Is the Bench Press Good for Basketball Players?

After one superstar player had a poor performance on the bench press at the NBA combine in 2007, ballers across the country began to question whether the bench press was an effective training tool to improve their game.

Here's why it may not be the best choice for upper-body strength training:

Poor Biomechanics

Basketball players tend to have longer arms than the average athlete making the bench press a much tougher lift. Longer arms results in a longer distance the bar has to travel which means more work. It's an inefficient exercise that doesn't result in an appreciable payoff.

Injury Risk

Even though basketball is not a classic overhead-type sport like baseball or volleyball, it still has a lot of movements that involve the arms being raised above the head. The barbell bench press is a riskier choice for overhead athletes because of the internal rotation of shoulders when the elbows flare out during the pressing motion. Too much benching too often will eventually lead to shoulders problem.

On top of that, if there is not a proper ratio of pulling exercises (i.e rows) to pushing exercises (i.e. bench press), an athlete's shoulders will tend to be pulled forward resulting in a hunchback. That poor posture makes shooting correctly extremely difficult.


Analysts, strength coaches, and computer geeks have been looking at the results from the NBA combine for the last several years to see if a positive correlation exists between the results on the bench press and performance on the court. They have yet to find a positive relationship.


Athletes like performing tasks they are good at. A basketball player with long arms will never been good at the bench press. If a team of basketball players is in the weight room the same time a football team is in the weight room, the basketball players will be embarrassed on the bench press. Egos will be hurt. Jokes will be made. In sports, attitude is everything.

The Replacement

Before considering a replacement for the barbell bench press make sure your lower body workouts contain at minimum one exercise from the following categories:

  • Quad dominant 2 foot: Squats, front squats, etc.
  • Hip Dominant 2 foot: Deadlift, Goodmorning, etc.
  • Quad Dominant 1 foot: Single leg squat, Split Squat, rear foot elevated split squat
  • Hip Dominant 1 foot: Walking Single leg deadlift, single leg deadlift with reach
  • Power Exercises: Power Snatch, power clean, squat jumps, medicine ball tosses
  • Core Exercise: Planks, side planks, Pallof Press, Turkish Getup

We break our lower body workouts into two sessions weekly: 1. Hip Dominant Day 2. Quad Dominant Day.

Then and only then can you begin to add upper-body pressing work. At 4th Quarter Training, we use the single arm dumbbell press with a neutral grip. Not only does this take some of the stress off of the shoulder, but the uneven weight engages the core. A weak core translates into a weak vertical jump. Pushups are also an excellent choice. Weighted Bosu ball pushups or TRX pushups are two of our favorite variations.

Remember, focus on your foundation: lower body and core. That's what makes athletes explosive. Foundations build champions!

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