Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bench Press - Just Say No

Many folks see deadlifts and squats as "dangerous", or even the olympic lifts (clean and jerk, or snatch), but the truly deadly lift is .... the bench press.

According to Mark Rippetoe (I do not remember if this was referenced in "Starting Strength" or "Practical Programming"), 12 people kill themselves annually bench pressing.  It happens when a barbell falls on the athlete's throat, resulting in (presumably) spinal cord injury or a crushed larynx or both.  This happened to a USC football player about two years ago, proving the value of "spotting" to bench press safety.  If so inclined, a YouTube search will reveal some gut wrenching video, and often from powerlifting meets in which the lifts have the so-called safety spotters, which seems to mean "someone who can safely lift the bar off of a guy after it crushed him."

You can certainly hurt yourself squatting, and it's pretty easy to do - just load up a bar really heavy and squat poorly; the less technique the better if you plan to trash your knees or back.  
Not that I recommend that!
In fact, I recommend you spend a lot of time learning to squat with skill, and squat to at least parallel, in which case the weights will be limited to just "human" levels when compared to the "superhuman" weights some folks foolishly do to quarter squat depths with poor technique.

However, looking at the risk/reward curve, the bench press is the worst of all worlds; it has no unique functional benefit (unlike squats, cleans and deadlifts), it is not safe without a physical object to prevent the bar from falling on a lifter's throat, and all the benefits you might get from "benching" can be had by pressing overhead, or weighted dips (and preferably both).  A big bench is fun, but a 50+ pound weighted dip is even more so!

I hate to even write those words - I benched unspotted, and heavy as I could manage, for years and scoffed at those who dared suggest there was anything wrong with that.  Luckily, I'm not benching stat today, and I plan not to be in the future.  I bench now, rarely, but with a home built platform under each side that allows me to bench with a high margin of safety.  BTW, these cheap platforms also serve for box jumps if needed, and with some adjustment allow squatting heavy (set up that way in photo below) without fear of a catastrophic fail (note for those who lift truly heavy - you won't need me to tell you that these boxes shouldn't be expected to save you from that 800 pound or heavier lift gone awry!).

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