The bench press is the end all, be all for lots of guys in the gym. Want to prove you’re strong to your average meathead? Slap some plates on the barbell, slide onto the bench, and move that weight.
But the bench press is actually an expression of a specific type of strength—and there are guys who are absolutely, undisputedly strong don’t even spend any time on the lift because their training goals are focused elsewhere and they need to move differently to achieve those goals. Take Chinese Olympic weightlifter Lü Xiaojun. He addressed the topic of the bench press in a YouTube video recently posted to his channel, giving a different perspective of the lift than gym bros who celebrate International Chest Day each and every Monday. Xiaojun’s perspective is worth listening to for anyone interested in the sport of weightlifting, especially since he’s a gold medalist and five-time world champion.
“Bench Press? Me?” Xiaojun responds (through an interpreter) when asked if he ever tested his max bench earlier in his career. He goes on to explain that lifts that involve pressing—strict press, bench press, and push press—are his weakest lifts. But there’s a reason for that: He doesn’t train them.
Xiaojun actually advises that weightlifters (the athletes competing in the sport of weightlifting, not just guys lifting weights in the gym) avoid bench pressing on the whole because it can restrict shoulder mobility, which is essential for the overhead maneuvers of the sport.
“If you push like this, you might find it difficult to lock out your shoulder,” he says, pantomiming that straight forward pushing movement of the bench press. “Even worse, if you form a habit, it’s not a good habit.”
Before you get up and arms and run straight to your favorite bench, just remember what we said before: Goals matter. If yours is to build chest muscle and push big weight on the bench, the bench press is a great exercise. For Xiaojun, that’s just not part of the equation.
Even so, his interviewer presses forward, asking how much Xiaojun would estimate that he can bench press—even a gold medalist can’t escape the question. Xiaojun guesses 120 or 130kg, which would equal about 265 or 287 pounds. Not too shabby for a guy who competes in the 81kg (about 179 pound) weight class. His real strength lies elsewhere, though. “This is different to weightlifting,” he says. “My PB (Personal Best) Jerk from the Rack is 230kg (507 pounds).”
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