Every training decision should follow this simple, logical process, and it’s one I wrote at length about in the article on Training Efficiency.
With that being said, let’s analyse reasons to bench and then the reasons not to bench.
Reasons to Flat Bench Press
There are really only two salient points which are a testament to the flat bench press’s wonderful simplicity, much like the squat and the deadlift.
Firstly, it is a compound movement; it utilises several important muscle groups that are imperative to training progress, and in doing so allows you to place a very heavy load on the body which invariably leads to either a stimulus to grow more muscle tissue or a stimulus to get stronger (better performance). Undeniably, this is the reason you utilise any movement in your training programmes, so why give the Bench Press special attention?
The truth is that there are not many exercises that allow you to place such a heavy load on the body via a pressing position. Incline bench press is another phenomenal movement but you’ll have to sacrifice some weight, while decline bench press arguably provides a shorter range of motion and doesn’t utilise as many integral muscle groups. Inevitably, that point will be debated, however, many top powerlifters and strength athletes specifically don’t emphasise decline bench press because of the poor correlation it has to big strength gains. Flat bench pressing, needless to say, provides these in abundance.
So, out of flat, incline and decline bench pressing, it’s arguable that the flat bench press is the most efficient and practical of the three; although this will inevitably vary dependent on your goals.
Secondly (and this is practically an elaboration of the first point and applicable to many exercises), is the progressive resistance that the flat bench press offers, is second to none. There really isn’t any other alternatives that offer as efficient bang for your buck when pressing, and this is always an extremely important factor you must take into consideration when designing a programme.
Reasons not to Flat Bench Press
Likewise, there are really only two real salient points to not bench that I can think of that would make me steer clear of flat benching. Let’s discuss them briefly.
Firstly: injuries. Many folks seem to have underlying shoulder problems or impingements (I won’t go further into specific injuries of the incredibly complex shoulder muscle / joint in particular) that flat bench pressing seems to exacerbate significantly due to the biomechanics at the movement. You can make a very small case for not everyone being perfectly designed for flat bench pressing, and if it aggravates an injury to the point that you can’t rectify it with changing your form, it’s probably best to disregard it until you can return safely to flat bench pressing. This is a salient point: don’t just say “it’s not for me”. Try to work towards being able to bench press again competently. My colleague Paul O’Brien did this after an absence spanning several years. The fact is that now he’s able to bench press again and as a result he’s grateful for it as it’s allowing him to progress in other aspects of his training.
Secondly, – and this is a mute point given what we’ve just discussed – not everybody necessarily needs to flat bench press. This isn’t a particularly good reason not to do it but there is specifically one category of trainee’s who can probably get along fine without it: bodybuilders. It’s true that electromyography (EMG) studies have measured activity within skeletal muscle tissue and found that certain movements may stimulate the chest more. Examples of this I believe are a fly variation in addition to decline dumbbell presses and decline barbell presses. I’ll note that this was solely in regards to pectoral activation though and I don’t believe it accurately measured the surrounding muscle groups that are all prevalent when bench pressing.
Hopefully I’ve gave you enough rhyme to reason to either continue working diligently on your bench press, or, perhaps alternatively, disregard it to further your progress. Whatever the choice may be, good luck!