In terms of building strength, mass, and explosive power in the upper body, two exercises reign supreme: the bench press and the overhead press.

These two compound lifts utilize multiple muscle groups and place huge progressive overload on the body. This means that you shock your body into huge gains of strength and size. 

But which exercise is better between the overhead press vs bench press? 

This is a complicated answer, and it will really depend on your more specific goals. In this article, I am going to discuss the differences, the benefits of each and provide you with the information to decide for yourself. 

Each exercise has its own benefits and drawbacks, so I didn't think it was fair to declare an outright winner. Instead, I pit the exercises against each other over several categories. 

Physical Equipment 

In terms of the physical equipment necessary to complete the exercises, the winner is the overhead press, as you do not need a bench to complete it. You will, however, need a barbell or dumbbells for both exercises. 

If you're in the market for a new weight set, check out our guide to the best adjustable dumbbells for home use.

Winner: Overhead Press

Muscles Worked

The overhead press does work out more different muscles and groups than the bench press because you are standing for one and braced with the bench for the other. 

That means you activate more of your core muscles when stabilizing yourself.

Winner: Overhead Press

woman doing an overhead barbell press

For Muscle Growth & Activation 

There are few exercises that can match the bench press for muscle growth and activation. This is because the progressive overload achieved during a bench press is so high.

You target your muscles with such precision that they take a huge beating, leading to more muscle tear and more repair. 

Winner: Bench Press

Upper Body Strength Development

In our opinion, the bench press is the king for developing upper body strength and size. This is because you are really training your triceps and chest muscles to a high degree. 

That’s not to say the overhead press is a poor choice. Both exercises will help you achieve a strong upper body; I just think bench press does the job better. 

Winner: Bench Press

athlete doing a barbell flat bench press

Proper Exercise Form 

The overhead press requires a lot of shoulder mobility as well as a strong core. It utilizes so many different muscles that it can be a problem for those with joint problems. 

Bench pressing is much easier to do for all lifters of all abilities. 

Winner: Bench Press

Overhead Press Overview

woman performing an overhead press

The goal with the overhead press is to press, or lift a barbell straight up above your head while activating your glutes and quads. 

For those that are new to lifting and the overhead press in general, the best place to start is with the seated dumbbell shoulder press. This is done utilizing an upright bench which stops you from overarching your back and causing injury during the learning stage.

In addition, with dumbbells instead of a barbell, you have much greater control over the ROM, and you are also safer from dropping the weight.

When Should You Do the Overhead Press?

For Strength Sports performance

Overhead press is most specific to support improvement in sports such as Olympic Lifting, Strongman and Crossfit. 

If you participate in any of these strength sports, overhead pressing will play a big part in the training due to the specificity of the exercise to the requirements of these sports.

To Increase Deltoid Size

If your shoulder strength is lacking, there is no better movement than the overhead press.

It's superior as it is a compound movement that involves multiple joints in your arms, producing force against the weight being pressed. This makes is more effective for overall size than a single-joint movement. 

Full-body engagement

Yes, the overhead press mainly targets the shoulders, upper back and triceps. It also engages more than just the upper body, building full-body strength.

This exercise will also engage the abdominal wall, strengthens the hips and builds stability throughout the legs.

Increases fat burning potential

The overhead press works multiple muscular systems together, making it an effective exercise to build lean muscle mass.

By performing the overhead press as part of your routine, you'll increase your overall fat burning rate with improved muscular activation.


  • Develops the front delts very effectively
  • Improves muscular stabilization
  • Functional movement
  • Requires less equipment


  • Requires a good level of overhead mobility
  • Risks of increased lumbar curvature if compensation is used

How To Perform The Overhead press

  1. To begin with, you should aim for a grip that is at least as narrow as your shoulders. Next, make sure you take your elbows under your wrists and keep that line to increase stability. 
  2. Make sure that you allow your wrists to extend back towards your body. The starting position of your wrists is the most important factor in starting a strong lift correctly. 
  3. During the beginning of each of your reps, it is important to squeeze your shoulder blades together and use that stability to initiate the lift with your shoulders. Keep control and lift in a secure manner to ensure good form. 
  4. As the bar moves up, you need to tilt your head backward slightly; this will stop you from hitting your face with the bar and put you in the perfect position to finish the rep. 

6 Overhead Press Variations To Try

Here are several overhead press variations you can try:

1. Strict Overhead Press 

The strict overhead press isolates your shoulders by starting with the weight on your back. For a strict overhead press, you can't use your legs to add drive. 

2. Dumbbell Shoulder Press 

Dumbbell shoulder presses are a great way to train unbalanced shoulder muscles. This is the same as a traditional overhead press but uses dumbbells instead of a barbell. 

Also, check out our complete guide to barbell vs dumbbell shoulder press exercises.

3. Seated Barbell Overhead Press 

Sitting down for the overhead press ensures that you don't arch your back which makes it suitable for those with injuries or weakened backs. 

4. Single-Arm Kettlebell Overhead Press 

If you enjoy using kettlebells in your workouts, the one-handed overhead kettlebell press is a great way to shock up your routine. To do this, simply lift a kettlebell instead of a dumbbell in the seated press position or the standing position. 

5. Z Press 

A great accessory workout, Z Presses are done while seated but without a backrest. This isolates your shoulders and takes the hips and legs out of the equation. 

6. Arnold Press 

Coined by the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Arnold press is a variant of the dumbbell shoulder press where you rotate your shoulders to add burn and time under tension [1]. 

woman doing a standing dumbbell arnold press

Benefits Of Overhead Press

The overhead press is a compound lift that is perfect for developing the front delts and shoulder stabilizers.

The overhead press is often known as the shoulder press due to the fact all three heads of your shoulders are engaged during the lift. However, the name is deceiving as you utilize many different muscles in tandem.  

During a shoulder press, you activate your abs, lower back, and all of the supporting muscles surrounding your shoulders and shoulder blades. 

So, to sum up, the benefits are: 

  • Targets all 3 shoulder heads 
  • Builds mass and explosive power 
  • Great for strengthening the upper body 
  • Activates abs, back, legs, and arms as well as shoulders 

Bench Press Overview

man doing a barbell bench press

Few exercises are as loved and as widely worshiped as the bench press. This is the fundamental compound lift, the one that you think of when you think of any weightlifting gym. 

The premise is simple. Lie down on your back, and lift this heavy weight above you; don't let it drop, or it will hurt. 

This is the epitome of lifting, a simple fight between you and the weight. The bench press is an incredible compound lift. One that builds huge amounts of muscle in the chest and triceps and feels satisfying as hell while doing so. 

When Should You Do the Bench Press?

In Powerlifting 

If you train in the sport Powerlifting, the Bench Press is one of the three lifts you train to lift as much weight as you possibly can.

When it comes to training specificity, you want to spend the most time at the thing you're trying to get good at. Want to work on your strength for Bench? Do plenty of it!

to build explosive pushing strength

Bench Press has a good carry over to sports performance, not just for Powerlifting.

Those who participate in sports than involves throwing power, like baseball and football, will see improvements by incorporating bench press into their strength routine. 

Chest muscular hypertrophy

The Bench Press is one of the best exercises for building bigger pecs, due to the high muscle activation and stress the muscles are placed under during this exercise.

Studies show that strength in the bench press and chest size has a strong positive correlation between them [2].


  • Improves upper body strength
  • Builds a big chest and shoulders
  • Good for those lacking in upper mobility
  • Improves sports that required throwing power


  • Lots of equipment and spotter required
  • Susceptible to overuse injuries in the elbows and shoulders

How To Perform The Bench Press Correctly

  1. Proper form for benching is important, so make sure that you follow these guidelines. 
  2. To begin with, let’s look at your back. During a bench press, you should be arching your back and squeezing your shoulder blades together during the lift. This creates stability in the spine which is massively important, especially when you start raising up the weights. 
  3. Next, you should consider your elbows. The best positioning is to tuck your elbows in slightly to avoid them being in a t shape or parallel to your shoulders. The sweet spot and general consensus are that you should aim for around a 45-degree angle. 
  4. As you become more advanced and comfortable, you will need to learn how to breathe properly. Aim to breathe in and tighten your core during the lowering of the bar and breathe out slowly and consistently during the lift. 

5 Bench Press Variations To Try

1. Barbell Bench Press 

This is the most common and original form of the bench press. It is done at a horizontal angle and equally engages the chest and triceps. Learn how the barbell bench press compares to dumbbell bench pressing.

2. Close Grip Barbell Bench Press 

The close grip bench press is done by narrowing the grip on the barbell. This, in turn, engages the triceps more than the chest. 

3. Wide Grip Barbell Bench Press 

The wide grip barbell bench press is the opposite of the close grip and requires a wider grip. This engages the chest more than the triceps. 

4. Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press 

The alternating dumbbell bench press is a bench press done with dumbbells, but you alternate which hand you lift first, followed by the other. This exercise is good for training weaker sides. 

5. Incline Barbell Bench Press 

The incline bench press is done on an inclined bench and allows you to target the top half of your chest better than a traditional bench press. 

man doing incline barbell bench press

Benefits Of The Bench Press Exercise

There are countless benefits to incorporating the bench press or one of its variants into your workout routine.

Firstly, this is by far the most effective way to build muscle in your chest. This means you get bigger pecs and a stronger chest that can help with other exercises.

The bench press is actually one of the best accessories to numerous other upper body workouts. A strong bench usually means a stronger grip, triceps, and shoulders, as well as a chest.

The full range of benefits include: 

  • Bigger pecs and chest 
  • Huge triceps and power in the upper body 
  • Defined delts 
  • Improved blood flow and bone health 

Do You Need A Spotter For A Bench Press?

The bench press is a seriously dangerous lift when done without care. If you are lifting alone, you should make sure you can complete all the lifts with gas left in the tank. Don't attempt to lift your 100% max on your own, if you can't do it, you can try bench press alternative exercises.  

Most of us have been there, after attempting a lift too heavy and having to roll the extremely heavy bar down our bodies. It is embarrassing, and people will laugh, and you may even hurt yourself seriously. 

Gym users are a friendly bunch, so ask for a spotter if you need it. You can also check out our complete guide to the types of lifts that require a spotter.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Is overhead press enough for chest? 

The overhead press will build up your chest, but it is no substitute for the bench press. We advise you do both for the best results. 

What is the bench press to overhead press weight ratio? 

An intermediate lifter should be able to press 68% of their bench press max [3]. 

Can you do overhead press and bench press on the same day? 

Yes, you can do overhead press and bench press on the same day, but you need to be careful not to overdo it, as this could lead to severe injury and lousy form due to fatigue. We advise you to separate your compound lifts on different days.  

Why is the overhead press bad? 

The overhead press isn't inherently bad. It is just done badly by a lot of people. Poor form on overhead press can lead to serious injuries in the shoulder that can affect you for a long time. 


There you have it. I hope that you now see that both of these lifts are incredibly effective in different ways. This should make it easier to slot them both in and respect them both equally as the amazing exercises they are. 

Implement both, and you will be well on your way to an impressive upper body. 





Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website