3 reasons why bench pressES are better than push-ups!
Alec Enkiri | 2/5/21
If you read last Friday's post, 3 Reasons Why Push-ups are BETTER THAN Bench Pressing, then you probably read the title here today and started thinking to yourself, "ok, either this guy has dementia OR he's trolling us." BUT I can assure you that neither of those are the case! I have a point to make today and I intend to make it! So bear with me until the end!
Last week's segment did generate some really good discussion on my YouTube channel, and I'm hoping we can get that going again this week, but it also created a pretty good bit of confusion and misinterpretation along with it. Many people agreed with my points, some people disagreed with them, but a lot of people just took away the wrong message altogether. So now allow me to drop a nuclear bomb on top of all that confusion so that you guys just don't know what the hell is going on anymore....are you ready for it?
THE BENCH PRESS IS A BETTER EXERCISE THAN THE THE PUSH-UP.
...or maybe I do just have dementia.
Reason #1: Not Limited By Core Strength
When you perform a push-up you're essentially in a plank position the whole time, which means that your abs have to be strong and braced tightly for the entire set otherwise your hips are going to start to sag down to the floor and you're going to lose position, and ultimately you're going to have stop the set because you're shifting the load off your upper body and therefore losing the training effect. But also because moving through positions of hyperextension like that under load, repeatedly, or for long periods of time is not really an ideal position for your lower back to be in either. And if you're doing weighted push-ups then the effect here simply becomes magnified. So basically what all this means is that the core: the abs, the hips, the lats - pretty much everything that comprises your torso - is potentially the limiting factor during push-up performance.
This means that you can effectively get through an entire push-up workout and really never work the prime movers all that hard - never really, truly achieve high levels of muscular tension or fatigue in the pecs, the delts, and the triceps. And what the hell's the point of that!? We're trying to get jacked arms and a big chest so why waste time on an exercise that potentially doesn't hone in on those muscle groups all that efficiently? With the bench press on the other hand you're lying down flat on your back and your torso is supported by the bench itself. The core is completely removed from the equation. This means that the only limiting factor present during the performance of the bench press is the strength of your upper body musculature - the prime movers themselves - the pecs, delts, and triceps.
Makes for a damn good ab workout as well!
So during a properly executed bench press workout there is almost NO CHANCE that you won't be able to achieve high levels of tension and fatigue in the aforementioned upper body pressing muscles. This means that over time you'll be able to strengthen and hypertrophy those muscles to a greater degree because there is no other weak link present in the chain hindering your ability to sufficiently tax them because those weak links have been eliminated from the equation by lying down to push instead of pushing your body back up.
Reason #2: The Shoulder Blades are Pinned and Stable
When you perform a bench press you're able to pin your shoulder blades onto the bench in a retracted and immovable position. This creates a solid and stable base to press from. Contrast this with a push-up where the shoulder blades are flapping around like a limp dick in the wind and are able to move any which way while you press. The scapulae can retract, yes, but it can also protract and even potentially elevate or depress, as well as cause rotational aberrations in the movement pattern. These movement inefficiencies dampen force production which reduces the training effect on the prime movers - the pecs, delts, and triceps.
Tight and stable!
But with the bench press, since the shoulder blades are pinned down and locked in a retracted position and can't move during the lift, this problem is completely non-existent. The upper back and scapulae remain locked in. There are no potential rotational aberrations or inefficiencies, and since you've created the absolute most solid and stable base to press from you'll be able to utilize the strength of your prime movers in the most efficient and optimal fashion possible. And with ABSOLUTELY NO energy leaks to be found the strength and hypertrophic training effects that can be achieved for the upper body through bench pressing are absolutely going to DWARF anything that could possibly be achieved through measly little push-ups. So score another one for the bench press!
Reason #3: More Potent Training Stimulus
The final reason to bench press instead of wasting your time with push-ups has to do the intensity of the training stimulus itself. When you perform push-ups, especially if you have high levels of relative strength to being with, it's just too easy to rack up rep after rep after rep and never really accumulate sufficient amounts of fatigue in the upper body pressing musculature or achieve an adequate training effect for the prime movers. The exercise simply lends itself to higher rep performance, even when done in a weighted fashion. That's just the case with certain exercises - that's just the nature of them - that they lend themselves much better to rep performance rather than to going very heavy. For me the Romanian deadlift vs the conventional deadlift automatically comes to mind as another example. It's simply not feasible to max out an RDL. The exercise doesn't work well for it and the intended training effect is lost when you try to do that and the best results are had when sets of 6-8 or 8-10 reps per set are used. Whereas with the conventional deadlift you can basically go as heavy as you can go and still make good progress with it. The exercise simply lends itself to the performance of heavy work and maximal work, as well light and medium work, and the intended training effect can be optimally achieved across all rep ranges.
Very well suited for heavy work.
Well, in my analogy here the bench press is much more similar to the conventional deadlift, whereas the push-up is more similar to the RDL. The rep for rep training effect is simply more potent with bench pressing than it is with push-ups, even when training loads are equated. The exercise is much more powerful and thus the dose does not need to be quite as large. Based on my personal experience, I would estimate that it takes at least a 2 to 1 ratio of push-ups to bench presses to achieve an equal training effect for the upper body. This is due in part to the fact that the best training effects for the push-up are achieved by accruing large amounts of intra-set muscular fatigue, which entails accumulating many reps per set, whereas with the bench press that doesn't necessarily need to be the case. Accumulating intra-set fatigue can be a useful method there as well, but it's not the only way.
Instead one can rely on neural factors to achieve the training effect or even accumulating large volumes of total time under tension spread across many small sets performed in a short period of time, but using heavier weights than the push-up would allow because you aren't dependent on that intra-set muscular fatigue. Basically with the bench press you can make damn good progress using singles, doubles, triples, 4's, 5's, 6's, or even up to 10 reps per set, and maybe even more than that! Whereas, with the push-up you really shouldn't bother loading up it to a point where you can't hit at least 8 reps in a set. The benefits just aren't really there beyond that because the exercise is not suited for those types of performances.
And the reasons for this phenomenon basically hearken back to the two other factors that make the bench press superior that I've already discussed in this video: the bench press provides a stronger more stable base to press from along with no weak links or energy leaks holding back the strength of the chain, which leads to better force production from the prime movers, which simply leads to more effective reps on a rep per rep basis. As well, because of all that you also end up with more options in terms of effective set/rep/and loading schemes to train the bench press than you do for the push-up - plus you don't have to spend hours upon hours doing push-ups every day - but those are just nice little bonus cherries on top of an already frosted cake. All that to say, score another point for the bench press. It's simply a superior exercise for upper body strength and hypertrophy as compared to the push-up, especially when dissected on a rep for rep basis.
If you watched last week's video then you may have noticed something funny going on by now. Basically, everything that makes the push-up a BETTER EXERCISE than the bench press can also be flipped on it's head, viewed from another vantage point, and be made to show that the bench press is a better exercise than the push-up. Last week you had a lot of people thinking I was creating some kind of silly, mutually exclusive scenario. Inferring from my video that I was suggesting that you should JUST do push-ups and forgo bench pressing altogether, BUT that really wasn't the point of the video at all. Instead the whole point was to highlight the unique benefits of the push-up - benefits that CAN'T be had while bench pressing - reasons to do your push-ups regardless of how good of a bencher you are, and to highlight the OVERALL effectiveness of that lesser utilized but just as valuable exercise. The bench press doesn't really need to be highlighted because everybody already fucking does it anyway, regardless of whether or not I talk about how great it is. That's just gym bro culture, especially with powerlifting becoming more and more mainstream by the day.
But context is everything. In the context of general fitness or general strength training I am confident to say that you are better off ranking the push-up and it's variations into a position of higher value than you are the bench press as there more overall benefits to the movement and it makes you more well rounded. And you'd be hard pressed to argue against that. In that case the bench press can be used as a secondary movement to improve upper body size and increase the strength of the prime movers, which will aid push-up performance in the long run.
On the other hand, in the context of maximal upper body strength or maximal upper body hypertrophy or maximizing powerlifting performance...then yeah, the bench press should be placed into a position of higher value and the push-up can be used as a secondary or accessory movement to eek out those extra gains, help keep the shoulders healthy, increase the upper body work capacity, or whatever.
But of course there are benefits to be had from the bench press that you can't get from push-ups. It's the most isolated non-isolation way to hammer the pressing muscles of the upper body. There are no limits on the ability of the prime movers to produce force except for their absolute ability to produce force. Of course there is value in that! It doesn't really need to be said anymore. But I was never suggesting that you eliminate the bench press altogether, especially if you enjoy doing it and have seen good results from doing it. I was merely offering you a similar alternative - an exercise with similar overall benefits, as well as its own unique set of benefits that the bench press doesn't offer. If you can't bench press right now because of COVID, then push-ups can be made to be a damn good stand in for the time being. But the best long term results will be seen either by implementing both exercises concurrently or by rotating through variations in a properly periodized training program. Both exercises have value, both exercises have their own respective value, and BOTH exercises should be utilized for the unique benefits that each of them confers.
So I hope that clears up the confusion that I created last week!
This blog post in video format. Enjoy!