Should wrestlers bench press?
Ok, we’ve all heard the anecdotes, and maybe you find yourself reciting them as well - “wrestling is not a pressing sport”
“Bench Press isn’t functional”
“If you’re on your back pressing up, it’s too late”
While I agree that wrestling involves the “pulling” muscles of the back and biceps much more than the “pushing” ones, it is important to be strong in every position. Hand fighting involves both pushing and pulling, and you definitely need a strong chest to cradle up an opponent.
So the short answer is “yes”. Despite the long standing myths within wrestling culture, all wrestlers should bench press. The slightly longer answer is that when programming bench press for wrestlers, make sure that upper body pulling movements are prioritized at a 2:1 ratio - i.e. each week do twice as much volume pulling as you do pushing. So if during the season your athletes are lifting weights twice per week, make sure both days include some heavy pulling (weighted chin ups on one day, and rows paired with your pressing movement during the second lift), and that the total volume of sets for pressing is half that of your pulling movements for the week.
Some other ways to make the bench press “sport specific” for wrestling:
1. Bring in your grip - by shortening the grip to no wider than shoulder width the bench press becomes safer for the shoulder and forces the athlete to use their lats to stabilize and push the bar. Keeping the grip medium/narrow also more closely mimics the position a wrestler would “push” during hand fighting rather than with their elbows out wide.
2. Go single - the single arm dumbbell press is one of my favorite pressing variations for wrestlers, particularly in season. Without a second dumbbell to counterbalance, the single arm press requires a tremendous amount of anti-rotational core strength and forces the athlete to drive into the ground with their glutes - making this press as “functional” as it gets.
3. Start low - Performing a Pin Press out of a rack is a great way to build concentric power (pressing up) without the soreness associated with eccentric (lowering the bar) loading. Set the pins or rack so that the bar is just above the chest at the bottom position. Get set under the bar, tense up the lats and squeeze the bar before exploding up into a press. Rack and then have your spotters lower, or loosely guide the bar back down. Re-set before each rep - do not bounce off of the rack.
Remember! You can’t get enough “pulling” movements - even on days off, face pulls and band scap retractions can be used as prehab to build resiliency and shoulder integrity - but that doesn’t mean you should neglect your presses. My wrestlers bench press year round, and yours should too.
The most important thing is having a structured strength plan that addresses all of the physical needs and demands of wrestling - luckily for you, I have you covered. Check out my Wrestling Strength e-books HERE
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