1: What I have to train: The bench press
What I would rather train: parallel bar dips
Why: I realize that the bench press has been a staple in every red blooded American’s trainee, but in reality, I find the movement leaves a lot to desired. As much as many people want it to just be “lie down and press”, the reality is that good benching necessitates a lot of work. Arching, shoulder blade retracting, leg drive, pulling the bar apart, etc etc, there are a million different things going on at once here, and getting a good bench means putting in a lot of work into the skill of benching, not necessarily high on the list of someone who simply wants to become bigger and stronger.
Oh yeah, also, don't forget to breathe
Additionally, there will always be the “fear factor” of benching, in that it is a movement where we suspended the heavy barbell over our bodies from arm’s length height, rather than having it underneath/beside us like in the deadlift or connected to our body like the squat. It becomes difficult for a trainee to really push themselves hard on this lift without a spotter due to fear of consequences. WITH a spotter though, we run into a whole new gamut of issues wherein overly eager spotters grab the bar before a struggle begins, leaving the trainee to wonder if they actually lifted the weight themselves or if they needed assistance, which makes self assessment and monitoring difficult. On the topic of difficulty is self assessment, we can also discuss how ideally a bench is paused, but in practice it is a touch and go movement, and herein the potential exists for trainees to simply become better at bouncing the weight off their sternum (regardless of the safety issues with this practice) rather than actually getting stronger at the bottom of the lift, meaning that more weight can be lifted week to week, yet more strength is not actually being developed. From all of this, I genuinely do not feel the bench is a worthwhile movement for trainees who simply desire size and strength.
The parallel bar dip avoids many of these issues. The movement is far less technical than the bench press, mainly because one is not making use of a bench in the movement, and therefore there is no need to try to incorporate said bench into their execution. A trainee cannot drive their heels into the floor, nor can they drive their traps into a bench and force an exaggerated arch by being on their toes, they simply are dipping up and down on a set of bars. Yes, some technique is required, but not nearly as much. Less time focusing on getting better at dips is more time spent getting bigger and stronger USING dips.
Maybe...maybe using too much dip
The fear factor from bench is totally eliminated as well, for if the weight is too heavy, you just fall down to the floor and terminate the set. This means far more effort/intensity can be put into each set, and sets to failure/past failure are very easy to include. A spotter is totally unnecessary here, and the movement is similar to a squat, where one dips down to a point and immediately springs up, meaning there is no debate on pause vs. no pause, letting strength progression be easier to track. There is an inability to use ones’ anatomy as a springboard here as well, so even if you are getting a stretch reflex at the bottom of the lift, you’re not risking your sternum to do so. Progression can become a little cumbersome here, as weights on a dip belt can get awkward at higher poundages, but that is honestly a good problem to have. If you are at the point where the weights on your dip belt are getting in the way of your movement, you most likely got pretty big and strong.
In general, I prefer very closely spaced together parallel bars. My right shoulder is a mess, and the closer the bars, the easier on my shoulders. Some trainees prefer wider spacing and an angle. Find out what works for you.
2: What I have to do: Log/axle pressing
What I would do instead: Log/axle pressing
Why: There is nothing to change here, strongman got it right all along, and one of my biggest regrets is not using these movements sooner. I will discuss the benefits of both the log and the axle here.
The axle: The axle is essentially a fat grip barbell with no rotating sleeves. I spent time with a regular barbell with fat gripz, thinking it would be similar, but once I made my own axle and gave it a try, they didn’t compare at all. The squishiness of the fat gripz isn’t here at all, which makes pressing feel much more secure in general. Additionally, the wide diameter of the bar is very easy on the joints, specifically the elbows, which is great if yours are beat up from years of pressing with barbells. I use a thumbless grip with all of my pressing, and it’s totally manageable with the axle. The lack of rotating sleeves can be a factor if you clean the bar, but don’t really hinder pressing to a significant degree.
Hell, sometimes a lack of sleeves can be a good thing
Finally, one of the biggest selling points of the axle is the fact you can make one for about $50. Get a piece of 2” galvanized steel pipe cut to slightly over 7’ and use duct tape to make sleeves on either side. You can use hose clamps too to accomplish something similar. After I made my axle, I kicked myself for not having one for years.
The log: This is awesome for a completely different set of reasons. The log, in my opinion, is the perfect pressing implement for people with messed up shoulders. This is the case for two reasons, the first of which being the neutral grip built into the log. By pressing in this fashion, your hands are kept rotated in a more natural position, putting far less strain onto your shoulders compared to the grip one normally experiences with a straight bar. The second benefit of this bar is the fact that the handles are buried deep into the log, meaning your hands will naturally rest much higher up when the log is on your chest. This functions in a similar capacity to the “shoulder saver” bar/pad that elitefts sells, in that it forces you to always perform a partial press that bypasses the lowest portion of the chest, which is where a lot of pain/damage occurs with previously injured pressers. It is comical that these features are what tend to bother people with healthy shoulders when it comes to the bar, forcing it to be considered “unwieldy”, because when a jacked up trainee attempts to utilize the log, it feels absolutely perfect. This means that the time spent training the log press is time spent building big and strong shoulders.
Plus, you can't argue with that
Though the pressing of the log can be considered more technical than a straight bar press, which is something I tend to shy away from for the non-competitive athlete, what really shines about the log from a “non-technical” aspect is the cleaning of it. As someone who is totally lacking in coordination, I can clean a log with much greater ease than a barbell. Whereas the barbell requires triple extension, the log can simply be rolled up the body with a total lack of finesse, meaning, if one does want to train a floor to overhead type of movement (especially for something like tabata work), the log is a champ.