Is Doing Push Ups More Effective Than Doing Bench Press?

Push ups and bench press are both age old exercises that are used for building and strengthening the upper body. Both these forms of exercise focus on almost the same muscle groups. They help in strengthening the chest, shoulders, biceps and triceps. Push ups and bench press work on the principle of resistance where the weight is pushed away from the body. This pushing movement exerts the muscles of the upper body and thus helps in making them stronger. Before looking into which of the two – push ups or bench press is more effective, let us first understand how they are done.

How Is Push Up Done?

Push up can be done anywhere as it doesn’t require any additional equipment. A yoga mat or any other mat can be used, but this is totally optional. Push up can be done is various ways. However, the most common type is the standard push up. The steps involved in doing push up are discussed briefly below:

  • Step 1: Lie flat on the floor with chest and stomach on the floor. Make sure that your legs are stretched out straight and your hands are next to you with palms at chest level.
  • Step 2: Bend your hand by 45 degree with palms on the floor.
  • Step 3: Push your body off the ground with your hands and exhale while doing this. The chest, torso and thighs should be away from hands and heels.
  • Step 4: While keep your core engaged, hold yourself in this posture for a second or two.
  • Step 5: Inhale deeply while you lower yourself back to neutral position.
  • Step 6: Repeat all the steps for a couple of times.

With standard push up, you push about 64 percent of your body weight while lifting yourself up. The disadvantage of push up is this weight can’t be changed. Push up does not require a spotter and can be done by beginners. The possibility of muscle injury with push up is much lesser and the exercise itself is much easier to perform.

How is a Bench Press Done?

Bench press requires a specific set up. It requires a bench designed for bench press and a barbell with a barbell stand. The amount of weight on the barbell can be changed depending on the experience and requirement of the person. The person lies down flat on the bench with his or her back against the bench. The barbell should be at eye level. With a stable grip, the barbell is first brought close to the chest and then lifted straight up before bringing it back to neutral position. Considering the setup, bench press is usually done in a gym. There are various modifications of bench press; however, all of them can be done only at a professional site. Bench press often requires a guidance and assistance of a spotter especially for beginners.

Is Doing Push Ups More Effective Than Doing Bench Press?

While both these exercises aim at strengthening the upper body and almost use the same technique, i.e. pushing resistance away from the body using extension and bending movement of the elbows, they have some differences. Push up can never match up to the amount of weight that be used to do bench press. So if a person is focused on buffing up the upper body, bench press is a better choice. For beginners, or for people whose focus is not on building up the upper body can opt for push up. This is because they almost have similar outcome but mush easier to perform with lesser chances of injury. Push ups can be done at home or anywhere without the need of any massive equipment or even a spotter which makes it an ideal choice for regular crowd. Body builders will prefer bench press over push ups any day.

A study published in Journal of Strength and Conditioning research published in 2015 revealed that when a push up resists the same amount of weight as that on a bench press the outcome is same.(1) This proves that there is no difference in the exercises if weight used is same in both. However, if higher weight needs to be used, a bench press is better.

Another study done by the American Council on Exercise in 2012 compared nine different forms of chest exercise. The study revealed that bench press activates the pectoralis major, which forms the primary chest muscle, much more than standard push up.(2) This does not imply that push ups are not useful. It just depends on the person’s needs, experience level and goals.

Conclusion

Standard push up and bench press are forms of exercises that are done for building the upper body. Both these forms of exercise act on almost the same muscle groups. The choice of exercise completely depends on the performer’s need and focus. If the focus is on buffing up the upper body bench press would be the ideal choice. For regular exercise, push up is more convenient and easier. Bench press is recommended for experienced individuals who wants to activate muscle with more weight. Since the weights cannot be increased in push up, after a point the net result of the exercise won’t change in terms of amount of muscle build up.

References:

  1. Calatayud, J., Borreani, S., Colado, J. C., Martin, F., Tella, V., and Andersen, L. L. (2015). Bench press and push-up at comparable levels of muscle activity results in similar strength gains. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 29(1): 246–253.
  2. https://www.acefitness.org/about-ace/press-room/press-releases/2930/ace-study-tests-common-chest-exercises-finds-barbell-bench-press-most-effective

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