The bench press originated out of an exercise known as the floor press. It is ironic to consider that the bench press grew out of another lift that was considered to be NOT manly. The strongmen and bodybuilders of the day, who were obsessed with overhead lifts considered these floor-pressers to be, frankly, pussies.
However, the floor press continued to grow in popularity. It went through many iterations and revisions to the original lift. Some lifters utilized a “belly toss,” a thrusting motion that catapulted the weight to the lockout portion of the lift, while others incorporated a sort of bridge posture to more deeply involve their legs in generating the power for the lift.
Despite the fitness establishment’s entrenched viewpoint of the floor press, things started to change in the early 20th century. All of these strongmen noticed how women would swoon over the massive chests of these floor-pressers. Suddenly, their huge shoulders and powerful cores were falling out of vogue. Their bodies were monuments to a bygone era of fitness. They began to flock to the floor press as well, trying to keep up with the changes in the sport. And eventually, around 1929-1930, someone realized that one could get a whole lot more range of motion with elevation. More variations were developed in the 1940s, and by the by the late ’50s, the modern bench press was born. Since then, the lift has only grown in popularity, creating a definitive “look” for the modern manly body.
Why the Bench Press Is Not The Shit.
Injuries. Talk to any bench-presser over 35, and ask them how their shoulders are doing. Most people believe that the bench press naturally targets the chest, but it doesn’t. In order to properly engage your chest when benching, the lifter must “squeeze” the chest muscles, tighten the latissimus dorsii, and drive with the legs. Your average bench-presser does not know all of these cues, and ends up flaring his elbows, driving the lift more with his front deltoids and triceps than chest. This puts stress on your shoulders, and causes repeated wear-and-tear injuries to your rotator cuffs and other vulnerable areas of the shoulder joint.
Additionally, bench-pressers tend to bench to the exclusion of all other exercises on “chest day.” Benching without performing the requisite pulling motions (i.e., pullups or rows) can lead to poor, hunched and poor posture. There is nothing more tiresome and cloying than the group of guys hogging the bench, pumping out half reps of unreasonable weight while they spray pre-workout drink all over themselves through clenched teeth. All form, no function.
Although the bench press is undoubtedly a difficult lift, and an important feature of any standard strength-training regimen, it is by no means the epicenter of toughness. Between injuries and poor results, bench pressing yields underwhelming results for your average lifter trying to look like the man.