Wrestling and the Bench Press

By Matthew Wernikoff

Nathan Bueno, NJ Wrestling State Qualifier and long time Champion Athlete performing the bench press.

Nathan Bueno, NJ Wrestling State Qualifier and long time Champion Athlete performing the bench press.

I often hear coaches tell their athletes that they shouldn’t bench press.  They tell their athletes that wrestling is a “pull” sport and benching is for “press” sports such as football.  They also argue that since you never want to be on your back in wrestling you shouldn’t perform a lift that you have to perform from your back.

Wrestling is not only a pull sport!  When you are trying to establish inside tie or collar tie position you are going to need to be able to push your opponent.  Any time you are trying to hold your position on bottom, push back into your opponent when they are on top and trying to break you down you are going to need to have a strong chest to do this.  When the same coach who told you not to bench also tells you to get your arm in front of you when your opponent is trying to run an arm bar, maybe you should turn to him and say, “I can’t you told me not to bench!”  I could go on and on about the many different positions that require you to have a strong chest but I don’t want to bore anyone.  It is true that wrestling is primarily a pull sport but the split is probably 60-70% pull vs 30-40% push so clearly you need to have a strong chest and triceps in order to be able to compete effectively.

Here are some training tips for building up your chest for wrestling:

  1. Keep your reps high, 8-12 or even 16 reps!
    1. Low reps build bulky slow muscle, not good for wrestling.
    2. Lower reps can put a lot of stress on your shoulders and rotator cuffs.  Protect your shoulders by not doing anything lower than 6-8 reps and controlling the bar during the negative range of motion.  You also don’t want to come any closer than 1-2 inches from your chest.  Never bounce the bar off your chest!
    3. Its more important to be able to explosively, efficiently and repeatedly move your weight class as many times as possible than it is to bench 300lbs.  If you wrestle 145, even if your opponent is cutting 10lbs you shouldn’t be facing anyone over 155.  So which would you rather do?  Be able to push him with a 300lbs of force a few times and then be exhausted or be able to repeatedly push him around for 6 minutes straight?  That’s why it’s better to be able to bench 155 16 or more times for 3 sets in a short period of time (with good technique and safely.)
  2. Train incline bench!
    1. If you look at a wrestling stand and extend your arms parallel to the ground you see that this angle more closely resembles the angle of incline bench instead of flat bench.
    2. It’s important to have a balanced chest and work both your upper and lower pecs.  Imbalances lead to instabilities and injuries.
  3. Use dumbbells and train unilaterally!
    1. When you only use a barbell you might not notice if one side of your body is weaker than the other.
    2. You activate more stabilizing muscles when you use a dumbbell.
    3. When you are wrestling you are not always using both arms in the same way.  One might be pushing while another is pulling or just holding position.
  4. Always use a spotter!
    1. Make sure you have an educated, focused and strong spotter.
    2. When doing dumbbell work always get spotted at the wrists.  Your elbows can bend quickly when you reach fatigue and you don’t want a weight coming down on your face!
  5. Bench works more than just your chest and triceps.

When you bench properly your posterior chain (lower back, hips, glutes, hamstrings) is engaged as is your lats and shoulders.  Here is a  great video I found on the proper form for benching technique, spotting and the muscles involved:

Benching is not only important for wrestling it is important for having a balanced body and ensuring you stay injury free!

As always consult your physician and an experienced trainer before starting any exercise program!

About Matthew Wernikoff

Sports Performance Coach | Wrestling Coach | Personal Trainer
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