Updated: Oct 10, 2021
One of the most popular upper-body workouts is the bench press. It is undeniably capable of causing substantial strength and muscular mass increases.
The push-up is a very popular workout as well. The push-up, on the other hand, is probably ignored by the overwhelming majority of individuals when it comes to developing muscle and strength.
But how do these two chest exercises stack up against one other? Is one superior than the other for muscle and strength development?
In this article, I'll go through the research on this matter and determine which exercise is really superior.
Table of Contents:
Overall, there seem to be more commonalities than differences between the push up and bench press. The two exercises are similar in terms of biomechanics. Shoulder horizontal flexion and extension, as well as elbow flexion and extension, are all involved.
One study had 20 trained men execute the push-up and bench press under four different load equal circumstances in a study. (5)
The push-up was done with bodyweight plus a 10kg, 20kg, or 30kg weighted vest. Each of the four push-ups were done with weights equal to the amount of weight lifted on the bench press.
During the four loaded situations, electrical activity of the clavicular and sternal pectoralis major, anterior and medial deltoid, and long and medial head of the triceps was measured.
At the four load equating settings, there was no difference in electrical activity for any of the muscles throughout both the eccentric and concentric stages of the two workouts.
Other factors were also examined in this research. Between the push-up and bench press, the electrical activity of the previously described muscles was timed similarly.
The push-up and bench press had comparable distance from the lowest to the highest position of the exercise (vertical displacement), average concentric velocity, and average eccentric velocity.
Two studies discovered a link between bench press and push-up performance. The more repetitions a person can do with a push-up, the more repetitions they can likely do with a given bench press weight. (6, 7)
The most obvious difference is that the bench press usually uses a barbell, while the push-up typically uses your own bodyweight as resistance.
The bench press and push-up are categorised differently, the bench press is classified as an open-chain exercise, while the push-up is classified as a closed-chain exercise.
An open-chain exercise is one in which the hands or feet may move freely. The hands move as you move the barbell through the range of motion in the bench press.
A closed chain exercise is one in which neither the hands nor the feet move. A push-up involves keeping your hands on the ground while moving your body through its range of motion.
Despite the fact that the primary muscle groups engaged in the bench press and push-up (the pectoralis major, deltoid, and triceps) have comparable electrical activity, there is likely a variation in the participation of the abdominal muscles.
One study found that the push-up elicited significantly higher electrical activity of the rectus abdominis compared to the bench press. (8)
This makes sense. You are in a plank position as you execute the push-up, requiring the involvement of the abdominal muscles to support your trunk.
On the other hand, the bench press has your trunk resting on a bench, meaning the abdominal muscles do not need to be significantly involved.
Another interesting difference between the bench press and push-up is that when both exercises are load equated, people appear to be able to perform more repetitions on the push-up.
For instance, one study had 10 men and 10 women perform load equated bench presses and push-ups to failure. (9)
They did this by measuring the mass subjects held in their arms at the top and bottom position of a push-up via special equipment. The average of this value was the load that would be used on the bench press.
The men, on average, completed 26 reps on the push-up and 12 reps on the push-up. The women, on average, completed 15 reps on the push-up and 3 reps on the bench press.
Overviewing so far, although there are some differences between the bench press and push-up, there are still many similarities.
Based on the similarity section, given both exercises appear to elicit similar muscle electrical activity for the main muscle groups, it may be tempting to conclude that both would produce similar growth of these muscles.
However, electromyography, which measures the electrical activity of a muscle, comes with its limitations. Inferring long term outcomes (muscle hypertrophy and strength gains) from EMG data alone is not always justified.
Therefore, it would be preferable if we had some research comparing markers of muscle growth and strength gain before and after participants train the push-up or bench press.
Fortunately, there are studies looking at this.
In this section, I'll be discussing one study comparing the push up and bench press in terms of muscle size and strength gains.
To summarise, the push up and bench press did have statistically similar results in terms of hypertrophy (muscle growth) and strength gains. Though, the bench press did have higher strength gains on the bench press 1-rep max, as expected.
2017 Study by Kikuchi & Nakazato
The first study is one in which 18 trained men were divided into two groups: bench press and push-ups. (10)
The push-up group did a variant that was approximately equal to a 40% one-rep max bench press, while the bench press group did 3 sets to failure with a 40% one-rep max load.
Some individuals did conventional push-ups, while others did kneeling push-ups. Regardless of the type of push up utilised, the subjects completed 3 sets to failure.
After 8 weeks of training, both groups rested 2 minutes between sets.
Some research suggests that loads between 30% and 85% 1-rep max generate comparable muscular development when repetitions are carried to failure. (11)
Although a 40% 1-rep max for muscle development is acceptable, for strength training, higher weights (60-100% 1-rep max) are recommended. (11)
Both groups' muscular growth and strength gains were assessed before and after the 8 weeks.
The pectoralis major and triceps brachii were assessed for hypertrophy and the bench press 1-rep max was evaluated for strength differences.
Both the bench press and push-up groups increased pectoralis major and triceps brachii thickness.
Both groups had comparable improvements in 1-rep max for the bench press. Nonetheless, the numbers favour the bench pressers.
This makes sense, to maximise strength on the bench press, you would want to be bench pressing, which is what the bench press group was doing and not the push up group.
It seems that the push-up still had excellent strength carryover to the bench press.
Which Is Better?
I haven't looked at development of the anterior deltoid, which is the other major muscle used in both the bench press and the push-up. Keep in mind that we discussed studies showing that both exercises generate comparable anterior deltoid muscle activation in the commonalities section.
Considering that both the push up and bench press are bio-mechanically similar, along with the fact research indicates the pectoralis major and triceps development are comparable, I feel there is strong reason to assume that both exercises will grow the anterior deltoids similarly.
Some studies have shown connections between push-up and bench press performance. Push-ups resulted in improvements in bench press strength, exhibiting significant strength carryover.
The same cannot be true, however, for the inverse. Bench press training did not improve push-up performance, according to one study. (12)
However, this study was too short to make a conclusion.
Should You Use One Over the Other?
While sticking with the same exercise isn't always a bad thing, it's preferable to switch things up every month or two.
It may assist to develop muscle while also reducing the risk of injuries and strains. Switching between various similar exercises may be beneficial, in this case switching between the bench press and push up can be beneficial.
So, no, you shouldn't favour one over the other; rather, mix it up and include both the push up and the bench press in your workout, or switch between them every month or so, etc.
Written by Billy White
Billy White is a qualified Kinesiologist and Personal Trainer. He is an aspiring bodybuilder, fitness enthusiast, and health and fitness researcher.
He has multiple years of experience within the fitness, bodybuilding and health space. He is committed to providing the highest-quality information.
This section contains links to research, studies, and sources of information for this article, as well as authors, contributors, etc. All sources, along with the article and facts, are subjected to a series of quality, reliability, and relevance checks.
Real Muscle primarily uses high-quality sources, such as peer-reviewed publications, to back up the information in our articles. To understand more about how we fact-check and keep our information accurate, dependable, and trustworthy, read more about us.
This evidence based analysis of push ups vs bench press features 12 references, listed below.
1. Tillaar RVD. Comparison of Kinematics and Muscle Activation between Push-up and Bench Press. Sports Med Int Open. (2019, Sep 5) ✔
2. Alizadeh S, Rayner M, Mahmoud MMI, Behm DG. Push-Ups vs. Bench Press Differences in Repetitions and Muscle Activation between Sexes. J Sports Sci Med. (2020, May 1) ✔
3. Calatayud, Joaquin; Borreani, Sebastien; Colado, Juan C.; Martin, Fernando; Tella, Victor; Andersen, Lars L. Bench Press and Push-up at Comparable Levels of Muscle Activity Results in Similar Strength Gains. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. (January, 2015) ✔
4. van den Tillaar R, Ball N. Push-Ups are Able to Predict the Bench Press 1-RM and Constitute an Alternative for Measuring Maximum Upper Body Strength Based on Load-Velocity Relationships. J Hum Kinet. (2020, Jul 21) ✔
5. Tillaar RVD. Comparison of Kinematics and Muscle Activation between Push-up and Bench Press. Sports Med Int Open. (2019, Sep 5) ✔
6. Alizadeh S, Rayner M, Mahmoud MMI, Behm DG. Push-Ups vs. Bench Press Differences in Repetitions and Muscle Activation between Sexes. J Sports Sci Med. (2020, May 1) ✔
7. Eckel TL, Watkins CM, Archer DC, et al. Bench press and pushup repetitions to failure with equated load. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching. (2017) ✔
8. Gottschall JS, Hastings B, Becker Z. Muscle Activity Patterns do not Differ Between Push-Up and Bench Press Exercises. J Appl Biomech. (2018, Nov 21) ✔
9. Alizadeh S, Rayner M, Mahmoud MMI, Behm DG. Push-Ups vs. Bench Press Differences in Repetitions and Muscle Activation between Sexes. J Sports Sci Med. (2020, May 1) ✔
10. Naoki Kikuchi, Koichi Nakazato. Low-load bench press and push-up induce similar muscle hypertrophy and strength gain. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness. (2017)
11. Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. (2017, Dec) (Review) ✔
12. Kotarsky CJ, Christensen BK, Miller JS, Hackney KJ. Effect of Progressive Calisthenic Push-up Training on Muscle Strength and Thickness. J Strength Cond Res. (2018, Mar) (Randomised Controlled Trial) ✔
✔ Citations with a tick indicate the information is from a trusted source.
The information provided in this article is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a physician or other competent professional before following advice or taking any supplement. See our terms and conditions.