Does anybody know when the bench press first entered in to documented history and/or was first seen to be performed?
I've read accounts that there was an incline style press done whereby people would stand and lean against a board set in to the wall (or against the wall) at a certain angle which would have been considered to be the very first incline bench press, I guess; but can't find anything about the origins of the completely supine bench press.
I found this a while back, copied it to a text file... can't remember the site it came from.. It's also not 100% complete, up to date historically. But still a good read.
A History of the bench press
The bench press is far and away the most popular powerlifter’s test of strength. The USA in particular holds many powerlifting meets where only the bench press is performed. E.g. The Kops and Kids Bench Press, The Beast from the East, The Best Bench Presser in the West, etc.
It is a fact that all the greatest bodybuilders and strength athletes have used the bench press as a staple exercise. If there is a local club competition, you can bet it will feature the bench press; and with every increasing record poundage being surpassed, it is an exercise for all seasonsand all sorts, from strength fans to bodybuilding.
The bench press actually evolved from a more ancient press on back, or shoulder bridge, often including a ‘belly toss’. One of the earliest records of this style was by the wrestler George Lurich, who made it with 420lbs. George Hackenschmidt, the famous Russian Lion wrestler, 1878-1968, experimented with lifting weights from a lying position; and back in 1898 on 2nd August, lying on the floor, he pulled a 333-lb barbell over his head and pressed it from dead start on his chest to arm’s length. He then rolled over a barbell with 19-inch discs, so that all it was required was for him to turn his head to one side, and then pressed aloft 361lbs (164kg) for a then world record.
There was no arching or belly tossing of the bar. This feat was performed in Vienna and recorded in Hack’s classic The way to live, and was to remain a record for 18 years.
Next to feature is the famous one-legged lifter from Ohio, Joe Nordquest, who on November 8, 1916, in a similar lift to Hackenschmidt., using the same diameter weights to facilitate rolliung over the head, lifted 388lbs. (176kg) this in itself beating Arthor Saxon, who had discovered that by arching in to a shoulder bridge, he could handle more weight. Saxon did 386lbs. (175kg). Thus even at that early date, lifters discovered that lifting the hips helps raise more weight. Without competition and mainly using staple weights/poundages, and with little incentive, these poundages ramained much the same for some time, until in 1931 Billy Lilly, an American middleweight lifter, tossed up 484.75lbs or 220kgs without the type of specialised training practiced today.
Just when did the lift go from floor to bench? Who knows. Lone, isolated trainers may well have been practicing some form or another of pressing on a type of box or bench for years. In the early 1930’s, Mark Berry’s classic training manuals Physical Improvement and Physical Training Simplified both published photos of pupils using a bench/box to press on. Racks to assist, however, were notin general usage and the era of special lifting suits and chemical aids was still far off.
All human knowledge is simply a matter of acquired information. Credit for the widespread use of the bench press must, the author believes, go to the American magazines in the late 40’s, particularly to Joe Weider’s Your Physique and Muscle Power magazines, which continually recommended the bench press as a fine exercise for bodybuilders and not just a test of power. Bodybuilders wanted more muscle in the shape of big pectorals, and the epitome of the massive chest was 1948 Mr. America George Eiferman. In 1949 George Eiferan benched 250lbs, for 20 reps (not his best) for what may well have been the first bench press contest, taking a prize of 50 dollars. Bodybuilders discovered that the more weight lifted, the more muscle was developed; and by the early 1950’s article after article expounded the benefits of bench pressing.
The June 1957 issue of Joe Weider’s Muscle Power (and The Weightlifter) published a ‘book’ length feature, “The Bench Press....Greatest Exercise of them all” by ‘The Editor’, who we suspect was the late Charles Smith, including assistance exercises to power up the lift. Critics however, and there were many especially inthe Hoffmancamp and elsewhere called it a ‘lazy man’s exercise’ and suggested the lift ‘produced disproportionate development of the pecs and induced poor posture’. The article argued against such thoughts and produced examples of the then to lifters who were using the bench press as an assistance exercise to improve their standing press. Namned were Tommy Kono, Norberts Schmansky, Paul Anderson, Doug Hepburn.
Historian David Willoughby wrote that the champion weightlifter John Davis, withoutwarm-up or previous practice on the lift was handed 400lbs (181.4kgs) flat on his chest and calmly pressed it to arm’s length from this dead start position. No canvas bench press shirts in those days. By now (the 50’s), bodybuilders worldwide were incorporating the bench press in to all their schedules. In Britain, Reg Park, Bill Stevens and Wag Bennett all broke first the 400lbs barrier and then the 500lb mark, with Reg Park lifting 500lbs on a rickety old wooden bench at a Health and Strength display in Bristol, 23rd April 1`954 (witnessed by George Greenwood and Oscar Heidenstam).
Over in North America, it was the massive 20-inch armed John M.C. Williams, Don Arnold, a pro wrestler, and Doug Hepburn who reached that impressive historial poundage. Hepburn, on May 28, 1953, lifted 500lbs in the bench, using a very wide grip in Vancouver. His official lift was performed in December 1953, lifting 502lbs, with a five-second pause, and amongst other awards, received from Vince Gironda a special trophy for his feat. By 1956 Doug was able to punch out seven reps with 500lbs and later got very close to lifting 600lbs, attempting such a poundage in 1957 at the North West Championships in March, just failing after lifting 550lbs.
The ideal bench presser would have a barrel chest and short arms – thus the bar would not need to travel far. By the same premise, wide grip benches were favoured, cutting down on distance. Certainly this style was popular with bodybuilder Marvin Eder, a great star circa the 1950’s. Eder, but forbecoming a victim of the Weider and Hoffman muscle wars of the early ‘50s, may well have become an Olympic lifting champion.
During that era Marvin was probably the lightest man to bench press 500lbs at under 200lbs bodyweight. He had benched 400lbs in 1949; did 480lbs. Sept 6, 1953, at a York picnic; and just failed with 500lbs )Brookside Park, PA) with a bodyweight of 195lbs. He later quoted 515lbs as his best. Eder used a collar to collar grip, benching 510lbs at 197lbs bodyweight, again without the aid of wrist wraps or superwraps/double canvas/denim/blast suits or chemical aids,no steroids or even much in the way of ‘normal’ supplements. It is interesting to note that the current (1995) ADFPA national champ, Joe McAufliffe benched 507lbs at 198lbs bodyweight.
Demonstrating further triceps power and a good assistance exercise for the bench press. Eder performed parallel bar dips with 435lbs plus his own bodyweight, a record to this day.
With the benchpress continually gaining popularity and practice and with better incentives, poundages rocketed. Benches were tougher, spotters better trained, and targets higher. Chuck Ahrens, a regular of Muscle Beach, did 28 reps with 400lbs. David Willoughby’s logic estimated this effort equivalent to completing one rep with 734lbs. Or a nice 333kgs. Conversely, Willoughby also deduced that the limit for a superheavyweight powerlifter in the bench press would be 628lbs. Ken Lain, Ted Arcidi, Jamie Harris, Craig Tokarshi, Chris Confessore and Anthony Clask, just for starters, would no longer believe that particular statistic of prediction from the near past.
Another Chuck, Chuck Sipes, Mr World, Mr Universe and one of the world’s greatest strongmen, with a fine physique, benched 570lbs (258.5kgs). Paul Anderson is credited with a whole set of high figures in the bench, a lift he did not practice too often. He is usually judged to have been well able to bench 600lbs and certainly has been pictured lifting 700lbs from racks, pressing this weight while lying on his back (not on a bench).
Bored with the limitations of Olympic lifting, British bodybuilders at first practiced the strength set, this being squat, bench press and curl. Later the curl was dropped for deadlift, and powerlifting had begun. Similar events took place in the USA. With the passing of the years, records zoomed. Pat Casey, who was the first to bench press under AAU rules the magic 500lbs at a bodyweight of 259lbs when just 21 years old, wenton to become the first man to bench press 600 pounds, way before the era of bench shirts. In 1972 Jim Williams benched 675lbs for an American record as recognised by the USPF prior to sanctioned international competitions.
Williams is also said to have lifted an amazing 705lbs in practice in the York gym in 1970. Witnesses included John Kuc and Bob Bernarski, who says it was a good lift devoid of bounce etc but was unfortunately made without the official recognition of judges.
The next big bench presser on the scene was Bill Kazmaier, with an official world record of 661lbs on 31st Jan 1981 with Bill being a muscular 330lbs bodyweight. Kaz, multi-winner of World’s strongest man contests and other meets open to all, sustained chest, shoulder and triceps injuries, ruling out further record-breaking poundages in the bench press. But poundages in this test of manpower continued to zoom. Ted Arcidi, a former pro wrestler, took part in the superheavyweight class at the 1985 Hawaiian International Powerlifting Championships heaving aloft 705lbs and to prove his staying power was able to bench 505lbs for 21reps. To give us all some encouragement, ~Ted’s first attempt at the bench press was just 4 reps with 170lbs, so there is hope.
Wow, that was quick, many thanks Ricka!
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