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The default exercise

“An excellent feat of strength is the ability to pick something up from the ground, and then press it over your head.” I couldn’t agree more with what Ross Enamait says. I believe strength trainers can make out that pressing overhead from the ground is a test of true strength. However, it always intrigued me when I see that the bench press prevails as the best upper body exercise. For example, in powerlifting your upper body strength is tested with a one repetition maximum of the bench press and not the military press.

How did the bench press become the default exercise? I believe the explanation provided my Lou Schuler in the book titled The New Rules of Lifting stands reasonable. “It wasn’t particularly popular until after World War 2 and seems to have gained its biggest momentum in the mid-1950, when a Canadian Olympic weight lifter attributed his massive upper body to the bench press. Joe Weider, the bodybuilding guru, also pushed it in his magazines of that era.” But we should also accept that on the flipside by embracing bodybuilding routines many dedicated–real strength workouts were sidelined.

Lou Schuler also adds “When I started lifting, around 1970, the bench press was an afterthought. The standing military press was regarded as the true test of strength, since few of us had benches in the makeshift gyms in our basements and carports.”

“But with the rise of health clubs and organized strength programs for professional and college sports teams, the bench press became the king of the weight room.” And as a testament to Schuler’s reasoning I have read in Brooks Kubik books that during the early and up to the mid 20the century military press was looked up as the best upper body exercise.

A few reasons for the bench press to become popular:

It’s easy to learn and practice.

Beginners make quick gains.

It works muscles you can see in the mirror.

It’s a legitimate, contested lift in the sport of powerlifting.

PS: I have a great respect for the powerlifts and the sport of powerlifting. I am by no means undermining that sport, for I rate the military press higher than the bench press.

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