The Battle of the Titans – Bench Press vs. Push Ups – Which Reigns Supreme?

Bench press vs. push-ups – Which is better, and which should you include in your training regimen

bench press vs push ups

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Bench Press vs. Push-Ups – which is better, and which of the two should take center stage in your fitness regimen?

We will try to highlight and identify the similarities, differences, strengths, and weaknesses between the two upper-body building giants and when best to use each.

Bench press vs. Push Ups – An Overview

Bench Press

inner chest exercises - man exercising on a weight bench with a barbell

The bench press is one of the best strength training exercises for targeting the chest muscles, shoulders, and triceps. You perform the movement using a barbell. But you can also use dumbbells or specialized machines.

Push-ups

Push-ups are fundamental bodyweight exercises that target the chest, shoulders, and triceps while engaging the core and other upper body muscles. They require no equipment. You will usually perform them on the floor or a stable surface.

Bench press vs. Push Ups – Targeted Muscles

The bench press

The bench press targets the following muscles.

  • Pectoralis Major
    The bench press heavily engages the pectoralis major, the large muscle in the chest responsible for horizontal adduction of the arms.
    Horizontal adduction is the bringing of the arms toward the body’s midline. That contributes to pressing movements.
  • Anterior Deltoids
    The anterior deltoids are at the front of the shoulders. These are also heavily recruited during the bench press. They assist in horizontal adduction and shoulder flexion or raising the arms forward.
  • Triceps Brachii
    The triceps are at the back of the upper arms. These are synergistically involved in the bench press. They help in extending the elbows during the pressing motion.

Secondary muscles

The following secondary muscles are also involved in the bench press. It is worth noting, however, that the degree of involvement of these muscles depends on various factors, including grip width, bar path, and individual biomechanics.

  • Serratus Anterior
    The serratus anterior, located along the sides of the chest, helps stabilize the shoulder blades and assists in the forward movement and upward rotation of the scapula or shoulder blade during the bench press.
  • Biceps Brachii
    The biceps are not the primary movers in the bench press, but they assist in stabilizing the shoulder joint and provide support during the pressing movement.
  • Rhomboids and Upper Back Muscles
    The upper back muscles, including the rhomboids, are engaged isometrically to help stabilize the scapulae and maintain proper shoulder positioning during the bench press.

Push-ups

wide push-ups

Push-ups are compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

Below are the primary muscles targeted by push-ups.

  • Pectoralis Major
    The pectoralis major, the most prominent muscle in the chest, is the primary muscle push-ups engage.
    It is responsible for horizontal adduction, bringing the arms toward the body’s midline.
  • Anterior Deltoids
    The anterior deltoids are at the front of the shoulders. These are heavily involved in push-ups.
    They assist in shoulder flexion, helping to raise the arms forward.
  • Triceps Brachii
    The triceps, located at the back of the upper arms, are engaged as the primary elbow extensors during the pushing motion of the push-up.

The secondary muscles involved in push-ups include

  • Serratus Anterior
    The serratus anterior, located along the sides of the chest, is activated during push-ups to help stabilize the scapulae. They also assist in the shoulder blades’ forward movement and upward rotation.
  • Core Muscles
    Push-ups require core stability to help maintain a straight body position throughout the exercise.
    The core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis, are engaged to stabilize the trunk.
  • Biceps Brachii
    The biceps are not the primary movers in push-ups, but they help stabilize the shoulder joint and provide support during the exercise.

In addition to the above muscles, push-ups involve other supporting muscles, including the rhomboids, trapezius, and lower back. This help to maintain proper form and stability.

Bench press vs. Push Ups – How to Perform the Exercises

Steps to follow for the bench press

bench press vs. push ups - bench press - inner chest exercises

You will need a flat or adjustable weight bench and a barbell or dumbbells for the exercise.

  • Load the barbell with the appropriate weight plates and place it on the rack
  • Lie on a flat weight bench and plant your feet firmly on the floor. Ensure your head, shoulders, and buttocks are in contact with the weight bench.
  • Grasp the barbell with a pronated or overhand grip, ensuring your arms are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Lift the barbell off the rack, keeping your arms extended and elbows locked. Ensure the bar is positioned directly above your chest and your arms perpendicular to the floor.
  • Lower the bar slowly towards your chest, allowing your elbows to bend and keeping your upper arms at a 45-degree angle to your torso.
  • Pause briefly when the bar touches your chest lightly, and then extend your arms to push the bar up while maintaining control and keeping your back and buttocks in contact with the bench.
  • Exhale as you press the bar upward, and fully extend your arms but do not lock out your elbows.
  • Repeat 8-12 reps for a set and 3-4 sets in a session.

Steps to follow for the Push-ups

push ups
  • Assume a plank position with your hand directly below your shoulders and arms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your toes should touch the floor, and your body, from head to heels, in a straight line.
  • Engage your core muscles to help maintain a stable body position.
  • Bend your elbows, allowing them to flare out slightly to the sides to lower your body toward the floor.
  • Continue descending until your chest is just above the floor or your arms are at 90 degrees, then pause.
  • Push through your hands to extend your elbows and raise your body back to your starting position, ensuring your body remains straight.
  • Repeat

Tips

  • Keep your body straight throughout the movement.
  • Maintain a neutral head position. Look slightly ahead or down and keep your spine aligned.
  • Engage your core muscles. That will help stop your hips from sagging or rising too high.
  • Make the movement controlled and smooth. Do not rush through the exercise.
  • Breathe steadily, exhaling as you push up and inhaling as you lower your body.

Bench press vs. Push Ups – The Limitations

Bench Press

bench press vs. push ups - man doing bench press exercise

The bench press is a popular and effective exercise, but it has some limitations and considerations:

  • Limited Range of Motion
    The bench press primarily involves horizontal pressing movements. That means it doesn’t fully engage the muscles involved in the vertical pushing and pulling motions.
    It may neglect some muscles, including the lower traps and rhomboids, essential for shoulder health and posture.
  • Muscle Imbalances
    The bench press heavily targets the chest and triceps muscles. That can lead to muscle imbalances if your workout regimen does not include exercises that target the upper back and posterior deltoids or rear shoulder muscles.
    You may develop rounded shoulders and poor posture if you neglect these muscle groups.
  • Overemphasis on Strength
    The bench press is one of the best for upper body strength. But solely focusing on strength without considering other aspects, such as mobility, stability, and muscular endurance, may limit overall functional fitness.
  • Stress on the Shoulders
    The bench press can place much stress on the shoulders if performed with improper form or with excessive weight. That can increase the risk of shoulder injuries, including those associated with impingement or rotator cuff issues.
  • Dependence on Equipment
    The bench press requires access to a weight bench and a barbell or dumbbells. These may not be readily available for everyone, making the exercise less accessible and convenient.
  • Bench press may not be appropriate for everybody.
    Some exercisers may find the bench press uncomfortable or unsuitable for their specific conditions. That includes those with shoulder, wrist, or lower back issues.

Push-ups

exercise ball push ups

Push-ups are versatile and excellent exercises, but like bench press, they have limitations.

  • Limited Resistance
    Push-ups rely on body weight for resistance, which may not provide enough challenge for some.
    However, you can overcome this limitation by adding external resistance, such as weighted vests or resistance bands.
  • Muscle Imbalances
    Push-ups mainly target the chest, shoulders, and triceps. You may have to consider other exercises that target the upper back and back shoulder muscles for a more balanced upper body-building regimen. Failure to do so could lead to muscle imbalances and rounded shoulders.
  • Pressure on the Wrist
    Exercisers with weak wrists or previous wrist injuries may experience discomfort or strain in their wrists during push-ups. Proper hand positioning and modifying the exercise with alternative hand placements can help alleviate wrist strain.
  • Reduced Lower Body Engagement
    While push-ups engage the core muscles to stabilize the body, they primarily target the upper body. Exercisers looking for a comprehensive lower body workout may have to incorporate additional exercises that target the lower body, such as squats and lunges, into their training regimen.
  • Individual Limitations
    Push-ups may not be the best exercise for those with wrist, shoulder, or lower back issues.
  • Challenges to Progression
    As you become stronger and more proficient at push-ups, it can be challenging to continue progressing with the exercise alone.
    You can overcome this with variations like one-arm push-ups, decline push-ups, or other advanced progressions to continue challenging your muscles.

Bench press vs. Push Ups – A Brief Comparison

The bench press and push-ups are exercises for targeting the chest, shoulders, and triceps muscles, but they have some key differences.

  • Activated Muscles
    The bench press targets the pectoralis major of the chest muscles, anterior deltoids or the front of the shoulders, and the triceps.
    Push-ups also target the pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, and the triceps. But the exercises also engage the serratus anterior, the muscles along the sides of the chest, the biceps, and the core muscles to a greater extent.
  • Required Equipment
    You will need a loaded barbell or some dumbbells and a weight bench or a dedicated bench press station for the bench press.
    On the other hand, push-ups use your body weight and require no equipment, making it possible to perform the exercise anywhere.
  • Stability and Control
    During bench pressing, You will lie on a weight bench, which is a stable surface, for support and stability for the bench press.
    On the other hand, you will rely on your core muscles to maintain stability and control throughout the push-up movement.
  • Range of Motion
    The bar or dumbbells can touch your chest when bench pressing. That allows for a broader range of motion, creating a deeper muscle stretch.
    Push-ups, however, have a more limited range of motion. That is because your chest can only go as low as the floor or as far as your arms can comfortably extend.
  • Variations and Progression
    Bench pressing offers many variations, such as incline or decline bench press, dumbbell press, and different grip widths. That allows you to target specific or the same muscles from different angles. You can also modify the exercise to accommodate different fitness levels.
    Push-ups also have variations like wide-grip, close-grip, decline, or one-arm push-ups. That can help increase the difficulty of the movement and help target different muscle groups.
  • Convenience and Accessibility
    Push-ups are bodyweight exercises that require no equipment, making them easily accessible and convenient for anyone, even when there is no access to a gym.
    Bench press, on the other hand, requires gym equipment, which may not be readily available to everyone or will cost to acquire.
bench press image-001

Bench Press vs. Push Ups: The Differences

  • Equipment
    Bench press requires a weight bench and a barbell or dumbbells, while push-ups require no additional equipment, making them a convenient bodyweight exercise.
  • Activated Muscles
    Bench press primarily targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps, while push-ups engage several muscles, including the chest, shoulders, triceps, serratus anterior, biceps, and core muscles.
  • Range of Motion
    Bench press allows for a broader range of motion, as the barbell or dumbbells can touch the chest, creating a deeper stretch.
    Push-ups have a limited range of motion based on arm extension and floor contact.
  • Stability and Control
    You need a stable surface, such as a weight bench, for support and stability when doing bench presses.
    On the other hand, push-ups require more core stability and control to maintain proper form throughout the exercise.
  • Progression
    Bench press offers more opportunities for progression by increasing weight, adjusting repetitions, or trying variations. Push-ups can be progressed by modifying hand placement, increasing the difficulty of variations, or adding resistance.
  • Convenience and Accessibility
    You can perform push-ups anywhere without equipment, making them accessible to everyone.
    Bench press requires access to a gym or home workout setup with appropriate equipment.
  • Skill and Technique
    Bench press may require more skill and technique to perform correctly, especially when using heavier weights.
    Push-ups are much easier to master and perform.
  • Risk of Injury
    Bench press, particularly with heavy weights, carries a higher risk of injury, such as shoulder or chest strain, if not performed with proper form or if attempting weights beyond your capability.
    Push-ups have a lower risk of injury when executed with proper technique.
  • Muscular Imbalances
    Bench press primarily targets the chest muscles, potentially leading to muscle imbalances if not balanced with exercises that target the upper back and rear shoulders.
    Push-ups engage a broader range of muscles, helping to build a more balanced upper body.
  • Individual Limitations
    Bench press may not be suitable for exercisers with certain conditions or limitations, such as shoulder or wrist issues.
    You can modify push-ups to accommodate different fitness levels.

Bench Press vs. Push Ups: The Similarities

  • Upper Body Exercises
    Both bench press and push-ups primarily target the upper body muscles, including the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • Pressing Motion
    Both exercises involve a horizontal pressing motion involving pushing your body or a weight away from your chest.
  • Movement Pattern
    Both exercises require a pushing movement pattern, where you exert force to move your body or a weight away from your body.
  • Engagement of Core Muscles
    Both bench press and push-ups engage the core muscles to stabilize the body during the exercise and help maintain proper form.
  • Exercise Type
    Both exercises are compound movements that involve multiple joints and muscle groups working together.
  • Functional Strength
    Both exercises contribute to functional upper body strength, helping to enhance daily activities and sports performance.
  • Muscle Building
    Both exercises promote muscle development and strength in the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • Progressive Overload
    Progressive overload is possible with both bench press by increasing the weight and push-ups by adding some resistance to make it more challenging to promote strength gains.
  • Variation and Adaptation
    Both exercises offer variations that target different muscle groups and provide progressive challenges, allowing for adaptation and continued improvement.
  • Training Options
    Both bench press and push-ups offer convenient training options.
    You can do bench press in a gym or home setup with the necessary equipment.
    You can also perform push-ups anywhere and anytime without any machinery or tools.
push-ups bodyweight chest exercises-01

Bench Press vs. Push Ups: Which is better for strength building

Bench press is the obvious choice if strength building is your goal. There are several reasons for that.

  • Load and Resistance
    Unlike push-ups, you can use more load and resistance when doing bench press.
    Bench press allows you to progressively increase the weight by adding plates to the barbell, allowing for continuous strength gains.
    Progressive overload is crucial for stimulating muscle growth and strength development.
  • Specificity
    The bench press targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps, the muscles involved in pushing movements. Focusing on these muscle groups with heavier loads provides extra stimulus for strength development in those areas.
  • Stability and Control
    You will need a stable surface, such as a weight bench for bench press, making the movement more controlled and stable.
    The stability enables you to lift heavier weights safely and effectively, further promoting strength development.
  • Recruitment of Muscle Fibers
    Lifting heavy weights with the bench press activates several muscle fibers. That can lead to greater muscle recruitment and strength gains.
    Push-ups, although effective for muscle endurance and functional strength, may not engage as many muscle fibers as the bench press due to the bodyweight nature of the exercise.

However, it is worth stating that incorporating both exercises into your training regimen can help maximize your strength-building potential.
The bench press can be the primary exercise for heavy strength work, while push-ups become an accessory movement to target muscle endurance and reinforce muscle balance.

Bench Press vs. Push Ups: Which is better for muscle building

Like strength building, bench press is more effective for muscle building than push-ups.

While push-ups can contribute to muscle building, especially for beginners or individuals with limited equipment, it is no match for bench press.

The following are the reasons.

  • Load and Resistance
    The bench press allows for heavier loads and more resistance compared to push-ups. By lifting heavier weights, the bench press provides a better stimulus for muscle growth and hypertrophy.
  • Specific Target
    The bench press targets the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
    Focusing on these specific muscle groups with heavier loads allows the movement to provide a more targeted stimulus for muscle growth in those areas.
  • Progressive Overload
    The ability to continuously increase the lifted weight is crucial for muscle building. That is possible with bench press, where you can progressively overload the muscles by adding more weight over time, helping to stimulate muscle growth and adaptation.
  • Recruitment of Muscle Fibers
    Lifting heavier weights with the bench press recruits more muscle fibers, leading to greater muscle activation and hypertrophy. Push-ups, although effective for muscular endurance and functional strength, may not engage as many muscle fibers due to the bodyweight nature of the exercise.
  • Time Under Tension
    The bench press allows for a longer time under tension for the targeted muscles, an essential factor in muscle growth. You can use the controlled lowering (eccentric) and pushing (concentric) phases to increase the time under tension and boost muscle-building potential.

Bench Press vs. Push Ups: Which is better for building power

Push-ups can contribute to power development to some extent. But the bodyweight nature of the exercise and the limited load make it less potent for maximal power development.

On the other hand, bench press is much more effective at building power for the following reasons:

  • Load and Resistance
    The bench press allows the exerciser to lift more weight and offers better resistance than push-ups. Given that force and speed combine to produce power, lifting heavier weights provides a better stimulus for power development.
    Bench press’s ability to handle heavier loads makes it much easier to train the muscles and generate explosive force than push-ups.
  • Speed and Explosiveness
    You can perform bench press with a focus on explosive movements and speed.
    Emphasizing the concentric or pushing phase of the bench press with explosive intent helps develop power by training the muscles to generate force rapidly.
  • Specificity
    Power development is dependent on the movement pattern and muscles involved.
    The bench press directly targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps. These muscle groups are essential for many upper body power activities, and by targeting them with heavier loads and explosive movements, bench press provides a more targeted stimulus for power development.
  • Progressive Overload
    The ability to continuously increase the lifted weight is crucial for power development. You can progressively overload the muscles by adding more weight over time, further challenging power output and promoting power development with the bench press.
  • Stability and Control
    Performing bench press on a stable surface like a weight bench allows for a more controlled and steady movement, enabling you to generate power more efficiently and safely.

Push-ups target muscle endurance and strength, and while you can perform them explosively, they may not provide the same level of power-specific stimulus as the bench press.

Bench Press vs. Push Ups: Which is Better?

Whether bench press or push-ups is better depends on several factors, including individual goals, preferences, and specific circumstances.

  • Muscle Activation
    Bench press allows for heavier loads, making it great for building overall upper body strength and muscle mass, particularly in the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
    Push-ups, on the other hand, engage multiple muscle groups and are effective for functional strength, muscular endurance, and engaging the core.
  • Equipment and Accessibility
    Bench press requires equipment such as a weight bench and barbell or dumbbells, while push-ups require no equipment, making them more accessible and convenient for many individuals.
  • Convenience and Portability
    You can perform push-ups anywhere, making them a convenient option for home workouts, while bench press may require access to a gym or a home workout setup with appropriate equipment.
  • Skill and Technique
    Bench press often requires more skill and technique, especially when using heavier weights to help reduce the risk of injury.
    Push-ups are relatively easier to learn and perform with the correct technique.

Final words from LiveLIfe

Bench press vs. push ups – Is one better than the other? The answer depends on your goals and what you want to achieve.

Each of the two exercises has its strength and weaknesses. Thus it will benefit you to include both in your training regimen.

You can use bench press to build strength and muscle mass and push-ups for functional strength and endurance. That will help you to target and engage multiple muscle groups.

  1. Ronai P. The bench press exercise. ACSM’s Health Fitness J. 2018;22(6):52-7. doi:10.1249/FIT.0000000000000432
  2. Sutton B. Bench press targeted muscles, grips, and movement patterns. National Association of Sports Medicine.
  3. McCall P. 2019. Perfecting the push-up for all levels. American Council on Exercise.
  4. National Academy of Sports Medicine. The anatomy of a push-up: exploring proper push-up form and technique.

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