Why Jay Cutler Thinks the Bench Press Is the “Worst Exercise” for Bodybuilding

“The bench press is the standard, which is funny because it’s like the worst exercise for bodybuilding.”

That’s Jay Cutler, a four-time Mr. Olympia winner, discussing the merit of free-weight compound exercises like the bench press in a Jun. 7, 2024 YouTube vlog. Cutler continues: “It puts way too much pressure on the shoulder joint and everyone ends up tearing a pec.”

[Related: The Best Supplements for Bodybuilding]

Cutler in his heyday famously dethroned all-time great Ronnie Coleman at the 2006 Mr. Olympia; he probably knows a thing or two about how to build muscle properly. But does Cutler’s argument hold up against scientific scrutiny and — perhaps more importantly — the positions of other bodybuilders? That’s what we’re about to find out.

Why the Bench Press Is the “Worst” Bodybuilding Exercise

Before we pick apart some off-the-cuff remarks of one of modern bodybuilding’s most successful athletes, let’s look at what Cutler is really saying here.

Cutler believes the risk-to-reward ratio skews in the wrong direction when it comes to the bench press and chest hypertrophy: “[Injuries] rarely happen [benching] 135, but once you put on 225, 315, 405 pounds…”

He also discusses the explosive tempo with which many athletes perform the bench press, a movement cadence that can put the pectoral tendon at risk.

We think Cutler’s words hold water and have at least partial scientific support.

Despite his insistence that someone “will” tear their pec if they perform the bench press with too much weight or for too long, studies show that acute injury rates are quite rare in strength training. (1)

That said, other papers back Cutler.

A 2022 paper noted that pec tendon tears are “classically seen” in young weight-lifting men during the bench press exercise while using high loads. (2)

Other Voices: During his bodybuilding contest prep for the 2023 Classic Physique Mr. Olympia, Chris Bumstead noted that he deliberately slows down his tempo and transitions more smoothly between the lifting and lowering portions of the incline dumbbell press to avoid straining his pec tendon.

[Related: The Best Whey Protein Powders for Recovery]

Should You Bench Press for Bodybuilding?

Make no mistake, Cutler didn’t close the case file on the benefits of the bench press. In fact, if you’ve ever wondered how strong Cutler was on the bench, you might be surprised to learn that he one set a 2-rep max of 550 pounds. But that same strength also caused Cutler to become a bit war weary of the classical barbell exercise:

“[You] won’t [catch] me under a flat barbell bench press (only a Smith machine for that movement), and you certainly won’t see me doing [two] reps of anything,” Cutler said in 2019.

On Dec. 15, 2022, Exercise & Sport Science PhD Dr. Mike Israetel went to bat for the bench press as a bodybuilding exercise, crediting it with creating substantial growth in his own chest and commending its accessibility.

Israetel also credited his injury-free bench press history in both bodybuilding and powerlifting to his setup, which includes establishing a proper bench press arch and retracting his shoulder blades.

[Related: The Best Pre-Workout Supplements for Bodybuilding Training]

Evidence-based content creator Jeff Nippard has also endorsed the barbell bench press for muscle growth. “I credit most of my own pec development to [the bench press],” Nippard said while ranking it as an “A-tier” movement for satisfying two of his three main criteria:

Mechanical tension applied to the chest muscle fibers

Easy to apply progressive overload to by adding small weight plates

Feels good and is practical

Nippard acknowledged that there’s plenty of variability between individuals regarding the “feel” of benching with a barbell.

But what does science have to say? There are plenty of data studying the barbell bench press versus other common chest exercises. Let’s take a look:

A 2010 study comparing the barbell bench press against the Smith machine variation concluded, “Coaches should consider choosing the free weight bench press … because of its potential for greater muscular development.” (3)

In 2014, Akagi et al. observed a strong correlation between pectoralis major size and 1-rep max bench press performance. (4)

However, a 2019 paper remarked on the hypertrophy potential of free weight exercises, noting that stabilized exercises (such as the fixed path of a Smith machine) are more conducive to muscle growth than similar movement patterns with lower stability. (5)

[Related: The Best Wrist Wraps for Bench Press Workouts]

Your Takeaway

So, is the bench press the worst bodybuilding exercise for the chest? Cutler may think so — and his arguments certainly have merit — but that shouldn’t scare you off the bench altogether, especially if it’s an exercise you enjoy and can perform with good form.

Remember; pro bodybuilders exist and operate in an entirely different world from recreational lifters. Factors such as world-class levels of strength and deeply restrictive contest prep diets impact the relationship Cutler’s formed with his bodybuilding workouts over the years. Heed his advice, but bear in mind that no one person’s word is weight room law.

More Bodybuilding News

Are Protein Shakes Good for You? An RDN Explains

Jay Cutler’s Go-To Chest Exercises for Aesthetics

Pro Bodybuilding Coach Critiques Dorian Yates’ Workout Routine


Aasa U, Svartholm I, Andersson F, et al. Injuries among weightlifters and powerlifters: a systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017;51:211-219.

Long MK, Ward T, DiVella M, Enders T, Ruotolo C. Injuries of the Pectoralis Major: Diagnosis and Management. Orthop Rev (Pavia). 2022 Nov 30;14(4):36984. doi: 10.52965/001c.36984. PMID: 36589511; PMCID: PMC9797018.

Schick, E. E., Coburn, J. W., Brown, L. E., Judelson, D. A., Khamoui, A. V., Tran, T. T., & Uribe, B. P. (2010). A comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press. Journal of strength and conditioning research24(3), 779–784.

Akagi, R., Tohdoh, Y., Hirayama, K., & Kobayashi, Y. (2014). Relationship of pectoralis major muscle size with bench press and bench throw performances. Journal of strength and conditioning research28(6), 1778–1782.

Saeterbakken AH, Olsen A, Behm DG, Bardstu HB, Andersen V. The short- and long-term effects of resistance training with different stability requirements. PLoS One. 2019 Apr 1;14(4):e0214302. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0214302. PMID: 30934001; PMCID: PMC6443166.

Featured Image: @jaycutler / Instagram

The post Why Jay Cutler Thinks the Bench Press Is the “Worst Exercise” for Bodybuilding appeared first on BarBend.


您的电子邮箱地址不会被公开。 必填项已用 * 标注