Which is More Effective: Bench Press vs Push Ups

The bench press and push ups are very different exercises with very different use cases, yet they remain part of the horizontal press movement pattern. In this article I aim to outline both the similarities and differences between the bench press and push ups and also provide the optimal use cases for each exercise.

4 min read
Sean Klein
Written by
Sean Klein
Published on
03/07/24
Last updated
03/07/24
Primary
Upper Body
Horizontal Press

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In This Resource
  • What Is A Bench Press
  • What Is a Push Up
  • How Are The Bench Press and Push Up Similar
  • Horizontal Press Movements
  • How Are The Bench Press and The Push Up Are Different
  • The Bench Press Is Much More Effective for Strength and Hypertrophy
  • Push Up Is Easily Accessible
  • The Push Up Moves Shoulders Through Full Range of Motion
  • The Push Up is Very Effective For Muscular Endurance
  • A Bad Comparison
  • Key Factors to Take Into Consideration
  • Training Goal

What Is A Bench Press

Buy Barbells
Primary
Upper Body
Horizontal Press

What Is a Push Up

Secondary
Upper Body
Horizontal Press

How Are The Bench Press and Push Up Similar

Horizontal Press Movements

Both the push up and the bench press are horizontal press movements, making them very similar in the sense that they use the same muscle groups. The bench press and the push up primarily use the pectorals and the triceps to perform the pressing motion whilst the anterior deltoids and core play a supporting role.

How Are The Bench Press and The Push Up Are Different

The Bench Press Is Much More Effective for Strength and Hypertrophy

When a strength coach sits down to write a strength or hypertrophy programme for a client, they simply never consider using the push up as the primary horizontal press movement because the bench press is a much better exercise for both strength and hypertrophy. Manipulating the amount of weight used on the bench press is dramatically easier in comparison than the press up which is done with body weight. Although we can do weighted push ups, it is very rare to write a periodised plan for weighted push ups. This is not the case for bench press where it is common place to write a periodised plan for the bench press.

Push Up Is Easily Accessible

One huge benefit of the push up is that it is easily accessible, meaning you do not need equipment to perform it. When traveling or if you are training at home this is a very important factor to take into consideration. There are also ways to progress the push up allowing us to perform very challenging strength exercises through using sliders or uni-lateral variations. This allows us to really challenge ourselves in the horizontal press movement pattern while not having access to any equipment. Personally I love using press up variations when on holiday to maintain horizontal pressing strength.

The Push Up Moves Shoulders Through Full Range of Motion

Another benefit of press ups is that they allow the shoulder to move through their full range of motion. Moving the scapular through it’s full range is crucial for shoulder health of athletes such as tennis players, golfers, base ballers etc. These athletes need to be strong through their full range of motion otherwise they risk injury. The bench press does not encourage individuals to move the shoulder through its full range, instead it keeps the shoulders fixed. This is not a huge issue for non-athletes, especially if they are able to have multiple horizontal pressing movements in their training programme, allowing them to move through the full range of motion in their week, they are also very rarley exposed to positions which cause injury in these end ranges.

The Push Up is Very Effective For Muscular Endurance

The push up is an amazing way to improve the muscular endurance of the muscles of the pectorals and the triceps. When trying to improve muscular endurance, using push ups are far more preferential to the bench press. It is very rare that the bench press is used to improve the muscular endurance of the upper body.

A Bad Comparison

These exercises are within the same movement category, but they differ so much that comparing them is not a very useful exercise. It is important to know that they are by no means interchangeable in a training programme, especially when you are striving to increase strength.

Key Factors to Take Into Consideration

Training Goal

When selecting exercises the key variable to take into consideration is the training goal. Do you want to be strong? Then lift heavy weights with the bench press. Do you want to be endurant? Then use push ups. If you want to be both then consider adding the two into your weekly plan. Personally I love performing one heavy horizontal press variation and another endurance variation during my training week.

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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.

Sean Klein

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