he used the bench press in his program. Also there were almost no incline bench presses in the gyms. However like I've already mentioned coming up with a homemade bench press was rather easy. Due to the success of the book the bench press has become widely used by football conditioning coaches.
The other reason why the bench press is known all over the world is powerlifting. The lift is part of each powerlifting competition and is done right after the squat. Obviously since powerlifting is about lifting the heaviest barbell the bench press fits the requirement perfectly because it's the upper body exercise that will allow you to lift the most weight.

Note: Technically you can lift more weight during a decline bench press or rack press due to the slightly smaller range of motion.


"Ok. Bro. We all know about powerlifting but why is the bench press so popular among bodybuilders?"

The bench press has become a staple part of many bodybuilding routines due to the fact that it's a great chest builder. All the oldschool champions with remarkable chest development such as Arnold who is yet to be beaten in side chest pose and Franco Columbo who had an insane separation between the upper and the lower portions of his pecs used the bench press as their main mass builder. Franco himself was able to move over 500 pounds at around 200 pounds bodyweight.

So, blame it on the boobies...haha
Ok. Bro. But isn't the bench press dangerous. If the weight falls on your face you die. Why do they love benching so much?"

You are correct that the bench press is probably the most dangerous lift in the gym and yet the most overused. Why? Ego. Pure ego. I doubt there are many people who are regular gym goers and have never been asked at least once: “How much can you bench?”. If you can bench press more than your friends you are considered strong although you may have a weak back and chicken legs. Also the when all the necessary measures are taken the bench press is not any more dangerous than riding a bike. The fact that you have a heavy ass weight right over your face and you either push it or die increases the adrenaline and contributes to the natural macho satisfaction we all try to get from weightlifting.

"Ok. Bro but I still don't see why the squat or the deadlift are not more popular than the bench press?"

This is easy. They are fucking hard. I've met lot of people who would find all kind of excuses not to train their legs or lift heavy. My favorite is: “But I do running for my legs.” It's just quite harder to perform a heavy deadlift than a bench press although the deadlift is much safer - you can just drop the weight and nothing will happen. Yet due to the stress element and mental challenge you don't see deadlifts that often but I still think they are pretty popular today.

So, blame it on the boobies...haha

"Ok. Bro. But isn't the bench press dangerous. If the weight falls on your face you die. Why do they love benching so much?"

You are correct that the bench press is probably the most dangerous lift in the gym and yet the most overused. Why? Ego. Pure ego. I doubt there are many people who are regular gym goers and have never been asked at least once: “How much can you bench?”. If you can bench press more than your friends you are considered strong although you may have a weak back and chicken legs. Also the when all the necessary measures are taken the bench press is not any more dangerous than riding a bike. The fact that you have a heavy ass weight right over your face and you either push it or die increases the adrenaline and contributes to the natural macho satisfaction we all try to get from weightlifting.

"Ok. Bro but I still don't see why the squat or the deadlift are not more popular than the bench press?"

This is easy. They are fucking hard. I've met lot of people who would find all kind of excuses not to train their legs or lift heavy. My favorite is: “But I do running for my legs.” It's just quite harder to perform a heavy deadlift than a bench press although the deadlift is much safer - you can just drop the weight and nothing will happen. Yet due to the stress element and mental challenge you don't see deadlifts that often but I still think they are pretty popular today.
Arnold - Side Chest Pose
Arnold bench pressing
"Ok. Bro..why did you said that the bench press is the number one reason for shoulder problems?"

Due to the fact that many people consider the bench press a measure of self-worth it's easy to shutdown the alerts of your body and get injured. Since the shoulder is the most vulnerable element during the press and you need a rather wide grip the effectively hit your pecs there is some decent shoulder strain. Couple that with a few girls looking at you while you are benching and you got a recipe for disaster. Many boys and even men will just try to lift as much weight as possible any way they can just to impress everybody around them. Also like we've already made it clear the bench press is quite popular and almost everybody does it. It's somewhat normal that most shoulder injuries will be bench press generated.


"Ok. Bro. Do I need a big bench to be a real man and get hot girlfriends?"

Damn...bro. Are you even listening? GTFO !!!!
Deadlifts and Squats - Too Hard To Be Popular
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