To Bench or Not To Bench

Written by | Posted under Strong Like Bull | 5 years ago

Several years ago USA Weightlifting, the official association of the sport in America, was selling a t-shirt proudly announcing “We don’t bench press.”

It is hard to determine what the real reason behind such a slogan was, however many people have taken the advice quite literally. Coaches frown upon bench press, and demand their lifters not to use it in training.


Marcin_Dolega golas

Marcin Dolega

Nonetheless, some of the best weightlifters in the world do perform bench press.


Below are some personal records of elite Polish weightlifters in bench press, together with the best results in snatch, and clean & jerk, for comparison. And when we say elite, we mean elite. Please note that, in all honesty, this is ad hoc survey, or pseudo scientific research.

Szymon Kolecki

When his best jerk was 170 kg (374 lbs), he was able to bench press only 90 kg (198 lbs). BP to CJ ratio 0.53.
After concentrating on pressing for a short while he maxed out at 220 kg. However, he was not quite interested in any further progress in this particular exercise.

Best bench press 220 kg (485 lbs). Best snatch 185 kg (407 lbs). Best clean and jerk 235 kg (518 lbs).

BP to SN ratio 1.19, BP to CJ ratio 0.94.


Mariusz Rytkowski

Best bench press 170 kg (374 lbs). Best snatch 172.5 kg (380 lbs). Best clean and jerk 207.5 kg (457 lbs).

BP to SN ratiom 0.98, BP to CJ ratio 0.82.


Robert Dolega

Best bench press 200 kg (440 lbs). Best snatch 184 kg (405 lb). Best clean and jerk 221 kg (487 lbs).

BP to SN ratio 1.09, BP to CJ ratio 0.90.

adrian gora

Adrian Zielinski

Marcin Dolega

Best bench press 185 kg (407 lbs). Best snatch 201 kg (442 lbs). Best clean and jerk 236 kg (520 lbs).

BP to SN ratio 0.92, BP to CJ ratio 0.78.


Grzegorz Kleszcz

Best bench press 180 kg (396 lsb). Best snatch 190 kg (418 lbs). Best clean and jerk 237 kg (522 lbs).

BP to SN ratio 0.95, BP to CJ ratio 0.76.


Adrian Zielinski

Best bench press 200 kg (440 lbs). Best snatch 180 kg (396 lbs). Best clean and jerk 215kg (474 lbs).

BP to SN ratio 1.11, BP to CJ ratio 0.93.

Kleszcz and Kolecki

Kleszcz and Kolecki

So, what is the verdict?

Is there a simple answer on the role of bench press in weightlifters’ careers?

Bench press is a very controversial subject, especially in context of improvement of classical lifts.

People automatically want to take sides, for or against, black or white, whilst this is really a gray area.

Lifters who are good at this exercise will be typically advocating it, and the not so good ones will be doing the exact opposite. Individuals go crazy searching internet for anecdotal evidence, or inventing scenarios just to prove their point.

It is important to step out of the natural comfort zone of the coach, set aside personal beliefs, and decide what is best for a particular lifter.

Robert Dolega

Robert Dolega


Here is some general advice:


  1. There is really no direct correlation between bench press and results in classical lifts as shown above on a sample of a few lifters (this is not a professional double blind study). Don’t spend your time finding any better relevant research.
  2. Bench press is used as a injury prevention and rehabilitation tool, as well as assistance for developing general strength in basic phase or cycle. In other words, it is not a classical, assistance, or preparatory exercise, it is a supplementary exercise in olympic style weightlifting.
  1. Lifters with relatively weak shoulders and elbows can greatly benefit from this exercise. That includes skinny people and youth. That does not mean that classical lift will skyrocket when
  2. Women have disproportionally weak upper body. It needs to be strengthen in one way or another.
  3. Athletes with flexibility problems when holding the bar overhead should use bench press very carefully, and perhaps exchange it for a standing press. That should be obvious, and nobody in their right mind is really suggesting the opposite.
  4. When athlete enjoys any particular exercise for one reason or another s/he should be allowed to do it when time is available. It is very important for lifters to enjoy their training. As a coach or athlete, you should be able to have enough intelligence to figure out how much is too much, and that it should be done as a dessert, not the main course.
  5. Sometimes lifters are injured, and must be given something to do.
  6. Nobody is talking about building big pecs like bodybuilders are doing. In a survey of 15 Polish elite weightlifters with 6-17 years of training experience, ranging from junior champions to Olympic medalists, the average chest measurement was 109 cm. The group was compared to 15 competitive bodybuilders, whose average measurement in chest was 129 cm. Interestingly, the thigh circumference in two groups was almost the same, 66 cm in weightlifters versus 68 cm in bodybuilders.
adrian klata

Adrian Zielinski

The question remains: to bench or not to bench?

Think for yourself, chose what is best for the particular lifter, do not let anybody tell you that there is only one correct answer.


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