Overhead Press Vs Bench Press: Which Exercise Is Better?

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, we are going to discuss the differences, the benefits of each and provide you with the information to decide for yourself. 

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.

woman performing an overhead press

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.

Once you feel comfortable with dumbbells, here is how you perform the traditional overhead press using a barbell. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

In terms of variations, here are the most common: 

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. 

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.

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

woman doing a standing dumbbell arnold press

Benefits Of Overhead Press Explained

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 & Variations) 

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. 

man doing a barbell bench press

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. 

Proper form for benching is important, so make sure that you follow these guidelines. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

Also see - Classic Push Up Versus Bench Press

Here are some of the more common bench press variants: 

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 this compares to dumbbell bench pressing.

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. 

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. 

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. 

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

Advantages 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 

Importance Of Spotters 

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 of the lifts with gas left in the tank. Don't attempt to lift your 100% max on your own.  

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.


Overhead Press Vs Bench Press (Differences Explained)

So now you know exactly what these two exercises are and what they do for your body, which is better? 

Well, we thought we would break it down. Each exercise has its own benefits and drawbacks, so we didn't think it was fair to declare an outright winner. Instead, we 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; we 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


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. 

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

You can, 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. 


Conclusion

There you have it. We 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. 

Paul J