Bench press or push-ups? Is one superior over the other? Can bench press accomplish something that push-ups can’t? And can push-ups deliver results that bench pressing fails at? I’m a certified personal trainer and I have done both exercises. I have also had my clients bench pressing and performing push-ups. Both workouts have their virtues. You need not choose between bench press and push-ups; you can do both as part of your workout regimen.
However, for the sheer sake of answering this very popular question, I have written this article pitting the bench press vs. push-ups. A push-up is an inverted bench press. But you can also say that a bench press is an inverted push-up. Both forms of exercise can cause problems to the rotator cuff, so in that sense, they are equal.
What the bench press offers that push-ups can’t:
-Building maximal muscle mass and chest strength. The barbell can be loaded with weight plates, thus enabling a person to develop maximum strength or size, whichever his or her specific goal is.
-The ability to do negative training. A spotter can help you press the bar back up for the positive phase of the lift, and then you can lower the bar all by yourself for the negative phase. You can keep doing this, having a partner help you up with the positive for numerous repetitions, while you bring the bar down by yourself without help: negative training.
-More isolated effort on the upper body. Because you are lying on a bench, with feet stabilized on the floor or the bench, your lower body gets a free ride, leaving all the work to your upper body.
-A solid chest routine that a very heavy person can do. A person who weighs too much to attempt even one push-up can reap training rewards with the bench press; any size or weight person can perform this exercise.
-Training for bench press competitions. The best way to prepare for competitions involving the bench press is to perform this exercise.
What push-ups offer that the bench press can’t:
-A generous variety of ways to tweak the routine to add intensity and incorporate agility, plus recruit synergistic muscles. They can be performed many ways. Some examples: 1) Clapping in between, 2) Hands on medicine balls instead of the floor, 3) On fingertips or fists, 4) “Plyo-push-ups” – jumping off the floor using your hands in between each repetition, 5) Dumbbell-row push-ups: Pushing off of dumbbells, then performing a dumbbell row with one side, then performing another push-up, then doing a dumbbell row on the other side, and so on. There are at least half a dozen additional variations of this popular chest exercise.
-Recruitment of core muscles. Even for a standard version of this exercise, the core muscles get recruited. However, they are especially recruited if you do push-ups with your feet elevated; with feet on a stability ball (not legs, just the feet); or with hands on medicine balls.
-The opportunity to incorporate balance into the routine. They can be done with both hands on medicine balls, while one foot is on a stool and the other foot free in the air. Even when both hands are on the floor and both feet (not legs, just feet) are on a stability ball, balance is required.
-Less intimidating to people who are reluctant to handle barbells. People who are not ready for barbells may welcome the push-up.
Can you build mass and strength with push-ups? Yes, by having a partner pushing down near your shoulder blades as you try to push back up, assuming that the standard version has gotten too easy. Another way to increase resistance is to wrap a tension tube around your upper back and place your hands over it, then push up against the tube’s tension. Yet another way is to have a partner place a weight plate on your back and let you go at it to muscle failure. Finally, elevating the feet will add resistance.
Push-ups are also handy in that they can be done anywhere and are a convenient way to do supersets to another chest routine, such as the bench press.
Both the bench press and push-up develop “push power,” that can be applied to pushing against a door that an intruder is trying to open.
For ultimate strength, power and muscle size, however, the bench press beats the push-up, though the push-up can develop strength, size and power. Both exercises, done with light resistance, will tone and tighten muscles without making them bigger.