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Bench Pressing for Olympic Weightlifters
Greg Everett
March 25 2024

Can weightlifters bench press? Yes.
Do weightlifters need to bench press? No.
Should you bench press? Maybe.
A few questions to ask yourself:
Do you currently have the overhead mobility and shoulder health for a secure, stable overhead lockout?
Are you willing to do what’s necessary to preserve that mobility if you start benching?
Do you actually need to bench?
The point of benching for weightlifters is building strength primarily in the triceps and secondarily the shoulders, and/or building upper body mass if needed, such as when moving up weight classes.
The bench press will strengthen the triceps more than the press because you’re handling larger loads, but you can do as much or more with a push press, meaning similar tricep strengthening but with the addition of improved overhead mobility and position, and dip and drive position, timing and power for the jerk.
If you lose overhead mobility because of bench pressing, strength increases may be negated by the reduced ability to get the bar into a fully locked out overhead position. In other words, despite being stronger, your overhead lockout for the jerk in particular may get worse.
Keep in mind that the strength we need is primarily isometric to maintain a locked out overhead position; that is, the need for actual pressing strength is comparatively small. That being the case, you have to consider whether or not the bench press is worth the potential reduction in overhead mobility and shoulder health when you can use other exercises to achieve enough pressing strength for the sport without the potential drawbacks of benching.
In short, my basic guidelines would be this: If you have good overhead mobility and shoulder health, and are willing and able to do the extra work to preserve it, AND have a genuinely good reason for benching, such as needing to move up a weight class or extreme upper body weakness, then it’s worth doing. Otherwise stick to exercises that will address your needs without potentially creating problems.
How to Maintain Shoulder Mobility & Health
First, use a grip and motion that’s better for the shoulders. This means a relatively narrow grip and keeping the upper arms within about a 45-degree angle from the sides rather than the conventional wide grip with flared elbows. That may feel stronger, at least initially, but it also tends to grind your shoulders into dust.
Second, make sure you’re doing enough upper body pulling training—this means vertical and horizontal pulling exercises like pull-up and pulldown variations, and row variations, respectively. A simple rule would be more pulling volume than pushing—and make sure you account for the pushing work you’re doing in primary exercises like push presses, snatch push press and similar. Lifts like jerk variations or jerk supports don’t need to be considered as a 1:1 with actual pressing lifts, but take them into consideration at least loosely.
Third, ensure you’re doing adequate mobility work to maintain your overhead range of motion and position. This should include everything from simple pec and shoulder passive static stretches, to dynamic range of motion exercises like arm swing and circle variations, things like CARs, and any other movements you find useful.
Finally, ensure you prepare adequately for benching in a session—don’t rush into it and hurt a shoulder to save two minutes in your warm-up.
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