Tip: Can't Do This? Then Hold Off on Bench Presses

Pass this relative strength test with flying colors before you bench press. Many people can't, even if they think they can.

Ten Perfect Push-Ups

Can you do 10 perfect bodyweight push-ups? If not, then you haven't earned the right to bench press.

The push-up and the bench press are both forms of horizontal pushing, but the two have very little in common other than the direction of force. What differentiates them is the stability the push-up requires that the bench press doesn't. During the push-up your body is in a position that requires stability of the hips, pelvis, spine and shoulders working together.

This posture-dependent position is advantageous to train because it requires full body tension and stability. It's also a powerful diagnostic test that'll identify weak links and dysfunction that may predispose you to pain and injury.

You'll plateau if your weak point on the bench press is posterior shoulder and pillar stability. If you can't stabilize the shoulders, you can't press maximal weights off your chest. That's why the push-up test can diagnose stability deficits. Pass it before you hit the bench and you'll have a foundation that'll actually yield results.

The Test

Do 10 push-ups with your chest grazing the floor at the bottom and your elbows coming into full lockout at the top. Before you butcher your way through 30+ reps, make sure you're doing actual push-ups. Don't make these mistakes:

  • Lumbar extension (hips sagging down) during the press
  • Elbow flare (shoulders fly up into elevation) during the press
  • Asymmetries (rotation of shoulder and/or body) at any point

To pass this test your reps must be perfect. If you can knock out 10 without a problem, hit the bench. Just remember to keep a closed-chain horizontal press (like the push-up) in the mix for your accessory work.

If you can't hit your reps, or you have to cheat your way through by hyperextending your spine or flaring your elbows, identify the weak link holding you back, improve it, and use the push-up as your indicator lift for full-body tension and stability.