Main Takeaway: There are other solid alternatives to help increase upper body strength that are safer on the anterior shoulder and more user-friendly for novice lifters than the bench press.
Unfortunately, in many (not all) college weight rooms the bench press is a regular tool strength and conditioning coaches use to help increase upper body strength in softball players.
Why is the bench press a poor choice?
Issue 1: The bench press is not suited for a novice lifter but rather a selection more appropriate for intermediate and advanced lifters (2-3 years of training experience).
Due to the fact that many college freshmen get their first experience strength training EVER at team lifts is a fact that all coaches need to consider before implementing the bench press into their programs.
Issue 2: Novice bench pressers tend to use zero upper back arch to help stabilize the shoulder joint or if they do arch it's from the lumbar spine and not the thoracic (upper back).
Bench pressing with poor technique over a long period of time can cause nagging anterior shoulder and low back pain, two overuse injuries some softball players tend to accumulate over the course of the season. So why risk it when there are safer alternatives?
Issue 3: Many young women have not EARNED the right to use the bench press simply because they are not strong enough to do more than 5-8 easy reps with just the bar.
With that being said, the majority of athletes are better off mastering various dumbell and push-up variations to help gain strength and increase confidence.
Note** My rule of thumb is to make sure my female athletes can crush a 35-40lb dumbell bench press for sets of heavy doubles or triples and crush 10 solid push-ups before tossing them on the rack.
Why the Dumbell Bench Press is a better variation to help novice lifters get stronger
Reason 1: Theres no barrier to entry
With the bench press, you NEED to be able to press 45 pounds no ands ifs or buts about it. With the dumbell bench press its more efficient to meet the athlete where their current strength levels are and build from there.
Reason 2: Grooves technique and helps build context for the bench press
The dumbell bench press or floor press requires a solid upper back arch, full body tension and control to perform correctly. Check out this video to get a quick tutorial on why I coach the floor press this way.
Reason 3: Builds proprioception
Have you ever handed a new lifter a dumbell and asked them to perform a floor press?
If you have, you understand that newer lifters lack a true sense of where the body is in space. For their first few times its not uncommon to see their arms flying all over the place.
Note** Use tempos ( 3 seconds lowering, 1-second pause, 1-second up) to help them learn how to create tension, start and end in the same spot.
Reason 4: Dumbells allow the wrist and elbow to rotate if needed
With some athletes, they have hypermobile ulnar nerves and when they do various pulling or pressing variations it can aggravate the ulnar nerve when it slides over the medial aspect of the elbow.
The dumbell bench press gives the individual a wider range of hand positions and degrees of freedom to travel. This freedom allows athletes to find a hand position that best works for them. Verses the bench press athletes are locked in with a pronated grip which does not suit all lifters and their individual anatomy.
Be Safe, Not Sorry
The barbell bench press is a great tool to help increase upper body strength for experienced lifters who have earned the right to use it. For novice lifters start implementing dumbell bench press variations. These variations are safer on the anterior shoulder and easier for novice lifters to learn.