That question is asked ad nauseum, but why? Why did the bench press become the staple of manhood measuring?! Probably the same reason the guy asking the question drives an F-650 and skips the shower after training, but I digress.
There was a time where the Military Press was the main upper body lift, but in the U.S. at least it has gone the way of the dinosaur, cassette tapes, and work ethic. I think the simple version is that the bench press is EASIER!! You can make progress faster on the bench press than you can on the military press, and in this age of instant gratification that’s important. Not to mention, as a bonus you get to train laying down. I mean how sweet is that?! Truth be told, you are putting yourself in a comfortable position to fail.
However, if you look at it a little deeper, one of the other reasons that it is the preferred method of measuring upper body strength is because it is easier to cheat. Think about all the horrible bench press technique you have witnessed. Of all the big lifts, squat, military press, deadlift, and bench…bench is by far the easiest to inflate your numbers without actually doing any WORK. Like the late night infomercials say…”reach your goals without the pain and discomfort of exercise”. There are so many different ways to bastardize the bench press, that it is an overwhelming favorite of the I.L.S. (Imaginary Lat Syndrome) Crew. They throw on their extra medium wife-beaters and celebrate it every Monday. Since Monday at every fitness center nationwide is “Bench & Curl Day”.
Now with the squat you can actually cheat on it. How many times in a commercial gym do you see people doing partial knee bends and calling them squats? Even though it is easy to cheat at the bottom line is it is still HARD. The weight is still on your back, digging into your shoulders. You are not laying on a comfortable padded bench. And if you are like most people, it hurts your knees…because you are doing it wrong to begin with. One of my favorite Dan John quotes, and there are many, is “Squatting doesn’t hurt your knees; what you’re doing hurts your knees.” Bottom line is that squatting is a LOT of work, and isn’t comfortable no matter how you brutalize proper form. Why do that when you can load up the leg press and do 45 degree partial knee bends to brag about. Better yet, why do legs at all? You don’t want to get “too big” do you?!
What about the other big lifts? The military press is a hard lift. There really is no way around it. Even if you turn it into a push press, it still isn’t easy. Hence why the push press is a very effective exercise. There really is no way to cheat at it or make it easier. Which is probably why the bench press caught on. Overhead presses won’t stroke your ego the way bench presses will. What these bench warrior don’t realize is that if they actually put in the work to increase their overhead strength; their bench would go up. Unfortunately, the converse is not true.
This brings us to the deadlift. How the hell do you cheat at deadlift? If you figure it out you let me know. Powerlifters have been trying to find a way to make the deadlift easier since one caveman said to the other “Hey Grok, go pick that up.” Did they speak English way back then?! Point being aside from hitching at the top, there is no real way to cheat at a deadlift. Besides that, with the deadlift you have the built in cop out of not wanting to hurt your back. Combine that with the fact that only like 100 people know what a deadlift is, and none of them train at your gym…why bother?! You can’t brag to someone about how great you are at something if they don’t know what it is.
It all boils down to the fact that we have become a society that seeks the most return for the least investment. As far as capitalism goes this is a very sound business strategy. However in the realm of strength training, that thinking is detrimental to actual progress. The bench press reigns supreme because it allows you to cook the books and fudge the numbers. Sticking to the monetary theme, I love the term “training economy”. It means that you choose exercises with the most bang for your buck. And if you take an honest look at the Big 4 Movements…bench press should be closer to fourth than to first. Truth be told, the deadlift SHOULD be at the top of the list of “Internet Pissing Contests”. Unfortunately estrogen soaked corporations like Planet Fitness will never let that happen. Enjoy your pizza party, fatty.