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A short history of the bench press
February 4, 2009 10:37 AM   Subscribe

A History of the Bench Press, by Sean Katterle (includes a list of 600+ pound classic bench presses)
All three variations of the press on back – prone floor press, belly toss and bench press – persisted relatively unchanged through the 1940s, but a hierarchy among them quickly developed. For bodybuilders the bench version gained dominance, and by the 1950s it was the king of upper-body movements
posted by jason's_planet (44 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
About those "tight-fitting bench press supershirts" mentioned in the article.

The Inzer Blast Shirt's whole raison d'être was benching. It guaranteed the user an increase of 20 to 35 pounds on his personal best. ...

All shiny red nylon and rigid, it looked harmless enough in Lamar's hands. But from the very beginning, when Lamar and Macon took turns stretching it over my torso in the locker room, we encountered difficulty. It took 5 full minutes to tug and draw the material over my head. I patiently stood with my arms raised to the sky as the boys broke into a sweat just rolling it down my chest and stomach. Macon had to prop his foot against my ass to get enough leverage to pull the constricting fabric down my back.

The tighter it was, the better, they said. It would give me a feeling of security. It would prevent an injury. It would keep my arms in the benching groove. ... It was tight, all right, so tight that the fabric propelled my arms forward. I looked like a sleepwalker as I waddled to take my place on the bench. But this was precisely how the shirt was supposed to work. "Designed to aid and support your bench press throughout the entire range of motion," the shirt's main function was to limit that range of motion. I couldn't eat or bowl or use the toilet wearing the Inzer Blast Shirt, but by God I could bench.

Macon warned me that I might experience a minor degree of discomfort as he lowered the bar to my grasp. Lamar often did on the first set, he said. But I screamed in pain when the bar fell to my chest. I could actually feel my skin tearing underneath my armpits. Lamar was delighted. That proved it. A perfect fit, he said.
- Samuel Wilson Fussell, Muscle
posted by Joe Beese at 11:02 AM on February 4, 2009


Scot Mendelson, 715 lbs. bench. This was without a bench shirt., btw.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:21 AM on February 4, 2009


A couple of big guys helping another big guy put on a bench shirt.
posted by Science! at 11:33 AM on February 4, 2009


Holy fucking shit.
posted by chunking express at 11:40 AM on February 4, 2009


There's a story in Sylvester Stallone's book Sly Moves about him challenging Frank Columbu (who I think was his trainer in Rocky II so I'm pretty sure the story dates from the same time) to a bench-pressing competition. At some point Sly put on so much weight that when he tried to bench it he actually ripped his pectoral. Ouch! I guess bench shirts exist to prevent this.
posted by ob at 11:47 AM on February 4, 2009


Sly put on so much weight that when he tried to bench it he actually ripped his pectoral. Ouch! I guess bench shirts exist to prevent this.

I would say it was probably all the steroids that cause his pectoral to rip.
posted by scarello at 11:52 AM on February 4, 2009


How much ya bench?
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:57 AM on February 4, 2009


ob: "There's a story in Sylvester Stallone's book Sly Moves about him challenging Frank Columbu (who I think was his trainer in Rocky II so I'm pretty sure the story dates from the same time) to a bench-pressing competition. At some point Sly put on so much weight that when he tried to bench it he actually ripped his pectoral. Ouch! I guess bench shirts exist to prevent this."

Stallone challenged this guy?

...

You do realize we're talking about this guy.

...

Wait. So you're telling me that Sylvester Stallone challenged this guy to a bench press contest??

...

THIS GUY?!

And then tore a highly valuable pectoral muscle in the vainglorious, doomed attempt?

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:04 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


THIS GUY?!

Jesus, he looks like a human gnarled doggie chew toy. There has to be some extreme body dysmorphia to allow yourself to become that fucked up looking.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:08 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The bench press is the one exercise that sums up everything that has gone weird about body-building at the amateur level. It all comes down to a number, and that's weight. Not how many reps you did with the weight, or sets. Form? Nah, arch your back all you want. So you have to wear a weird shirt to lift a little more. So you bounce the bar off your chest and maybe get your sternum to crunch like a crab rangoon in a Doberman's jaws. Big deal. Let's get the weight to the point where it is unmanageable and you need two spotters to keep bones from breaking. How much do you bench? Because those three digits are all that matters and, for some mooks, it's the only exercise that matters.

Gah.
posted by adipocere at 12:10 PM on February 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


This post is here to pahmp yoo ahp, ja?
posted by not_on_display at 12:10 PM on February 4, 2009


The longer I stay in this business, the less fond I become of the bench press. And it’s not the fault of the exercise itself, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do if it’s incorporated correctly into the program. It’s the injured shoulders, the big pecs and little legs, the $400 six-layer denim/moly-steel shirts, the 18-year-old football players who can “do 500,” the spotters with traps more fatigued than the bencher’s pecs. But mainly, it’s the noise.

Not at my gym, of course. The vast majority of my members learned a while back that the best way to keep their shoulders healthy was to press and bench press in equal doses, quietly. But there are other gyms in which the bench press is the only upper-body lift done and is the main trapezius exercise for spotters, since deadlifting is pretty scarce in these places. And the yelling just annoys me all out of proportion to how much it should. I get really tired of spotters trying to sound like Macho Man Randy Savage, with their hands on the bar “spotting” every rep.

At CrossFit Wichita Falls/WFAC, spotters don’t touch the bar unless it’s going back down or has been stuck for long enough to get them worried . . . Here, benching is just another exercise, not the absolute measure of personal worth it is in some circles, and the noise level is commensurate with this more balanced, peaceful, logical worldview.

--Mark Rippetoe
posted by jason's_planet at 12:19 PM on February 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


I am cumming day and night!
posted by jckll at 12:23 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


DecemberBoy: " There has to be some extreme body dysmorphia to allow yourself to become that fucked up looking."

Fussell writes that his own obsession with muscle was driven by a pathological fear of vulnerability. His portrayal of the bodybuilding subculture as a refuge for the psychologically unhealthy has endeared him to few.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:25 PM on February 4, 2009


The inner pain of a bodybuilder: I AM NOT UGLY! I AM BEAUTIFUL! IT'S VAHT ZA BODY IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIIIIIKE!. Starring 1970s Arnold Schwarzenegger.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:36 PM on February 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


In the above clip, BTW, Ah-nuld apparently murders a woman (by throwing her into her couch in her groovy 70s singles pad) because she laughs at his posedown. Does anyone know what it's from? It's the funniest thing I've seen all week.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:40 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


DecemberBoy: " Does anyone know what it's from?"

An episode of The Streets of San Francisco titled, with macabre irony, "Dead Lift".
posted by Joe Beese at 12:51 PM on February 4, 2009


An episode of The Streets of San Francisco titled, with macabre irony, "Dead Lift".

What I can't get over is, how could you possibly kill someone by throwing them into a couch? I don't care if you are Arnold Schwarzenegger, that would at best knock someone out. Unless the couch was made out of concrete blocks.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:54 PM on February 4, 2009


> What I can't get over is, how could you possibly kill someone by throwing them into a couch?

I saw this video a while back (could have been via MeFi, not sure), and there was a comment to the effect that the woman died of Shaken Adult Syndrome (SAS).
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:05 PM on February 4, 2009


Man, where are all the people outraged by Mefite's yucking it up about someone else's body?
posted by rodgerd at 2:13 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


In the original airing of "Dead lift", Arnold kills the woman by tearing her still beating heart out of her chest, injecting it with steroids, then eating it.
They removed all traces of this footage following his becoming governor.
posted by orme at 2:15 PM on February 4, 2009


Man, where are all the people outraged by Mefite's yucking it up about someone else's body?

Shame on all of you for making fun of people who devote great effort, money, and time to making their bodies look grotesque.
posted by everichon at 2:26 PM on February 4, 2009


Man, where are all the people outraged by Mefite's yucking it up about someone else's body?

MetaFilter has a large contingent of pasty, pencil-necked cubicle warts who would be hard pressed to lift a bag of groceries from floor to table.

They tend to react to the topic of weight training with snark and defensive/envious LOLZ.

So I wouldn't worry too much about it.
posted by jason's_planet at 2:35 PM on February 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh yeah, jason's_planet?
Well, I simply built a grocery bag elevator out of Legos, but your over-muscled fingers would probably destroy the controller if YOU tried to use it! HA!
posted by orme at 2:45 PM on February 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have lifted a bag of groceries from floor to table on several occasions. I can crush aluminum cans with my bare hands.
posted by everichon at 3:18 PM on February 4, 2009


I have also lifted bags of groceries, but I had to wear a special shirt.
posted by InfidelZombie at 3:58 PM on February 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


InfidelZombie made me laugh!
posted by jason's_planet at 4:09 PM on February 4, 2009


I once lifted six grocery bags (three in each hand) up onto a kitchen counter. And it was not loafs or bread or nothing. That shit was cans of spaghetti sauce and potatoes.

Alternatively:

I'll lift a grocery to your FACE!


I work in an office. It has a window.
posted by Mister Cheese at 5:00 PM on February 4, 2009


MetaFilter has a large contingent of pasty, pencil-necked cubicle warts who would be hard pressed to lift a bag of groceries from floor to table.

RAAAAAAGH! THOSE CUBICLE-WORKIN' NANCY BOYS! THOSE WIMPS! THOSE PUSSIES! I WANNA BEAT 'EM! OH GOD I GOTTA GIVE 'EM A BEATIN'! AAAAAAAGGGGH I'M NOT ON STEROIDS
-GRRRRKaaagggghh

(heart explodes, side effect of injecting ape hormones into scrotum)
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:25 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mark Rippetoe is a grumpy old man. While it might be satisfying for me to elicit a look of esteem from a grumpy old man as my scrawny ass goes to pick up 400lbs off the floor, that isn't the reason I'm in the gym. Girls like those muscle groups that the bench press incorporates. They don't care about the huge percentage of muscle activation from dead lifts, they don't care about the incredible range of motion offered by squats. Do some bench presses, maybe some bicep curls, then run a lap or nine to fatten up your calves so you don't look so top-heavy, and while Mark Rippetoe shakes his head in dismissal, girls on the beach turn their heads in interest.

"Not all girls think like that. *I* don't care about over-muscled jerks."

Also, don't listen to girls, either. According to them, the entire contingent of metafilter should be absolute ladykillers because all girls are interested in are "nice guys who are smart and have a good sense of humor." I think Astro Zombie already scooped up the only one who was sincere when she said that.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 5:31 PM on February 4, 2009


THIS GUY?!

And then tore a highly valuable pectoral muscle in the vainglorious, doomed attempt?

Christ, what an asshole.


Yeah that guy. Although, in all fairness, the story goes that they egged each other on and Frank was meant to be training him. Also, Sly did say that pound for pound Frank Columbu was the strongest man ever and that he should never have taken the bait.
posted by ob at 6:20 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Think of them as antianorexic. Then snark.
Assholes.
posted by vapidave at 6:28 PM on February 4, 2009


I don't know, I have to say that I agree with Mark Rippetoe on bench-presses. The amount of guys I see in the gym who do bench-presses (in all their varieties) exclusively is almost as shocking as their spindly legs.
posted by ob at 6:50 PM on February 4, 2009


While it might be satisfying for me to elicit a look of esteem from a grumpy old man as my scrawny ass goes to pick up 400lbs off the floor, that isn't the reason I'm in the gym. Girls like those muscle groups that the bench press incorporates.

The esteem of others -- cantankerous old men or beach cuties -- is overrated.

Here's a suggestion: why not lift for purely selfish reasons? Why not lift to give yourself a stronger, healthier body? Life feels better when your body is stronger. Your body gets stronger on a whole-body regimen that includes squats and deadlifts than it does on the bench n' biceps routine. A stronger, healthier body gives you a stronger, healthier mind. And when you have that, you don't need to care about who's giving a look of esteem.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:30 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


We seem to have found the new "LOLFATTIES".
posted by rodgerd at 11:11 PM on February 4, 2009


Here's a quote from an earlier post of mine, that sums up my feelings very well:
Well, it looks like most of the why the hell would anyone want to lift heavy stuff over and over comments have petered out, but in case anyone who's not interested in weightlifting or morally opposed to it is still paying attention to this thread, I'll, umm, weigh in. It would be difficult to explain, without sounding like I was exaggerating or making fun, how recursively and often rediculously intellectual and academic most of my current social context is (just to give you a taste, I just got back from a 12-storey library that stays open till two am, where many people were, like me, reading books at midnight that often relied on words such as "milieu" and "discourse" to make their "points.") My point in mentioning this is to say that I am, after a year of serious weightlifting, unusually aware of how irrelevent physical ability is in most intellectual environments and also of the combined scorn and envy with which it is treated when it does get mentioned. Some famous, old-time curmudgeon, maybe HL Mencken, who knows, said something like "I hate sports with at much passion as someone who loves sports hates common sense." I still think this is funny as hell, and often have reasons to agree with it, but the kind of durrr, excersize is dumb attitude held by otherwise inquisitive and intelligent people is just, well, dumb. So if anyone still paying attention to this thread is thinking "what a waste of time" I have something for you to think about. Forgetting that there are serious, useful, and highly practical reasons to train with weights, if you do anything that is in any way difficult, you can learn lessons from weights that you can avoid in all other aspects of your discipline or profession. Only the truly driven and disciplined will avoid developing habits that let them work around their weaknesses in whatever work they do. If you lift weights seriously and don't cheat, the straightforward, measured, and incontrovertible difficulty of lifting something heavy will show you, I guarantee, things you didn't know about yourself in how you learn, how you grow, and how you deal with difficulty. If you never lift anything heavier than a pencil again, your time in the gym will have been worth it. --nimwuman
posted by jason's_planet at 11:32 PM on February 4, 2009


(nimwunnan. sorry. it's late.)
posted by jason's_planet at 11:34 PM on February 4, 2009


ark Rippetoe is a grumpy old man. While it might be satisfying for me to elicit a look of esteem from a grumpy old man as my scrawny ass goes to pick up 400lbs off the floor, that isn't the reason I'm in the gym. Girls like those muscle groups that the bench press incorporates. They don't care about the huge percentage of muscle activation from dead lifts, they don't care about the incredible range of motion offered by squats. Do some bench presses, maybe some bicep curls, then run a lap or nine to fatten up your calves so you don't look so top-heavy, and while Mark Rippetoe shakes his head in dismissal, girls on the beach turn their heads in interest.

What you fail to realize, is that those deadlifts and squats are what give you the nice core muscles that women like to see. And no woman that I know of, enjoys seeing a man with giant hulk tits and no legs or ass. Compound movements really do help you develop a balanced, strong body without wasting all your time on isolations alone. True, you can develop a nice body through other means, but if you are going to choose to lift weights in the gym, why not do it right?
posted by scarello at 6:15 AM on February 5, 2009


And also...lets not forget that compounds help you build solid strength. Isolations don't. So unless you don't want functional strength, don't be too quick to laugh off Rippetoe's suggestions.
posted by scarello at 6:17 AM on February 5, 2009


Interesting article, though it needs a little work. Thanks for posting it jason's_planet.

I took up weightlifting a couple of years ago. I've learned a few things since then.

1. Everyone you meet, whether they are 300 pound receptionists or 95 pound cardio bunnies has their own idea of what it means to be fit. Crossfitters and powerlifters will laugh at each other for their own reasons.

2. The fact of the matter is that the amazing human body is pretty adaptable. Your body will be adapted to whatever it is you do lots of. The really incredible thing is that it can perform such a wide variety of physical activity.

3. Whatever your exercise religion is, you will never convert anyone else. The difference between the 300 pound receptionist and the 95 pound cardio bunny is 205 pounds. It's better that someone is making lots of exercise mistakes than that someone is not making any because they are sitting on the couch/computer chair/dining room table all the time.

4. Anyone who gets under a bar weighing 600 pounds (with a bench shirt on or not) and benches it is strong. Very strong. Stronger than me and stronger than you. The amount of work to attain that strength is vast. Don't hate on such people. You might wonder about their motivation, just as I wonder about what motivates people run marathons. There's no accounting for taste.

5. Rippetoe is right. The bench is just one of many exercises that should be performed. He is also a grumpy old man. Those two characteristics are not mutually exclusive. In fact they coincide pretty frequently.

6. Funny story. Last summer I was at a water park with my kids. Lots of people in bathing suits running around. I walked past a guy who had a very nice torso, well defined abs, chiseled "chesticles". Legs like sticks. I saw no discernible muscle on the guys back. I don't even know how that's possible, but the dude looked silly.

etc.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 3:11 PM on February 5, 2009


Interesting article, though it needs a little work. Thanks for posting it jason's_planet.

Oh, you're welcome! (and thank you!)

Just curious . . . what are the article's weak points? Where is the room for improvement?
posted by jason's_planet at 3:57 PM on February 5, 2009


/me gets out his red pen.

Correcting papers is part of a past life, and I'm a little rusty at it. The article is a little muddled and the flow is not entirely logical. For example, the editorializing on the "supershirt" is kind of injected in the middle of history. This makes it a little confusing. This is the impression I had after the first read.

Interesting note on the list of benches over 600: there are two people under 250 (1 at 229 and 1 at 240). A 600 pound bench at 229 is super hot.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 8:07 AM on February 6, 2009


The article is a little muddled and the flow is not entirely logical. For example, the editorializing on the "supershirt" is kind of injected in the middle of history.

I hear you. Good points. In any event, it's awfully damn nice when someone shows evidence of, y'know . . . actually reading the article.

A 600 pound bench at 229 is super hot.

Yeah, if you can pull that off at that weight, you're gifted. I'm at about that weight and I'd be happy to get 300!
posted by jason's_planet at 3:03 PM on February 6, 2009


Stallone challenged this guy?

Maybe he thought it was this guy
posted by jpdoane at 1:12 PM on February 9, 2009


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