T Nation

Bench Press - ROM

Ian King touches on this topic in his article this week. I need help settling a debate which is causing controversy to rage at my gym. The owner and I (manager) are both well-read, intelligent and certified by the NSCA. I powerlift, he bodybuilds. I believe that bench presses should go down until the bar touches the chest (they should not be done wide to the neck and they should be done with elbows tucked in, much like Westside technique). I feel this builds actual strength over the whole range of motion. He says that’s fine for powerlifters or football players, but if you just want to make your chest bigger then bench only until your upper arms are parallel. I feel that if you bench like this you are doing the equivalent of a “power rack lockout” which as everybody knows is a tricep strengthener. He also claims that benching to your chest increases the risk of shoulder injury.
Now I want to be able to argue this logically. That means “plenty of people touch their chest and have fine shoulders” is not a valid argument. Neither is “my chest is 2 inches bigger than yours, I’m right” or other such drivel. I’d like a scientific way to argue my case, or if Ian King and I are wrong then I’d gladly admit it and make all the wannabe bodybuilders bench to parallel and not touch their chest.

The bench ROM is a messed up issue indeed. =) Well, personally, I think he’s right. I think keeping a wide grip, but going only halfway down really gets them boobs. =) But I’m a powerlifter like you, and I really don’t bother with them partial stuff, unless it’s rack lockouts (and with our medium grip, yes that is triceps more than anything.) I think the key is the underarm angle. If you want boobs, you keep those nearer 90 degrees than 45, but since that has the potential to tear your shoulders off (like any to the neck bench press) it’s best to do partials. My .02$. [antonsevilla]

I’d say you’re right- full ROM bench is the better chest builder, while partial ROM bench is more of a tricep exercise. Think of the function of each muscle relative to the ROMs in question - the pecs serve to horizontally adduct the humerus, while the triceps extend the elbow. Now, horizontal humeral adduction is the only movement occurring in the bottom portion of the bench; hence, a full ROM adds stimulus to the pecs that a partial ROM occludes. Partial ROM includes both horizontal adduction of the humerus and extenstion of the elbow joint, and therefore hits both pecs and triceps. Soooo, long story short, partial ROM bnch presses will stimulate both pecs and triceps, but full ROM bench presses will stimulate the pecs even more.

Going the entire ROM is the only way to go! Doing partial reps should be only part of a program maybe in some specialized workout. From all the scientific literature that I have read the best way to avoid injury to joints is to train throughout the bodies natural ROM. Those partial reps are known to stress those areas he’s talking about protecting. Maybe he should have his NSCA certification revoked! Big Pat

actually, i have done the “to the neck” that you two avoid, because it will “rip your shoulders off”. it was suggested by Ian King in a paper issue. it works very well on the flat for bringing up a lagging upper chest. and never once have i packed up my gym bag and dropped my shoulders in with my used shorts.

I think this whole “FROM” shit is funny, what are you after? is it growth?strength?max bench? they all may depend on diff. things! to get a max bench you must practice the skill, but for growth or even some forms of strength, what diff. does FROM make? is ANY exercise REALY a FROM? the FROM for the bench is not even CLOSE to the FROM for the pecs, if size (and as said sometimes strength) is the goal forget about the notion of FROM and THINK!!

I injured my left shoulder doing flat bp down to the chest. I did a little research and found some articles by sports physiologists who said that people should only bring the bar down to the point where there is no stretch (and hence, no undue strain on the shoulder capsule). So, one is to lie down on the bench with his arms in the air as if imagining the top position of the press, and then lower the imaginary “bar” until the musculature/ligamenture of the shoulders and pecs prevent further lowering. That is the point to which the bar should be lowered during pressing, according to their research.

For taller people, like me, with longer arms, this means that the bar stops about one inch or so above the chest. Men with shorter arms may easily be able to bring the bar to their chests without destroying their shoulder capsules.

Since I began benching this way, the pain in my left shoulder has gradually gone away, and I’m able to hit the heavy poundages again.

Thanks Michael, for providing some real life evidence to refute the claim, “the bar should touch the chest”. How can a big chest, small forearm person advise a shallow chested, long armed person to bring the bar to the chest based upon his lifting experiences. Firstly to call yourself a powerlifter, you must have the right body structure. Secondly, not all gym goers are powerlifters nor bodybuilders.

While I am unable to let the bar touch my chest during max effort presses (yes I do stretch regularly), that does not mean everybody should not let the bar touch the chest in the bench press. It depends on the individual.
If I use a very wide grip and light weight, then the bar can touch my chest. In this position, my upper arms are at 45 degrees relative to the ground and my pecs are getting targeted.

By applying simple intuition and simply geometry, make up your own mind. To Michael, could you give the references to those articles you mentioned. Thanks.

thank you for the replies, especially Zev. And PTonline, which bodytype must you have to be a powerlifter? And where can I take this test? Is it massive with big belly like Dave Tate? Short and stocky like Ed Coan. Long armed and giant like Garry Frank? Fat as a mother like Anthony Clark? Little and wiry like H. Inaba? Arms of a 6’2 man and legs of a 5’2 man like Lamar Gant? Please let me know, because I’m filling out my application to be a powerlifter now and I wanted to know how I should look. Thank you.

To Rafael , if you are interested in becoming a powerlifter, chances are you have the right build. I’m not that stocky, so I would not even consider doing powerlifting. The best benches are those with the shortest arms, the best deadlifters are those with the longest arms. Those with huge bellys and thighs have big squats. When I mentioned bodytype, look at some powerlifters, that will answer your question. Limb ratios come into play when you are dealing with record weights such as Ed Coan, short and stocky. Follow Westside and you’ll be right.

Re Mike’s response, I think one of the sources for this logic is Paul Chek. I downloaded an article by him from another site that speaks to the importance of not stretching the shoulder capsule unnaturally (he recommends using a broomstick to measure how far off the chest one should go).

And as far as natural (i.e. applicable in the real world) ROM, how many motions in sports–other than a powerlift bench press–involve having a heavy weight or force stretch your shoulders? Football players stiff-arm or push off with their hands well above their pec line, and boxers/martial artists develop their power through the farthest range of extension. So why train in an area you can’t use?

I’ve used Chek’s idea since last winter, and I’ve never had better chest development nor been as injury free. Why risk injury for so little gain?

Unilateral shoulder injury from performing ANY exercise or activity is a function of the condition of the shoulder structures and technique used for that activity. In other words, if your right shoulder hurts when you bench press, you have faulty technique and/or an orthopedic condition which is aggrevated by your technique. Mr. Chek confuses passive shoulder mechanics with active shoulder mechanics. Passive stretch WILL expose the shoulder capsule to stretch. It would be assumed that when you bench press, the muscles are actively supporting the joint (unless your technique is faulty) thus protecting passive structures of the joint. Sure, limiting the ROM of the shoulder (bench pressing does not have a ROM, but it does have a bar path) while benching may reduce/illiminate pain because you are not longer applying stress to the shoulder strutures with a predisposition for injury. A longer bar path may exceed your personal shoulder abduction to the point where the stretch on the supporting musculature cannot prevent the load on the passive shoulder structures due to an inability to generate sufficient tension. We all have different levels of flexibility in our shoulders much like not everyone has the ability to perform a narrow-stance, flat-footed full squat. In other words, it’s not benching that’s the problem…it’s your shoulders and your technique. Competitive powerlifting has a required bar path that must be trained. Bodybuilding on the other hand does not have that requirement, but it does require application of optimal tension on the musculature being trained. Where that is must be determined by you and your technique.

wow, very well informed posts, people! I dig it when people actually cite physiology. using your head to build your body…
here is my 2 pennies- full range of motion. but the backing physiology has already been posted. I only have this to add, when lifting weights, full range of motion whenever possible should be employed. building strength over the full range of motion of the muscle is very important in injury prevention. if in the gym you do those pussy-half-ass-quarter-motion squats, and you try to lift somethin from the ground up, you are liable to injure yourself because the muscles necessary for the entire range of motion are not trained. all the way, or dont bother.

I too have been using much of Paul Chek’s methods for the past half year- This after years of Vince Gironda’s neck presses and V dips. My delts have always been pretty good but I had terrible elbow tendon trauma from long ranges of motion . .since CHEK’S Big Bench/ Bad Shoulders approach- things are pretty good. My two cents anyhow

I already am a powerlifter and there is no body type which prohibits you from being one…or a damn good one. There are world class tall/lanky powerlifters. There are midgets, women, old men, fat guys, long legs, short arms, you name it. No one should use their physique as an excuse. One example is Gary Heisey. He is tall and although a superheavyweight,was way under what he should weigh for optimal leverage. He did not use this as an excuse for why he could not break the all time world deadlift record.