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The bench press is seen by the masses as the superior indicator of strength. Often times people do not even use the words “bench press.” They will simply ask, “How much do you lift?”
Apparently, you are supposed to assume that by “lift” they mean bench press.
But, is the bench press really the best indicator of overall strength?
Before we answer this question, first we need to think about a person’s goal when bench pressing.
Is your goal to increase the size of your chest or to move as much weight as possible?
When someone performs the bench press with the intention of building muscle, their form is strict, deliberate and focused.
If a person is doing this correctly, the only muscles that will be worked are the chest (pectoralis major), triceps and front of the shoulder(anterior portion of the deltoid). If you are only working three muscles then this cannot be the best indicator of strength.
In fact, studies have shown that the bench press is not even a great chest builder! So if your goal is to build up the muscles of your chest, you may want to look into different variations of chest presses (Incline, decline, dumbbells) as well as flies. Cables are also your friend when stimulating the muscle fibers of the chest.
Now let’s look at the other spectrum. A person who wants to move maximal weight during their bench press definitely uses more of their body during the movement. When completing a power bench press a person generates leg drive. This is done by securing your feet into the floor and pushing through your feet as you accelerate the bar upward.
The force that is generated with the legs moves up the kinetic chain, through the core and through the upper extremities. This allows a person to move as much weight as possible.
Even though more muscle fibers are being recruited in the legs and the core, the workload is still much less than other lifts.
Exercises like the clean, deadlifts, and squats are way better indicators of a person’s overall strength and place much higher demands on the body.
I would even stand to argue that the over head barbell press is a better indicator of one’s strength. The amount of leg drive available, the stress on the core, and the amount of stability needed to perform this movement are all at higher demands than the bench press.
So next time someone asks you, “How much do you lift, bro?” Tell him you deadlift over 600 lbs!