Find out which chest move is more effective— the push-up or the bench
Which do you hear more: A) “How much do you bench, bro?” or B) “How many push-ups can you do?”
Take your vote and continue reading to see which question might make for a more useful metric to judge someone’s athletic ability. Regardless, both can help you build a bigger chest or get a more balanced body (Also read Greek god workout).
Get to know the push-ups and the bench press in detail. See what similarities and differences the two exercises have.
Plus, find out some techniques and modifications you can try to make the most of both during your chest day routine.
Push-Ups vs. Bench Press
First off, let’s get to know the main differences between push-ups and bench pressing.
To start, push-ups are a bodyweight exercise— no equipment is needed. Bench pressing required a workout bench and either a barbell or dumbbell to add weight.
For push-ups, you use gravity to push your body downwards from a plank position towards the floor, with hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, bending your elbows to absorb impact. This move involves lowering and raising your body using the arms. Here, you’re mostly targeting the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core.
While in the bench press, you lie on your back and gravity only controls the movement of your weights. This is a weightlifting move that you do on a weight bench with a barbell or dumbbell. Here, you lower and raise the barbell in your hands towards and away from your chest.
This move mostly targets your chest, shoulders, and triceps, with less core engagement, since your body is supported.
Push-ups are easier to take anywhere since they’re only a bodyweight-based move. Unlike push-ups, bench presses need external resistance from weights and offer physical support from a bench, so they’re tricky to perform if you can’t access gym equipment.
How to do Proper Push-Ups
Why do push-ups always get a bad rap? These are a great move for your whole body.
Unfortunately, push-ups are frequently executed poorly. Let’s take a further look at what the intention behind a push-up is and why many people tend to mess up here (and end up hating push-ups because of it!).
Push-ups are a fundamental bodyweight exercise that targets multiple muscle groups in your upper body. To perform them properly, you lower and raise your body with your arms.
When done correctly, they help you build strength, endurance, and better muscle definition. To do a basic push-up:
- Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Your body should form a straight line from head to heels, with fully extended arms.
- Bend your elbows and lower your body toward the ground.
- Be sure to keep the elbows pointing backward as you do this. This will help you prevent shoulder injuries.
- Make sure to hold your body straight. Don’t let your hips sag below the rest of your body or stick your butt up in the air. Doing either takes away from your core engagement.
- Lower yourself until your chest is just above or lightly touches the ground.
- Here, your elbows should be at 90 degrees.
- Push through the palms of your hands to extend your arms and bring your body back to the starting position using your strength.
- Keep your body straight throughout the movement.
- Repeat for as many reps as you need.
Once you’ve mastered basic push-ups, there are many variations you can add to your routine. Some of these, like a declined push-up, can be used as a progression to work up to a full push-up instead.
Wide Grip Push-Ups
Put your hands placed wider than shoulder-width apart. This position emphasizes your chest.
Narrow Grip Push-Ups (aka Triceps Push-Ups)
Place your hands close together. This variation targets your triceps.
Make a diamond shape with your hands beneath your chest. Here, you can help intensify the engagement in your triceps and inner chest. Be careful here, since you’re working with a narrower base.
Generally, a diamond variation should only be attempted once you’ve mastered traditional push-ups.
Incline or Decline Push-Ups
Try push-ups with your hands elevated or lowered to change your working angle and focus on different muscle groups.
Which Muscles Do Push-Ups Work?
Push-ups target the muscles of your shoulders, arms, chest, and core, with some leg engagement for stability. Let’s take a look at a few of the major muscles that play a role in perfecting your push-ups.
The chest muscles, aka pecs, are heavily engaged during push-ups, especially as you push your body upwards from the ground.
The front part of your shoulder (anterior deltoid muscle) helps you move your body up and down.
These muscles on the backs of your arms are responsible for extending your elbows to help push the body up.
The lats and muscles in your upper back also act as shoulder stabilizers during this move.
This muscle sits on the side of your chest and stabilizes your shoulder blades (scapulae).
Your abs and core muscles need to be engaged so your body stays stable. They keep a straight line from your head to your heels. The abdominal area also connects your upper body to your lower body, so your legs can help play a role in stabilizing too.
Push-ups are not considered a low-body move, but the muscles in your legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves) do help you stay up above the ground. Engaging your legs also helps you stay in a straight line with your body.
How to Do a Proper Bench Press
- Grab a weighted barbell and lie flat on a weight bench. Your gaze should be directly under the bar once you lift, so keep this in mind for positioning.
- Grip the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing away. Plant your feet solidly on the ground.
- Unrack your barbell and bring it straight above your chest with your arms fully extended.
- To stay stable, arch your back slightly, but don’t overdo it.
- Inhale and lower your barbell to the middle of your chest. Make sure your elbows stay bent at around 90 degrees.
- Keep your movement controlled. Don’t let your bar bounce off your chest.
- Straighten your arms again and push your barbell back up to the starting position.
- Keep your wrists straight, and drive through your feet to keep yourself stable.
- Continue for as many reps as you need.
- Use a weight that allows you to keep your form.
What Muscles Does Bench Pressing Work?
The muscles you work in a bench press are very similar to push-ups, with a few differences in how they operate during the move.
Bench pressing mostly targets your upper body, with an emphasis on the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Here’s a breakdown of the main muscles worked during a bench press:
This is one of the best chest moves you can do in the gym. The Pectoralis Major does the most work here. Bench presses hit both your upper and lower chest when performed correctly.
Like in push-ups, your front delts are the main muscles at work here. As you lift your load, these muscles engage.
The triceps help extend your elbows while you lift your arms.
Helps stabilize your shoulder blades on the bench.
The biceps don’t help you bench press directly, but they do stabilize your movement since your hands are “free” in the air here, not planted on the ground.
Your rhomboids and trapezios muscles in the upper back play somewhat of a role too to keep your shoulders balanced so you can maintain good form.
Keep in mind that like with your hand placements on the floor during a push-up, grip makes a difference for your bench press.
Variations like incline or decline bench presses can also shift the work to different parts of the chest and shoulders. The bench press is a compound movement, meaning it involves multiple joints and muscle groups. Compound workouts are great for overall upper body strength and building bigger muscles.
Push-ups and bench pressing are some of the best chest exercises in the book.
They work most of the same muscles and can both be fantastic additions to a total body training program.
That being said the main difference between push-ups and bench pressing lies in your access to equipment. Push-ups are a bodyweight exercise— you can do these with no weight or outside equipment as part of a calisthenics program.
Lacking a bit of inspiration in your workouts? Although push-ups and bench press are great functional muscle-builders, it’s normal to hit a gym slump.
If you’re feeling uninspired, learn more about how to boost your gym motivation. Have you mastered both the bench press AND a traditional push-up? Do you think you can do over 1,000 push-ups?
The Herschel Walker workout plan may be more up your alley (look at you go!). Or if you prefer another advanced variation, get to know the planche progression.
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