If you want to build more muscle mass while developing body strength, you’ll want to start introducing push ups and bench press movements into your workout program. A well-developed chest will not only make you stronger, but it looks fantastic.
Both push ups and the bench press exercises are incredibly popular, but which is better?
In this article, I’ll place them both head to head in "push ups vs bench press" and show you all of the similarities and differences between the two exercises.
Table of Contents
- Push Ups (Benefits & Variations)
- Pros & Cons Of Doing Regular Push ups
- Bench Press (Benefits & Variations)
- Pros & Cons Of Regular Bench Pressing
- Push Ups Vs Bench Press: Key Differences Compared
- People Also Ask (FAQs)
Push Ups (Benefits & Variations)
The push up is a brilliant upper body exercise that mainly targets the chest and triceps muscles, although it does work almost all your body due to your need to stabilize. The movement is a fantastic exercise for developing full-body strength and has carryover into sports.
Push ups are a brilliant exercise for all levels, from beginner to advanced gym-goers. There are many push up variations, some easier and some notoriously tricky, so be sure to choose one to match your ability level.
Below is a list of the most popular push up variations.
Weighted Push up
The weighted push up is precisely how it sounds; it’s a push up performed using added weight. The added weight can come in either a weighted vest or by placing standard Olympic weighted plates on your back.
This movement is best suited for anyone who’s mastered the standard push up and needs more of a challenge.
Wide-Grip Push up
This push up variation requires placing your hands in a much wider position (1.5-2x shoulder width); this will work the anterior shoulder greater than the standard push ups.
Again, I wouldn’t recommend this movement to beginners; it’s best suited for anyone who needs a tougher challenge.
Spiderman Push up
The Spider-man push up gets its name from everyone's favorite superhero... Spider-man. It's named after the famous web-slinger because you look like him climbing a wall while performing this exercise.
This variation requires you to move your leg towards your upper body during the push up movement, and it places more stress on your core, triceps, forearms, delts, and upper pecs.
The Spider-man push up is a difficult movement to master and should only be performed if you’ve mastered regular push ups.
Staggered Grip Push up
The staggered push up is an advanced variation of the exercise due to it using more core, shoulder, and triceps stability than the regular version of the exercise.
While the staggered push up helps develop strength in all of the same areas a regular push up does, it’s worth noting that you’ll gain more strength using this variation when compared to having your hands shoulder-width apart.
It’s best suited for intermediate-advanced ability levels.
Diamond Push up
Performing the diamond push up is an excellent way to maximize the work your lateral head (outside head) of the triceps muscle must do. This will help you develop a great set of triceps.
This push up variation is one of the most challenging, mainly due to the biomechanics of the movement. Your triceps are required to do most of the work, and if your triceps are weak, you’ll struggle with this movement.
Deficit Push Up
Deficit push ups are a great way to increase the range of motion during the push up movement. This will not only help you activate more muscle fibers, but it'll promote more muscle growth.
The most common way to perform this variation is to place each hand on a weighted plate, raising your hands, allowing you to get your chest below your hand level at the bottom of the movement.
Incline/Decline Push Up
Incline push ups will make the push up movement easier to perform. This is best suited for beginners who struggle with regular “floor level” push ups. They’re commonly performed by placing your hands on an elevated platform.
Decline push ups make the movement more challenging by increasing the load on your upper body. They are usually performed by elevating your feet on a bench or step. Both movements are easy to scale and can be performed for high reps.
Resistance Band Push Up
Resistance band push ups can be used to change the load pattern of the push up movement. As you approach the bottom of the movement, it will become easier. However, as you push upwards toward the top end, the band will stretch and place more force on the pecs, triceps, and shoulders. This variation does require resistance bands.
Pros & Cons Of Doing Regular Push ups
Bench Press (Benefits & Variations)
When it comes to developing a great looking chest, the bench press is one of the go-to exercises for most gym-goers. It has many benefits from increased upper body strength, pushing power, and improved bone & joint health.
The bench press works the pecs, triceps, and anterior deltoids, making it a T-shirt filling exercise. The standard version of the bench press is suitable for most ability levels ranging from beginner to advanced. There are even variations of the movement that can regress or progress the difficulty of the exercise.
Below is a list of the most popular variations of the bench press.
Barbell Bench Press
This will be the variation you’re most familiar with. It’s commonly performed worldwide and is the staple movement of most gym-goers workout programs.
The barbell bench press requires a bench and a barbell (with added weighted plates). It allows you to massively overload the chest muscles and is brilliant for pec development.
Close Grip Barbell Bench Press
Close-grip barbell bench press emphasizes the triceps and less on the chest muscles. This is great if you’re triceps are lagging and need further development.
The movement is performed by taking a closer grip on the bar (usually shoulder width) and pressing the bar as you would for a regular bench press but with the elbows tucked in towards your sides.
Wide Grip Barbell Bench Press
By taking a wider grip on the barbell bench press, you'll be placing more focus on the chest muscles, specifically the pec major, also known as the "lower pecs." Other muscles are also engaged during this variation, such as the anterior delts and triceps.
You can perform this movement by taking a wide grip on the bar (1.5-2x shoulder width) and performing the bench press movement.
This is best suited for anyone looking to stimulate the pecs further.
Glute Bridge Dumbbell Bench Press
The glute bridge dumbbell bench press is a simple variation of the bench press that greatly impacts the body.
By performing the glute bridge while pressing the dumbbells, you not only develop a strong upper body, but your glutes will be fully engaged trying to stabilize your body.
All you need is to position yourself sideways on the bench with your body supported by your upper back and legs. Squeeze the glutes together and perform a dumbbell bench press.
Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press
The alternating dumbbell bench press is a brilliant variation that requires a large amount of engagement from the core muscles to help stabilize the body while pressing. This movement is great at ironing out any muscular imbalances as each side of the body needs to work independently.
To perform this movement, hold two dumbbells at your chest, lie down on a bench and perform a bench press movement.
Incline Barbell Bench Press
If you need to develop your upper chest muscles to give you a barrel-like chest, then the incline barbell bench press is the exercise for you.
The incline barbell bench press is performed exactly like a regular bench press, but with the bench set to an incline position. The ideal incline is between 15-30%, but you can go up to 45% if needed.
I’m a big fan of this movement as it’s suitable for all abilities; be sure to have a spotter nearby.
Dumbbell Neutral Grip Bench Press
The dumbbell neutral grip bench press is a great variation that eases the stress placed on the shoulder joint, making it ideal for anyone with shoulder injuries or tightness.
By changing the grip position to neutral (palms facing each other), you engage the triceps more than you would by using a regular pronated grip.
You can perform this movement precisely like a regular dumbbell press, but with your hands facing each other.
Pros & Cons Of Regular Bench Pressing
Push Ups Vs Bench Press: Key Differences Compared
For Building Chest Muscles
When comparing push ups vs bench press, a 2019 study showed that if you’re looking to build your chest muscles, it didn’t necessarily matter if you use push ups or bench press, so long as you kept the load the same, each movement is interchangeable, and the results are almost the same.
However, even though the study clearly shows this to be the case, it’s worth noting that the participants were all athletes and had specific programming to ensure the loading was exact, and they did everything with close supervision. In real life, this wouldn’t always be the case.
If you want to overload your chest muscles, you should use the bench press and its variants to build a well-rounded chest. Lifting heavy will stimulate your muscle fibers, promoting muscle growth and strength.
On the other hand, push ups build your chest muscles in a different way, it’s hard to explain, but the movement feels hugely different from a bench press. The easiest way to describe it is that with a bench press, you are moving the weight (barbell or dumbbells), and with push ups, you are the weight.
I’m always a fan of using push ups and bench presses in my training sessions. I've found that they complement each other exceptionally well and make an excellent basis for building your program around, particularly if you have a home gym and don't want to spend a fortune on equipment.
A standard bench, barbell (or dumbbells), and weighted plates are more than enough equipment needed to develop your chest. Then add in push ups that require no equipment at all, and you’re on to a winner.
Total Upper Body Strength Development
As I’ve stated in this article, the bench press and push up are fantastic for developing the chest muscles. However, they also help develop total upper body strength by working other muscle groups other than the chest muscles.
The push up requires a hell of a lot of core stability to perform, and you’ll need to engage pretty much your entire body to maintain excellent form. The glutes play a vital role by ensuring your hips don’t dip during the push up while your abdominals stabilize the central part of your body.
The shoulders and scapular are the most overlooked muscle groups that do a lot of the work during the push up. As you descend during the push up, your scapular retracts, and your back muscles contract, counteracting the stretched chest muscles. The back and chest often have an antagonistic relationship, clearly demonstrated during the push up movement.
When it comes to the bench press, your body is supported by a bench, so you’ll find you require less stability when compared to the push up, resulting in less core activation. The lack of core activation can be counteracted by using a single-arm bench press variation, such as the single-arm dumbbell press or the alternating dumbbell bench press.
During the bench press movement, you’re wrists and shoulders have to work incredibly hard to ensure the barbell doesn’t wobble all over the place while you workout. A lot of the stability comes from the scapular (shoulder blade), as this should be retracted into the bench press before any pressing takes place.
Bilateral variations such as the barbell bench press require far less stabilization than the dumbbell bench press would, so if you struggle with stabilization, using the barbell to lift heavy weight would be a good option. But, I’d suggest training any weak points you have by using dumbbells; it’ll only help you progress in the long run.
Ease of Exercise
The push up is one of the most versatile exercises around; not only are there endless variations, but you can do them pretty much anywhere. You can do them in the gym, at home, in a hotel room, on the street, literally any place you want.
One excellent benefit of push ups is that you don’t need a spotter present. You can go until failure, and the worst thing that’ll happen is you’ll have to lie on the floor for a few minutes until you can push yourself up again.
However, when performing a barbell bench press, you need to have a dedicated area with specific equipment to do this movement. You’ll need a bench, barbell, and Olympic weights. One other thing you’ll need is a spotter, particularly if you plan to lift heavy. Nobody wants to get stuck underneath a loaded barbell; not only is it embarrassing, but it can result in severe and sometimes fatal injuries.
But, you can get around needing a spotter by performing a dumbbell bench press. As you’ll be using a set of dumbbells instead of a barbell, there’s no chance of you getting stuck underneath. At worst, if you fail, you can throw the dumbbells on the floor until you fully recover.
By looking at the ease of exercise for push ups or bench presses, I believe push ups are far easier to perform, especially if you’re looking for an exercise that requires little to no equipment and is an excellent option if you travel or work away.
The only downside to using push ups to develop your chest is that you’ll need to find ways to increase the difficulty over time, but you can get a few ideas from earlier in this article.
However, if you have access to a gym such as a home garage gym space, you can’t go wrong using a bench press to develop your chest muscles.
When it comes to the equipment you need for push ups or bench presses, it differs significantly. To begin with, a push up doesn’t require any equipment and can be performed anywhere with a solid floor.
However, you can purchase push up bars as a way to enhance the push up movement and to take your workouts to the next level. Also, some users have found that using push up bars make the push up movement easier on the wrists.
If you suffer from a wrist injury such as carpal tunnel or any other wrist aggravation, you might find using the push up bars far more comfortable. This will allow you to perform a push up without pain or discomfort.
Some push up handles are multi-functional and allow you to perform various exercises on them, such as the Jupersky Push up Parallettes.
There are many push up bars available; many of them are covered in my thorough review of the best push up bars.
Other optional equipment for press-ups are weighted vests or resistance bands, and both are brilliant ways to add additional load to your push ups.
On the other hand, to perform a bench press, you require a lot of expensive equipment, plus you'll need the space to set it all up. If you have a home or garage gym, this won't be much of a problem, and adding a bench press to your gym will be an excellent addition.
The basic equipment you’d require for a bench press would be:
The cost of this equipment can vary, but if you look around online, you’ll find some excellent deals on quality bench press equipment.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
Are push ups better than bench press for beginners?
When it comes to push ups vs. bench press for beginners, it depends on your individual strengths. Not everyone who can bench press can perform press-ups and vice versa. Neither exercise is better than the other; both have their place in anyone’s workout routine.
However, it all comes down to your goals; if you’re looking to build strength quickly, then the bench press is a better choice.
Do push ups improve bench press ability?
Becoming stronger in push ups doesn’t always correlate with your bench press ability. While performing push ups will help develop areas of your body that the bench press doesn’t work, I wouldn’t be performing them with the sole purpose of improving my bench press.
But, they can be used to supplement your workout and assist your bench press work, which I’ll cover in the next question.
Should you do both push ups and bench press when working out?
Yes, I’d strongly recommend doing both push ups and bench presses during your workout. Why? – well, they both compliment each other so well; it would be a shame to miss out on the strength you can develop from performing both movements regularly.
I use push ups with my clients to add more volume to their workouts, and it’s always lovely to add calisthenics to their program.
As the push up is different from the bench press (mechanically), you’ll work areas of the body you usually wouldn’t hit during a bench press session.
How much can I bench press based on how many push ups I can do?
Unfortunately, there’s no correlation between the weight you can bench press and the number of push ups you can do. For example, just because you can do 100 perfect push ups doesn’t mean you’ll be able to bench 220lbs.
If you need to know how much you can bench press, the easiest way to figure it out is to start bench pressing.
After comparing push ups vs bench press, I've found that both exercises can build your upper body strength by developing your chest muscles. While the bench press is ideal for raw strength and muscle mass, I found that push ups shouldn’t be overlooked when developing a fantastic looking chest.
In conclusion to this comparison, I’d recommend that you include both exercises in your workout program. They both compensate each other brilliantly, and you won’t regret performing either one of these movements.
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