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Push-Ups Vs. Bench Press: Benefits & Interchangeability

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two male models are performing exercises, push ups on the left and dumbbell bench press on the right, Push-Ups Vs. Bench Press
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Professional Natural Bodybuilder, Transformation Trainer, IRONMAN triathlete, Co-founder of the Kris Gethin Gyms franchise

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If you are training to increase your chest strength and size, you’ll almost certainly have heard about the push-ups vs. bench press dispute, that is to say: which of these two exercises is more effective for achieving said goal. But is one really more effective than the other?

In this article, we will outline and discuss the benefits of each exercise and how they can help you reach your fitness goals. 

Push-Ups Vs. Bench Press: Muscles Worked

The first difference in the push-ups vs. bench press debate is that the former is a bodyweight exercise requiring you to push the body away from a surface, while the latter is a weighted exercise where you push a load away from the body. 

Since both are upper-body push exercises, they both target the chest, deltoids (especially the frontal deltoids), and triceps, but they also require some degree of activation of the lats. 

With the bench press, the body is stabilized on a bench when pressing. This allows you to focus more on your pecs and can give you the leverage to lift heavier weights. 

Push-ups, on the other hand, require more active body stabilization, activating the back, core, and glute muscles.

Push-Ups Vs. Bench Press: Science

When you think about muscular strength, you might assume that bench pressing will give you the desired outcome faster than performing loads of bodyweight push-ups. 

In one sense, this is correct. Progression is a lot more linear with bench presses, as you can more easily increase the number of repetitions and sets, increase the load, or both.

With push-ups, however, progression is not as straightforward. Here, achieving adequate intensity levels to build strength is more difficult because you must first develop the core strength to stabilize the body. And even when you perform more advanced variations, such as executing push-ups on unstable surfaces, greater strength gain in the chest is not always the result. [1] 

That said, when you look into weighted push-ups vs. bench press, research shows they can equally lead to similar strength outcomes. [2] Therefore, to improve strength gains, you should utilize bands or other direct weight-loading methods (such as adding plates on one’s back) alongside increasing the number of repetitions and sets.

Are Push-Ups and Bench Presses Interchangeable?

The bench press cannot be replaced by bodyweight push-ups, as the former requires an external load and hence provides a different stimulus to the muscles. 

However, this changes when you also add weight to push-ups. Adding a load to push-ups can affect muscle strength and growth in a way that is similar to a bench press.

Interestingly, research has demonstrated that whilst strength gained from performing push-ups and push-up variations can be transferred to bench pressing, the opposite is not possible. [3] 

Another factor to consider when comparing push-ups and bench presses is that bench pressing requires greater shoulder stabilization, so it is a good exercise for those looking to strengthen a weak shoulder girdle. [4]

However, if your sole aim is to increase chest size and strength, you can perform either one of the two exercises to stimulate this muscle group – so long as appropriate training volumes are achieved. [2]

Push-Ups Vs. Bench Press: Benefits

This section will outline the benefits of bench pressing and push-ups. 

comparison chart of the benefits of Push Ups Vs Bench Press

The Benefits of Push-Ups Compared to Bench Press

  • Push-ups strengthen the whole body, targeting the back, glutes, and core more than the bench press.
  • Сan be performed anywhere, making them more versatile and cheaper, as you don’t need to have a gym membership to do them.
  • There is also a functional aspect to push-ups, as getting stronger with this total-body exercise also means you are less likely to injure yourself in your day-to-day life.
  • There are plenty of variations of the push-up, which can make training and progression more exciting.

The Benefits of Bench Press Compared to Push-Ups

  • Stabilizing the body against a bench makes it easier to target the chest.
  • Using an external load (weighted bar) makes it easier to gain strength faster, thanks to linear progression.
  • Not relying on core stabilization makes it easier to achieve results in chest size and strength as it enables you to apply progressive overload more effectively.
  • Bench pressing allows you to directly train and improve the stabilization of the shoulders.

You may also like: Smith Machine Bench Press

Do Push-Ups Help With Bench Pressing?

Doing push-ups doesn’t necessarily help improve your bench press performance, but it can certainly support it. 

Some studies have demonstrated that doing only push-ups can lead to similar bench press strength gains in those who only do bench pressing. The hypothesis behind this is that push-ups require the activation of more muscles than just the chest, lats, and triceps, supporting the overall bench pressing movement more effectively. [3] 

This is because push-ups strengthen the core muscles, improving stability and load control when bench pressing. 

Push-Ups Vs. Bench Press: What to Choose, and Do You Have to?

Below, we will discuss whether, depending on your fitness goal, you should pick the bench press or push-ups as your main chest-training exercise or if you can benefit from using both. 

What to Choose for Strength

Both exercises can provide similar strength gains if performed using similar loads. [2] 

If you cannot find a way to add loads to your push-ups, such as using elastic bands, you may find it easier to develop your strength by performing bench press exercises. [3] 

On the other hand, as bodyweight exercises are able to target and activate multiple muscle groups, push-ups may be a better alternative than bench presses if you aim to strengthen your whole body rather than only the chest.

What to Choose for Hypertrophy

Studies have shown that at similar work volumes, bench presses and push-ups are equally great for achieving chest muscle hypertrophy. [5]

This means both bench presses and push-ups can be used for hypertrophy, as the load can be adjusted accordingly to perform higher rep ranges. 

Wrapping Up

Bench pressing and push-ups are both great exercises to work on your pecs and build strength in the chest and arms. However, they do offer some different benefits. Below you’ll find the key points this article covered about the push-ups vs bench press dispute:

  • Both are push exercises and target the chest, the frontal deltoids, the triceps, and, to some extent, the lats. However, push-ups also require activation of the glutes, back, and core muscles.
  • Bench pressing allows a more linear progression than push-ups, and more advanced variations of the latter may not necessarily result in greater chest strength.
  • While bench presses are better for linear chest strength progression and improving shoulder stabilization, push-ups are more versatile and the strength gained from them is transferable to everyday life.
  • Doing push-ups can support your bench press performance as they work more muscles and hence might allow better load management.
  • Both exercises can have similar strength outcomes if you compare weighted push-ups vs bench pressing, but not when you compare bodyweight push-ups with bench pressing. Therefore, to provide a greater stimulus to the chest when performing push-ups, you should add a load by using plates or elastic bands.
  • Both bench presses and push-ups can increase mass or strength in your chest muscles as long as optimal work volumes are achieved. However, if you want to work on full-body strength, you should opt for push-ups.
Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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