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The Ultimate Chest Comparison: Push-Ups vs. Bench Press, Pros, Cons, and Which to Choose?

 Written by 

Mauro Castillo

 Last updated on 

In the fitness world, Mondays are considered “international chest day” at every gym. It doesn’t matter where you go; you’ll likely notice every bench and chest machine being used by almost everyone. 

Having a solid chest has always been a goal for many fitness enthusiasts, and no wonder. It does look good. In the quest for building a massive and eye-catching chest, we must talk about push-ups and bench presses. 

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Push Ups vs. Bench press: the guide to picking the best option for max chest power and strength will help you navigate through the noise and choose the option that best meets your goals. 

Make sure to make it until the end for a bonus workout! 

Chest: Anatomy And Function

There are two chest muscles: the pectoralis major and minor. Both are located in the front of the thorax and have three portions:

  • Clavicle portion (upper)
  • Sternal portion (mid)
  • Costal portion (lower)

The pectoralis major is the largest muscle of the two and has a fan-like shape. It has a clavicular and sternal head. They all play a role in adducting the arm and internally rotating the humerus

Both push-ups and bench pressing are great exercises to target these muscles and push them to grow.

Push Ups Vs. Bench Press: Main Differences

Although push-ups and bench press work very similar muscle groups, a few main differences are worth highlighting. 


Push-ups are a body-weight movement that requires no equipment but your own body. All you need is a surface to place your hands on, and you’re ready to go. 

The bench press is the opposite; you need a bench with support, a bar, and plates. Although you could bench press with dumbbells, you’d still need a bench and the dumbbells. 

This is one of the reasons why push-ups are so practical and easy to do wherever you are.

Open Chain – Close Chain Movements

An open chain movement is where the extremities (arms and legs) are not fixed to any surface and can be moved around at any time during the rep, like the bench press. 

A close chain movement is the opposite. The extremities can’t move freely, like a push-up or an air squat.

Level Of Difficulty

Both movements are relatively easy to master, but the push-ups may be harder for some people due to the important core activation in stabilizing the midline. 

A bench press has a more straightforward setup, focusing on controlling the arm and bar path while every other body part is stable and firm. Although there are multiple push-up variations, bench pressing seems easier for most individuals.

Scapular Movement

Almost every upper body (pushing and pulling) involving the shoulders requires scapular movement. The scapulas are a pair of flat bones on the back that allows the shoulder joint to move freely in a 360 degrees range. 

Although the body mechanics for both movements are almost identical, there are minimal differences. The push-up, for example, allows the scapula for more movement due to them being free of any restriction or impediment.

During bench press exercises, the scapulas are pressed against the bench, moving slightly less than the push-ups. Although this is minimal, it is indeed something to highlight. 

What the Research Says…

While studies directly comparing the bench press and the push-up are limited, there’s valuable research on the benefits of each exercise. Here’s what the science tells us about strength, muscle mass, and performance:

  • Strength Gains: A study found no significant difference in strength gains between the bench press and push-ups when the loading was made similar (using resistance bands for push-ups). This means both exercises are great for building strength (1).
  • Muscle Activation: Research shows that a narrower grip during push-ups leads to higher chest and tricep muscle activation, similar to the bench press. This means you can target those muscles effectively with either exercise (2).

Push Up

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Push-ups are the most accessible exercises for upper body strength. They adjust to any fitness level, and some people enjoy them. 

Technique And Set Up

The setup for push-ups depends on the type of variation you’re doing. A stable surface is all you need if you’re doing a regular rep. 

For the starting position, place both hands slightly wider than shoulder width (wrists should be right below your shoulders.) Feet close together while keeping a neutral neck with your face looking down and no rounding nor arching on your back (core muscles engaged.)

From there, go down slowly until your chest hits the ground. Elbows should be close to your body. Once you hit bottom, go up until your arms are fully locked, and your back is in the starting push-up position. This would be one standard push-up.


The push-up exercise offers many benefits, such as:

  • Easy to do
  • Practical
  • Doesn’t require equipment
  • Easy to scale and modify
  • Low injury risk
  • Improve core stability
  • Build muscle mass

Those benefits make it a fantastic exercise for anyone to include in their training. We recommend learning the proper push-up technique before adding any progress.


One of the best parts of push-ups is the many variations you can do with it. Below are some examples you can try.

  • Knee Push Ups
  • Weighted Push-ups
  • Archer Push-ups
  • Push-ups with elastic bands
  • Inclined Push-Ups
  • Declined Push-ups
  • Plyo Push-ups
pompe musculation 1
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Source: Aliaksandr Makatserchyk

You can perform these modifications if your technique and form are sound. Some of these are harder than others, so please be cautious before attempting a variation you’ve never tried before, especially if you’re a beginner or need better shoulder mobility.

Mistakes To Avoid

Although the push-up group exercises are easy to do, there are some mistakes you should avoid to increase strength gains and minimize injury risk.

  • Arching your back
  • Arms too wide
  • Hands turned in
  • Elbows flaring out
  • Feet too wide
  • Moving too fast
  • Not locking the elbows at the top

All of these are common mistakes that most people make when they’re just starting with this exercise. The good news is that they are easy to fix and usually don’t have long-lasting consequences if spotted and corrected early on.

Bench Press

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Although the bench press is easy, it has a learning curve that most people should go through before going heavy.

Technique And Set Up

The setup for the bench press requires the following:

  • Bench
  • Rack
  • Barbell
  • Plates
developpe couche
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Source: Aliaksandr Makatserchyk

Once the barbell is loaded (it can also be used empty), lay your back on a flat bench with your feet on the ground, butt, and neck making contact on the bench. 

For a good bench press technique, grip the barbell with hands shoulder width or slightly wider and keep your wrist neutral (no bending.) Press up to remove the barbell from the rack and lower it until it touches your chest while keeping your elbows at 45 degrees off your torso.

Contrary to the push-up, the bench press doesn’t respect your limitations in shoulder mobility, so be mindful before adding too much weight to the barbell.


Bench pressing has many benefits that are worth diving into. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or an advanced lifter; anyone will benefit from them. 

  • Builds more muscle mass than the push-up
  • Has a greater muscle activation compared to the push-up
  • Greater muscle strength adaptations
  • More capacity for the external load
  • Some people may find it easier than push-ups

Most of the advantages of bench press are related to strength and muscle growth. Since you can add more external weight than push-ups, the levels of muscle activity are far more significant, thus inducing a more anabolic response from the body.

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Like push-ups, there are several variations you can do with bench pressing that will help you achieve most of your goals.

  • Dumbbell Bench press
  • Decline Bench press
  • Incline Bench press
  • Band Resisted Bench press
  • Close Grip Bench press

All of these variations are commonly seen and performed by fitness enthusiasts worldwide. Most follow the same setup and technique as the regular bench press. They only differ in the angle of the bench and the bar’s grip

However, we recommend starting with low weights if it’s your first time trying any of these variations. To protect your shoulder health, make sure to warm up properly.

Mistakes To Avoid

To maximize the benefits of this movement, we recommend looking at these common mistakes that you can easily avoid.

  • Arms too wide
  • Lifting head off the bench
  • Moving your feet too much
  • Moving too fast
  • Using a heavy barbell as a beginner

Of all these mistakes, having your arms too wide and using a barbell so heavy you can’t control them are the most dangerous. Bench pressing is a relatively simple exercise, but it can hurt you if you don’t notice these mistakes.

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Push Ups Vs. Bench Press: Which One Should You Choose?

It all boils down to your personal goals. Ideally, you’d want to include them both for more muscle mass, but if you had to pick one for the rest of your life, the push-up would be the best choice. 

Although you can always lift more weight with a bench press, push-ups are more accessible and practical. Whether on a trip, short on time, or even going through some injury, there are more ways to adapt a push-up into your training than the bench press. 

However, aiming for those would be wise if you have the means and full access to bench press exercises. After all, you can build more chest strength and muscle growth with it.

Push Up Workout

With everything that you’ve learned, it’s time to put it all into practice. Below you’ll find a quick workout to help build chest mass wherever you are. This workout is perfect for beginners, intermediates, and advanced lifters looking for some additional training volume.

  • A1: Declined Push-Ups
  • A2: Band Resisted Push-Ups
  • 4 sets, 10-15 reps, 60 secs rest
  • B1: Push-Ups
  • B2: Plyo Push-Ups
  • 3 sets, 12-15 reps, 60 secs rest
  • C1: Inclined Push-Ups
  • C2: Pike Push-Ups
  • 2 sets, to failure, 120 secs rest

Bench Press Workout

Diving into bench press workouts, it’s always a fun ride. Before going into details, please be mindful that some of these exercises may be too advanced for some people, and we advise precaution. 

If you’re still mastering the technique, feel free to perform them with an empty bar. It’s better to err on the safe side than risk an injury. 

  • A1: Barbell Bench Press (empty bar)
  • A2: Close Grip Barbell Bench Press (empty bar)
  • 4 sets, 15-20 reps, 60 secs rest
  • B1: Inclined Bench Press 
  • B2: Flat Bench Press 
  • 3 sets, 10-15 reps, 60 secs rest
  • C1: Declined Bench Press
  • C2: Close Grip Bench Press
  • 2 sets, 10-12 reps, 60 secs rest

Aim for a moderate weight and avoid going to muscle failure. If you need someone to spot you, going too heavy may put you in a disadvantageous position, increasing injury risk.

push ups vs bench press routine
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Frequently Asked Questions

Are Push-Ups As Effective As Bench Press?

Like the bench press, push-ups effectively target your chest muscles. Although some people may find bench presses easier than push-ups, they’re both terrific at creating the necessary tension for your pecs to grow. Push-ups are more practical, but bench presses can handle more load and volume.

Should I Start With Bench Press Or Push-Ups?

If you’re a beginner, we recommend starting with push-ups and progressing to bench press. Push-ups are a great way to strengthen your shoulders, chest, arms, and core muscles before increasing the difficulty with the bench press.

Do Push-Ups Build More Muscle Than Bench Press?

Push-ups do not build more muscle than the bench press. Although push-ups are a terrific exercise that will push your chest muscles to grow, hitting a plateau is easier since you can only lift as heavy as your body weight.
Even if you add a vest or plates on top of you, the bench press will always have the advantage in load and volume.

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