Sometimes we like to look at two exercises, like push-ups compared to the bench press, and really compare them to try and determine which is better in the pursuit of fitness and muscle size. So how do they stack up? We are going to break it down and look at each exercise and then we should be able to provide a solid answer as to which is better for building muscle, push ups vs. bench press.
How do you build muscle?
Everyone is fairly familiar with the concept of how you build muscle, but we will do a brief recap. Muscles need to be stressed and pushed by working. Typically people utilize resistance to generate that stress. For the most part to build muscle you are working with tension on the muscle for a minimum period which is often captured with rep counts such as 8 to 12 for building muscle. Using less can increase strength but not always muscle size. Using more can help with endurance but not muscle size.
What are push-ups good for?
For push ups vs. bench press we will start with the push-ups. This is a classic bodyweight exercise that is versatile and useful. You can do them anywhere and don’t need any equipment. Lately with the popularity of programs like insanity and Cross fit, push-ups have hit resurgence in popularity. They can build muscle, are great as a way to build athletic coordination and are great for muscle tone.
People who are more into maintaining current muscle size and need to have explosive power, balance, and athletic training can get a lot of use out of push-ups. You can do things with bodyweight exercises that you simply can’t with a machine or barbell exercise. For example you can put a block under one hand and change the angle and force one side to work harder or do one-arm push-ups.
What about the bench press?
The bench press is a classic muscle builder. Guys like to know how much they can bench as a point of pride and estimation of physical prowess. It is less versatile than a push-up because you need equipment. They can build muscle, build strength, increase muscle endurance, and work on explosive power.
There are plenty of programs that are specifically geared towards increasing strength and muscle size over time based on adjusting weight and going through lifting cycles. An exercise like the bench press works perfectly with that type of program.
The Winner is?
For push ups vs. bench press for building muscle, the winner is the bench press. While you can build muscle using push-ups and can increase strength, you are basically capped by your own body weight. At a certain point you will become strong enough to easily do 20+ push-ups per set. That will push you past the muscle building range and into the endurance range. But that never happens with the bench press because you just add more plates and stay within the muscle building zone.
Now the push-up is still a great exercise but with push ups vs. bench press specifically for muscle gaining it is clearly limited. On the other hand you can train for explosion safely and adjust angles for more functional training that can translate well to athletics.