A lot of people point out that when you see my athletes benching on Youtube or Instagram, you primarily see them benching with a fat bar. I want to address some common questions I get about why my athletes use a fat bar to bench with, and why I see it as much more beneficial than benching with a standard 45lb bar. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume a fat bar is any bar with a diameter larger than that of a standard bar. Although, ideally, I’d have athletes use a bar with a 2” diameter. So, let’s start.
First, I think fat bars do a great job of improving an individual’s shoulder stability. If you’ve ever seen what it looks like the first time someone benches with a fat bar, you’ve seen how shaky and unstable most people are. People start trembling from their wrists all the way down into their shoulders. This is not good. The fat bar effectively teaches people how to improve this instability, by forcing them to pack their traps and scapula into a firm support for pressing. Usually people start to improve their shakiness by the 2nd or 3rd set, as they really key into how to retract their scapula and push into the bench with their back.
Second is increased motor unit recruitment. This is beneficial for a couple of reasons. In order to get a comfortable grip on the bar, most people will use a slightly wider grip on the bar. Next, they’ll find they need to squeeze the bar much harder to stabilize it in their hands. These two actions are going to lead to much of the increased stability I spoke about above, as well as increased grip strength. The squeezing of the hands requires constant activation of the muscles of the forearm, helping any athlete’s grip. The increased motor unit recruitment also means that you’re training more muscles with each rep. If you activate more motor units with one variation of an exercise over another, you’re going to get stronger!
Finally, there is a greater direct transfer of training. So many sports require the more open handed position that fat bar bench demands, from throwing a shot or disc, and even to throwing a football or taking on a block. We need to be able to teach these athletes how to produce power from the upper body with an open hand. Fat bar bench allows me to do exactly that!