When it comes to the bench press vs push ups debate, what it’s really about is whether “body weight” training is better than using exterior weights like the old-school Olympic barbell.
The bench press offers a massive amount of progressive overload potential. You can build tremendous chest muscles and get up to benching 400 pounds if you really want to and eat like a properly fueled athlete.
With traditional pushups, after you get to the point where you can do a set of 25 (which is actually quite hard for a fair amount of people) with pure body weight you won’t build any more strength or muscle mass. All you can do is more and more pushups to add to your muscular endurance.
SEE ALSO: How to Improve Bench Press Max
On the other hand, you can do things to add difficulty to push-ups without necessarily adding weight.
For example you can use harder hand positioning like diamond-shape, staggered, clapping (plyo), fingertips, wide stance or even use only one arm at a time. You can also manipulate leverage and incorporate angles into your pushups.
There’s almost no limit to body weight training but the conventional barbell bench press will always just be the bench press.
What’s Best for You?
When all’s said and done it’s best to do both! And, if you want to really give your chest a serious beating do them both at the same time using supersets. It just so happens that the bench press + pushups superset is incredibly effective. Imagine doing three cycles of these two exercises without any rest between them:
- Exercise 1: Eight reps of flat dumbbell/barbell bench press at 60-70% your max.
- Exercise 2: Go straight into doing as many push-ups as you can before a) muscle failure or b) you experience a sharp tearing sensation across your chest.
SEE ALSO: 9 Reasons the Dumbbell Bench Press Kicks Butt
Now, it should be noted that the bench press also allows you to do negatives. You can’t really do those with push ups just because of the dynamic.
With negatives you NEED to have a spotter. You simply stacks tons of weight on there, more than you can concentrically push back up. Then you have a spotter help you lift the bar and then you slowly lower it down to your chest where the spotter then helps you very quickly get the bar back up so you can do another negative.
Additionally, grip is often a big controlling issue with what exercise is best.
For the athlete and gymgoer who has shoulder issues, a more neutral grip (either accomplished through dumbbell bench press or using a push-up stand for a more natural grip) is preferred.
SEE ALSO: List of Muscles Used in Bench Press
Anything Else that Sets the Two Apart?
Yes, and this is key. Obese people are going to have a really hard time with push ups. It’s just a fact. That’s not a reason why they shouldn’t do them of course, but the bench press is a structure and easier way to start building the chest. For example, a guy might not be able to complete even one single push up, but they could go over to the bench press, put on 50-60% of their body weight and begin trimming down.
In conclusion, the bench press and the push up both have their up-sides. For the best results, do yourself a favor and incorporate them both into your workout routines.