What are the pros/cons of board bench pressing? I know it helps reduce shoulder strain, but what benefits are there based on being able to lift more weight and what cons since you don't have full ROM (range of motion)? And if you focus on board benching with heavy weights, how do you retain for regular (non-board) post so that you don't hurt those muscles/tendons that aren't used to the heavier load?
Board presses are a supplement to regular bench presses. It's not so much a matter of pros and cons (as if you were choosing one over the other) as it is knowing under what circumstances board presses can be a useful tool:
- Emphasize Lockout - If the weak point on your bench press is the lockout, then board presses can provide focused work on that range of motion. Typically this would be applicable for equipped lifters (a bench shirt), and not for raw lifters.
- Tricep Activation - Following the point above, more tricep activiation in this range of motion.
- Overload - Provide the neural training of lifting a supramaximal weight, possible over this limited range of motion. Note that this isn't really feasible without a couple of spotters unless you're in a rack and using safety pins to simulate boards.
- Shoulder Relief - Provides a way for lifters with damaged shoulders to still press in a range that doesn't cause pain or aggravate the injury.
From my perspective, as someone with a small ribcage and long arms (fortunately, my humerus is longer than my radius and ulna), the bench press poses some risks. Someone with a barrel chest and short arms can perform the bench press in a safe range of motion, whereas if I were to consistently do a bench press with bar to chest, my elbows would actually be lower than my back - that would not be good for my shoulders. I generally do my presses with the inside of my elbow no lower than my back, but the bar doesn't touch my chest. I'm not entirely certain what the advantage is of using a board over other options. I would think doing the press inside a squat rack with pins at the lowest height you want the bar to go would make more sense, and would be safer. Alternately doing a floor press instead, with the boards (if necessary) under the plates would also make more sense to me.
Eric Cressey uses these in shoulder rehab for pitchers. The idea is to limit the range of motion at the bottom which is stressful on the rotator cuff. After my rotator repair I used boards on the floor to accomplish the same thing with pushups (I have no spotters). Gym limitations often require odd lifts like the board press. For a healthy bencher with no fancy equipment but good training partners, this might be used to work on a sticking point. Many exercises have a position where your particular body runs into a leverage problem. In the picture his sticking point might be an inch above the boards. He'll press the weight an inch or so above that point and then lower it back to the board. The idea is to build strength at the sticking point. These guys have a power rack, so they might have been adding or subtracting boards as the set progressed (a kind of drop set). Adjusting pins or rack bars is too slow a process and requires a spotter at each end of the bar.