The bench press is often regarded as the king of chest exercises, but two studies recently found the push-up to be just as effective in certain situations. That statement is likely going to drive the hardcore gym-bros crazy, but “trust the science,” right?
Here's what the researchers found and how they came to their conclusions.
The science: Bench Pressing vs. Push-up - Which is Better for Building muscle?
The first study, conducted in 2018 compared the results of progressive push-ups to regular bench pressing to determine if there was a measurable difference in the effect on strength and muscle thickness.
In this study twenty-three healthy men in their early twenties were randomly assigned to either the push-up or bench press group. Each group trained their chest 3 days per week for 4 weeks. Muscle thickness, 1 rep max bench press, and the ability to perform max push-ups were measured before and after training.
Results of the study demonstrated significant increases in 1 rep max and the total number of push-ups each group could perform. The increase in total push-ups that could be performed was significantly greater for push-up group, which is likely due to the skill element of performing push-ups efficiently. Both groups experienced the same amount of muscle increase.
The second study sought to investigate the effect of push-up training to bench pressing using a load equal to 40% of 1 rep max on muscle hypertrophy and strength gain in men.
Similar to the first study, eighteen male participants, mostly in their early 20s were randomly assigned to either the bench press at 40% 1 rep max, or the push-ups group. The push-up group used a kneeling position to simulate a load equal to that of the 40% bench press group. Each group trained their chest twice per week for 8 weeks.
Like the first study, the research team found that muscle growth and strength improved for both groups, with the bench press group having the most significant increase in bicep size. The researchers concluded that kneeling push-ups were just as effective as bench pressing with 40% of a person's 1 rep max for increasing building muscle and overall strength.
Conclusion: When it comes to push-ups vs. bench pressing for building muscle, the two studies show that push-ups can be equally effective. Does this mean you don't need to bench press? Maybe, maybe not.
Though these studies prove the push-up to be a great chest exercise, the research did not take into account varying program methods used by each group and did not study a bench press group, where the trainee used a weight closer to their 1 rep max.
We honestly don't care which exercise you use, both are great exercises. The key is to find an exercise you like, and do it with consistency.
KJ; Kotarsky CJ; Christensen BK; Miller JS; Hackney. "Effect of Progressive Calisthenic Push-up Training on Muscle Strength and Thickness." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Kikuchi N, Nakazato K. Low-load bench press and push-up induce similar muscle hypertrophy and strength gain. J Exerc Sci Fit. 2017 Jun;15(1):37-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jesf.2017.06.003. Epub 2017 Jun 29. PMID: 29541130; PMCID: PMC5812864.