Before I dive into this let me preface my falling monologue with the statement that I in no way mean to undermine the benefits or usefulness of the Bench Press. The Bench Press is one of the most beloved exercises in strength and conditioning history. Its allure and notoriety i rivaled by none. I mean come on you doesn't want to be able to lie on your back and push a crap ton of weight off your chest nothing feels more manlier right? Well assuming that your in an alternate universe where the deadlift doesn't exist.
Any who my point is that its hard to argue with the effectiveness of the bench press for developing upper body strength and for those more focused on looking good naked it does wonders for overall chest development.
But there as with anything their are always exceptions to the rule. The rule being that the bench press or some variation should be incorporated in any training program.
The particular exception I want to look is baseball players. Baseball players exist within a very specialized group athletes and people that perform overhead movements repeatedly at high velocities. This means that they have special demands and needs specific to their sport.
Now don't think I am going to start down the road of the importance of sport specific training because that is one of the most over used terms in performance training. Baseball players can benefit from getting stronger, leaner, faster, more flexible, and adding additional muscle mass just like any other athlete in any other sport.
But when considering exercise selection we must weight the risks and detriments against the rewards to determine if it is a worthy selection for the particular program.
In the case of bench pressing I don't think it is a worthy exercise selection for baseball players. Consider the fact that most athletes have about 60mins to 90mins out of their day to train in addition to practice and other life demands. And consider that there really isn't anything about the bench press that is going to help anyone throw a baseball harder and further, nor hit a baseball further. I mean other than helping add additional mass to their frame (thats assuming they eat enough), which might positively impact performance. But otherwise their isn't anything about it that gives justification for performing it during the limited amount of training a baseball player possesses.
Now looking specifically at the physiological issues the bench press possess to the average baseball player.
Imagine someone throwing a baseball. It is a motion that happens primarily in the shoulder and through force transfer affects the elbow further up the kinetic chain. Just to put it simply it isn't the most graceful movement in sports, perhaps a better description for it is a violent motion. It, throwing a baseball, however is the fastest motion in all of sports with the humerus internally rotating at velocities up to 7,000 degrees per second (thats about 122.17 radians per second for those math nerds out there). That is an insane amount of force being generated and sustained by the shoulder. It's impact even goes further when considering the valgus stress placed on the elbow during full lay back.
Understanding this kind of force that is applied to a baseball player on a regular basis is paramount to being able to select exercises that will both benefit the athlete without placing any extra undue stress to either the elbow or shoulder.
Now looking at the structure of the shoulder itself you can see that its kind of a tightly packed joint, specifically the AC Joint which literally only contains millimeter amounts of space between it and the supraspinatus which passes through the AC joint which places it at high risk for impingement.
Most everyone experiences some degree of "impingement" which can manifest itself in a number of ways and can be caused by a number of issues including poor scapular stability and poor thoracic spine mobility. Any how impingement is not something you want to see and is definitely not something you want to cause or exaggerate.
This is where we evaluate the bench press and why it poses problems for overhead athletes.
First look at what happens when you grab a barbell with a pronated grip. You are essentially locking your shoulder into internal rotation, which automatically closes up the millimeter space existing between the acromion and the supraspinatus. This greatly increased the risk for an impingement.
Second, consider that the bench press is an open chain exercises meaning the hands are allowed move freely away from the body. This also means that the scapulas are trapped against the bench preventing them to move and tract properly resulting in alterations to scapular-humeral rhythm. In addition if you are bench pressing like a boss meaning you pull your shoulder blades together and depress them you are exaggerating pre-existing issues, specifically those who have a tendency to hang in extension postures.
Okay so if you are someone reading this who falls into this category of overhead athletes you a probably thinking to yourself, "well shit how do I then train horizontal pressing". First off don't panic there are many other options on the table. Secondly calm down you can still deadlift (see what I did there, glass is always half full).
You can use any of the following alterations to your program to improve the efficacy and efficiency of any horizontal pressing if you an overhead athlete, such as a baseball player:
1. Invest in a multi-purpose bar.
This will allow you to use a much more neutral hand position.
2. Perform dumbbell variations.
This will allow you to also use a neutral grip and decrease any cramping of the AC joint.
3. Do some Push-Ups
Yeah remember those bodyweight exercises you performed in high-school. Sorry for the sarcasm, but seriously Push-Ups are one of the best upper body exercises out there. And the ability to alter hand and foot position as well as apply extra weight through a variety of modalities make it an awesomely diverse movement.
And that is my rationale for preventing baseball players from benching. Some may agree some may disagree. Let me know in a comment below.