Most of you quarterbacks out there are well into your strength and conditioning programs at this point. The goal is to increase overall strength within the body that will specifically translate to higher performance on the field or court. This is an essential part of any athlete’s programming. The only problem is that we see a lot of wrong programming for quarterbacks of every level out there that is going to decrease their performance on the field and predispose them to higher injury rates. One of the exercises that we primarily see being done, and done the wrong way, is the bench press. Today, we are going to give you 5 reasons why all QB’s out there should not bench press and other variations of exercises to perform instead for better results.
#1 Overuse of the Rotator Cuff
The primary role of the rotator cuff is to stabilize the glenuhumeral joint (shoulder) while a person moves their arm in all planes of movement. The rotator cuff is the stabilizing system and the muscles around the rotator cuff are the prime movers. (pec major, lat, deltoid, teres major, triceps) The big problem that we see is that most athletes do not have enough range of motion in shoulder extension. This is a big problem when talking about the bench press being a good exercise for a QB. In the picture below, you can see what I mean when I say shoulder extension.
During the lowering phase of the bench press exercise, the QB has to go into full ranges of shoulder extension to allow the bar to reach the chest without the elbows flaring out to the side really far. How many times have you seen an athlete flare their elbows out on the bench press? We see this in nearly every athlete if they haven’t been taught the right cues. When an athlete lacks shoulder extension, the elbows will come out really far which is now most likely internal rotation of the shoulder. What are the primary rotators of the shoulder? Well, the rotator cuff muscles are. At the bottom position of the bench press, players will shred their rotator cuff. The infraspinatus and teres minor muscles specifically will have to eccentrically work to control the bar to the chest, and then concentrically contract in order to get the bar of the chest. This causes tremendous amounts of overuse and misuse of the rotator cuff, in which pain or dysfunction are inevitable. See the video below to get more details on this specific issue.
#2 Over Extension of Lumbar Spine
At this point, whoever follows our material has heard us preach this over and over. It’s beating a dead horse at this point. With that said, we are going to talk about it again. A lot of the athletes out there are going to present with weak abdominals, weak glutes, and stiff/highly toned hip flexors. Combine this presentation with loading too much weight on the bar during the bench press and you have a disaster. When the butt or low back comes off the bench during the bench press for a quarterback, you get worse and worse with every rep. Go back and read that again, and again, and again. The picture below depicts what I’m talking about when referring to this specific issue.
The bench press soon becomes a hip thrust at this point, and a very inefficient one at that since we are almost at end ranges of hip extension for most. The path of least resistance is extension through the lumbar spine which is a nightmare for any player. Quarterbacks need to realize that they will claim the positions that they train in. This is an extremely important concept. During the acceleration phase of throwing, we see this same over extension compensation over and over because athletes don’t have the pre-requisite framework needed to hold a stable position, as well as their brains also knowing this over extension pattern as being the “norm”. Below are some pictures of what I mean as far as over extension during the throwing motion.
This position during the throwing motion will ALWAYS cause decreased accuracy, decreased velocity, and increased risk of injury. It is a guarantee.
#3 Shoulder Impingement
This concept is piggy backing off of the first main point I made about a lack of shoulder extension in all athletes. A lack of shoulder extension equals shoulder rotation at the bottom portion of the bench press which means overuse of the rotator cuff. It also means impingement of some of the tendons within the shoulder that are very important structures. When the shoulder comes forward because of the flaring of the elbows, the shoulder bone often causes some sheering of either the supraspinatus tendon, long head of the biceps tendon, or the bursa. Some of you reading this are nodding your heads because this can be extremely painful! The picture below depicts the structures in the shoulder and the problem I’m talking about.
A painful shoulder will keep you out of the weight room, but it will also keep you off the field from getting throws in. Isn’t that what you are trying to get better at in the first place? Shouldn’t training be centered around increasing performance instead of decreasing it, and decreasing injury instead of increasing it? Hmmm….
#4 Anterior Capsule Laxity
Physical Therapist and Strength and Conditioning coach Eric Cressey hammers this point home a lot when talking about overhead athletes, especially throwers. During the throwing motion, the head of the humerus (shoulder bone) will glide forward during the cocking/loading phase. (when bringing the ball back.) Due to high volumes of throwing, the passive structures of the shoulder often get over stretched which can damage any of the three ligaments or capsule on the front side of the shoulder bone. This is not good news for the throwing shoulder because we need as much stability from these passive structures as we can. See below for a picture of these structures.
During the bench press, when an athlete goes into extreme ranges of shoulder extension, the head of the humerus will inevitably roll forward into those structures on the front of the shoulder that are mentioned above. This is just how the arthrokinematics work in the glenohumeral joint. Long story short, if you bench press, along with throw the ball a lot, you will damage these structures over time which could mean ligamentous injury, capsule damage, or tendon damage at some point in your career. It’s not worth doing an exercise that isn’t going to translate to the field at all in relation to the quarterback position.
#5 Tone in Pec Musculature
When building up the pec musculature while doing the bench press, stiffness or tone often presents. This is a huge issue for shoulders for a number of reasons. Number 1, stiffness here will often make it extremely hard for quarterbacks to go into full ranges of horizontal abduction without compensation through the low back. You can see below on what horizontal abduction is.
This motion is super important during the loading phase of the throwing motion. A common compensation for quarterbacks that do have some stiffness in the pecs is to once again over extend the lumbar spine. An over extended spine during the loading phase always equals an unstable trunk during the acceleration phase. We are “entering the tunnel” very poorly in this case. Number 2, stiffness here also promotes a forward shoulder posture which will cause inefficient use of the rotator cuff as well. A lack of joint centration will always cause improper use of these muscles. Forward shoulder posture will cause the rotator cuff muscles to work harder, especially during the deceleration phase of throwing, which will at some point cause rotator cuff strain.
So is it worth it quarterbacks? Is it worth having a big chest to increase injury risk and decrease performance? I don’t think so. If you said yes, find a different position because you don’t care about getting better as a QB. The bench press is an ego driven, meaningless exercise for quarterbacks. Leave your ego at home. If you have questions about this article or want to collaborate, please feel free to reach out to me at 812-343-4226 or email me at [email protected].
-Drew Kiel PT, DPT, CSCS