Incline Bench vs. Flat Bench

Is it the joint angle? Is it about shoulder development? IS THE BENCH PRESS WORTHLESS?!?!?! Time and time again the question gets thrown around, “What is better, the incline or the flat bench?!!?”


This argument goes in circles, over and over again. There has to be some in-depth manner in which we can approach the effectiveness of these pressing movements and how they impact the overall throws. Let’s dive deep into the incline vs. flat bench debate.


Tools of the Press

Coaches forget time and time again, what is it about lifts that actually make them effective? It comes down to understanding the adaptation needed to improve competitive performance. In a simplistic term, it is all about adaptation! This comprehension of training makes it a bit easier to analyze the argument of incline vs. flat bench.


These movements are literally tools of the trade. One lift may have a very clear impact on specific athletes while another lift may have a totally different impact on their end result. This is similar to tools in a toolbox! Certain tools need to be used for specific tasks, a screwdriver is not better than a hammer, instead, they are both effective for their purpose!


This still does not clear up the muddied waters of the bench press vs. incline bench. These two tools are so similar it can get quite aggressive. Some coaches want to bring in the joint angle argument, others like to bring up the intensity aspect around the bench press. At the end of the day, what is the adaptation we are looking for as throws coaches?!?!




Target the Weakness...


A big key question coaches need to ask is specific to every single individual thrower. What is their weakness? The bench press can be used to analyze the thrower and assess their weaknesses throughout the movement. A quick glimpse at their elbow movement can show us if their triceps are stronger than their shoulders or vice versa. This brings us to their shoulders. Do they hold a strong retracted position or do they round their upper back while pressing? This feedback can give the coach good insight into overall programming.

Pinched elbows on the flat bench will point us in the direction of weak shoulders relative to their tricep strength. In opposition, we can see that an elbow flare will show coaches poor coordination in their shoulders and triceps and that generally speaking, their shoulders have more strength than their triceps.


The long and short? Throwers with the elbow flare need to hit up more flat benches, typically with a closer grip. Throwers that pinch their elbows into their side have strong triceps but weaker shoulders. Get them on the incline bench and enhance that shoulder connection!


What Degree of Overhead Work Is Programmed?


Overhead work needs to be factored into overall planning. At ThrowsU and GarageStrength.com, our athletes are notorious for having massive push presses, huge behind the neck jerks, and overly impressive snatches! These are all movements that are done overhead and if not monitored properly, can lead to unnecessary issues in the shoulder joint. Coupling these explosive movements with excessive pressing can create problems IF the programming is not coordinated effectively.

Ironically, as athletes develop their overhead ability with explosive lifts, their bench press and incline press subsequently improve. Their shoulder stability improves, they retract their scaps more effectively and they learn how to optimize the co-contraction in the shoulder/pec/lats to provide proper stabilization. This leads to better recruitment of the prime movers and bigger pressing movements!


Does the Bench Press Need a Bump?

Coaches often get stagnant with their programming, they rely on the same movements over and over and barely change their rep schemes. This can lead to stagnant performance and a lift that plateaus over a long period of time. The athlete might get frustrated, the coach gets frustrated and they forget there is a nice quick fix.

How do we know about a quick fix? This all goes back to the original question. The main goal is to spark an adaptation. The adaptation can be caused by a new stimulus! What is it?


Bring in the incline bench.


The angle sparks more growth, the movement creates a different adaptation, the recruitment sequence forces a new aspect of coordination and leads to massive muscular growth! This new growth from the incline movement will lead to MASSIVE growth as well when the thrower gets back into flat benching. The growth from the incline presses should be monitored to see if the flat bench AND the throws improve from this trigger in training.


What is the Individual Transfer?

Each athlete responds slightly differently to various stimuli dependent upon different variables. The athlete adapts based on their prior athletic experience, their biomechanic disposition, their muscle fiber type, and their capability to recover. Understanding these aspects will show the coach how well the individual thrower transfers their strength from various lifts to the actual throws.


When the flat bench increases, the standing throw for the discus or shot put might increase. If these specific movements improve, the coach may see a direct improvement within the full throw as well. By monitoring all lifts and recognizing the capability of each individual athlete and their transfer of strength to the throws directly will help coaches improve the overall training system.

Some gliders do really well transferring the incline bench to their full throw in comparison to their rotational counterpart. Does that mean the incline is a better movement? For the glider, most likely! For the rotator? Not necessarily. Determine the effectiveness of the lifts specifically and then use their strength movements properly when leading to a big peak.


What next…?!?!?!


The coach NEEDS to take time to study transfer of strength and transfer of strength into dynamic speed. Study adaptation curves of each athlete and study how they are managing the stress. Understand how their body is moving, recognize how well they handle specific angles, and then take note within their technique to focus on the different positions they might be hitting and how they recruit rapidly during the throw.

Recap


Both lifts are excellent tools to stimulate a strong adaptation. Whatever adaptation is needed should be documented by the coach and then studied throughout the following program to understand if the adaptation has occurred. Be sure to factor and understand the impact of overhead movements and how they may negate or cause extra stress on the shoulder joint. Each athlete may react slightly differently and the coach needs to be aware of this to optimize long term development!

"Our aim is to provide concise and concrete education and training on the throws, helping coaches and athletes learn what they need to do to succeed and become champions."

- Dane and Trevor


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