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Old 08-01-2011, 09:10 AM   #1
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Default Bill Starr on Pressing

Bill Starr on Pressing

Question: For a long time, at least twenty years, seems like shoulder injuries and lifting weights go pretty much hand in hand. The bench press usually gets the blame yet some authorities insist overhead lifting is harder on the shoulders than bench pressing. The lab coat types will doubtless argue this to a draw.

I just wonder if these injuries were more common, less common, or about the same back when people did less bench pressing and more standing pressing, as well as more of the snatch and clean and jerk. Any other insights into keeping healthy shoulders welcome.

Bill Starr: The bench press per se is not a risky exercise. When done right, it can help improve upper body strength and size. It's only when form takes a back seat to numbers and when it's grossly overtrained that problems result. Injuries occur in the shoulders and elbows when the bench press is overtrained, poor technique is used, such as rebounding the bar off the chest and bridging, no other exercises for the upper body are included in the program, and there are no core exercises done for the upper back. Quite often, it's a combination all these factors.

Question: I'm more curious about what went on back in the day when lifters did both. Did overhead work have a protective effect on the shoulders? I work out with a group of masters olympic lifters. The oldest has been competing for about fifty years, not kidding, seriously, since the 1950s. Most of these guys have zero shoulder problems and have never heard of their rotator cuff. By and large they are much more pain free than powerlifters of similar caliber twenty years younger.

Bill Starr: When the overhead press was the primary upper body exercise, there were no such things as rotator cuff injuries, because that lift worked the small muscles that make up the rotator cuff and made them stronger. The bench press does not hit those groups. A great many athletes who give priority to flat benches do not bother to do anything for their upper backs. This results in a disproportionate strength in the shoulders and sooner or later will spell trouble. This problem can be rectified with some heavy work on the upper back: high pulls, shrugs, and bent-over rows.

Also, building variety into the upper body routine helps to prevent injuries. Once an athlete has graduated into the intermediate stage, I have him do: flat benches, inclines, overhead presses, and dips. He starts out with freehand dips, then when he is able to do 20, I have him do weighted dips. Working all the different angles of the upper body assure a more balanced development and all of the exercises help the others improve. I also make sure that the upper back receives plenty of attention. Of course, as always, using correct form is critical to safety. If an athlete learns to pause the bar on his chest on the flat bench from the very beginning, he will greatly reduce the risk of injury and be able to handle more weight in the long run.

I have written many times that I prefer the incline over the flat bench for young athletes. It is a pure shoulder exercise which is more suitable to sports such as baseball, basketball, and lacrosse. It is difficult to cheat on the incline, and this is a good thing. The reason the flat bench is part of The Big Three rather than the incline is because when Tommy Suggs and I devised this program, there simply weren't any inclines available in high school. There weren't even many in commercial gyms back then.
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Old 08-01-2011, 09:21 AM   #2
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Great information. The take home point for me is something I have been thinking a lot about lately. Balance in the upper body moves. I don't hate benching, it's just that it does not need the disproportionate amiunt of press that it gets as the be all end all of upper body work.

I've had the opinion for ahwile that benching is one of the few moves that disproportionate work does lead to other issues. Not many other compound moves have this issie.
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Old 08-01-2011, 09:27 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by glwanabe View Post

I've had the opinion for ahwile that benching is one of the few moves that disproportionate work does lead to other issues.
As we've talked about before, it's commonplace to see chest workouts that look like:

Quote:
Bench Press 3 x 10
Dumbbell Bench Press 3 x 10
Incline bench Press 3 x 10
Decline Bench Press 3 x 10
Flyes 3 x 15
...while also using the following for shoulders:

Quote:
Hammer Strength Press 3 x 10
Side Laterals 3 x 10
Rear Laterals 3 x 10
Combine this with back workouts that are afterthoughts:

Quote:
Lat Pull Down 3 x 10
Hammer Strength Row 3 x 10
Straight Arm Pulldown 3 x 10
There has to be some form of balance. Barbell forms of overhead pressing are more rare for the average routine then we sometimes think.
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Old 08-01-2011, 03:21 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by glwanabe View Post
Great information. The take home point for me is something I have been thinking a lot about lately. Balance in the upper body moves. I don't hate benching, it's just that it does not need the disproportionate amiunt of press that it gets as the be all end all of upper body work.

I've had the opinion for ahwile that benching is one of the few moves that disproportionate work does lead to other issues. Not many other compound moves have this issie.
I have to agree!
I like Nick Tumminello's advice that the only people who should bench are powerlifters and guys preparing for the NFL Combine.
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Old 08-01-2011, 03:25 PM   #5
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Quote:
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Old 08-09-2011, 12:09 AM   #6
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i don't even like flat benching anymore - too many times i let my ego take over. I focused more on incline and military pressing. Incline weights have neared my Flat bench numbers..
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Old 08-09-2011, 09:43 AM   #7
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I prefer a combination of dips and shoulder presses. This keeps my shoulders happy and has the required effect on size and strength. If I was to go back to benching again, I would make sure that every rep was paused. I would have to swallow my pride and lower the weight a lot, but my shoulders would thank me for it.
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Old 08-09-2011, 10:02 AM   #8
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The aspect of pecs I notice is that a lot of competitive natural bodybuilders still place a heavy focus on them, but even so, their size is often still lacking.

It's not easy to grow thick, rounded pecs that look nice during front poses. A thick rounded chest to me is like winning the genetics lottery.
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Old 08-10-2011, 12:35 PM   #9
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Awesome article. Very interesting read and is encouraging me to do ever more overhead work.

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