Should CrossFitters Bench Press?
Before Crossfit I kept to the “safe” side of the gym. I read Cosmo on the treadmill; I breezed through the circuit of padded lifting machines. Through an open door I could peek into the free weight room while I did my crunches on an exercise ball. In there the lights reflected endlessly off wall to wall mirrors and men in sleeveless shirts cried in pain and yelled at each other. They curled, they bench pressed. They spotted each other and turned the music up louder. That was my first impression of the bench press.
At the little box where I started Crossfit we had one central rig and two benches so if you were benching out of the rack you were in everyone’s way during a WOD. I knew the coaches benched in long stretches between classes but it wasn’t something I was introduced to. One hot August day, a month after I got my Level 1 and started leading classes solo, the coaches all met for a meeting. We sat around on boxes and discussed business then we laced up our lifters, tightened our belts and started warming up for Linda.
Linda, aka ‘The Three Barbells of Death’ is 10,9,8,7… Deadlifts, Bench Press and Cleans at 1.5 body weight, body weight and ¾ body weight respectively. I was at a point in my training where doing rx movements, even if it wasn’t for rx weights, was very important to me and I was miffed that I had no idea how to bench. Two people lay up on the benches and loaded their bars while the rest of us were set up shoulder pressing. I was determined to learn how to bench press, if only so that I could retest Linda at a later date.
That month I asked a friend to show me how to lift between classes. He sent me an excel sheet with a program he had used back when he was powerlifting. Twice a week we would linger after the WOD and set up our benches under the rig and then we started dating…but that’s another story. Since then, I bench at least twice a week. Why? It’s not a foundational movement in Crossfit. In fact it was kinda sidelined as being more of a body-building lift and less of a functional movement but I think the community if moving past this conflict now with Crossfit evolving and expanding. It’s also a space and equipment issue but at Swamp Rabbit we are rich in benches and open gym space and friendly members who are willing to spot your big lifts.
I bench press because I need to build strength. I am a lady who wants to get stronger, pick up heavier things, knock-out handstand pushups and strict pull ups with ease. I need a strong upper body and I’m willing to go the extra mile to develop that strength. I believe in Crossfit and in high intensity WODs and I know I would achieve the same results without the bench press, it would just take me a longer time to get there.
I started to bench press because I was hungry for skills that eluded me due to strength deficiencies. I know it makes my push-ups easier, my handstands stronger, my shoulders press more engaged. I also struggle with pretty consist back pain due to skeletal issues and building muscle has helped me enormously. I no longer take medications for those aches and pains on a daily basis.
I don’t see the bench press as lacking in function; if I was pinned under something heavy I would use the same form to try to free myself. And while it is an isolated movement, and can’t be combined into a more complex, full body motion like the shoulder press flowing into the push press into the push jerk, it has taught me some essential points of performance.
The first is the sense of locking down the whole body. I don’t know any other place where it is easier for me to access this feeling as in the bench press. Keeping tight through the lift trains that whole body mentality, that sense of muscle engagement from toes to finger tips. Secondly, bench pressing offers a very easy to read visual of locking out the elbows. Reaching full extension in the arms is a point of performances in all our overhead work, as well as gymnastics and in the bench press you can actually see your arms! Lastly, I learned to control my breathing under the bench press bar which of course improves all my lifts.
Should all Crossfitters bench press? I don’t think that we should all do the same thing, there is no need for that sort of conformity. Everyone has their own unique set of goals, and their lists of strengths and deficiencies. I recommend bench pressing to the following groups:
- Ladies. Yes, all you awesome Crossfit chicks. Bench pressing will help build up your strength for pull ups, push ups and handstands. You don’t need to be a bro to bench press.
- New athletes. Here the bench press is not just about developing strength, but for mastering general lifting techniques, breathing, full body engagement, lock outs.
- The Hungry and the Restless. For those who feel stuck, who don’t seem to be gaining new skills or additional strength adding benching to you pre or post WOD programming can push you up onto that next level. You’ll see your overheads lifts increase and become more stable overhead, or in a pressed out position.
Remember, ‘constantly varied’! If you’ve never tried to bench press, ask a coach, set up a one-on-one, and give it a shot!
When Megan isn’t at the gym she deep in a book for her Masters in Creative Writing. Most of her afternoons at Swamp Rabbit Crossfit are filled with Fundamentals sessions, coaching classes and training for the unknowable. She has a Crossfit Level 1 Certificate and loves supporting, cheering on and helping people achieve their wellness goals. She is available for personal training and describes her coaching style as making Crossfit fun and accessible to everyone.