Can Push Ups Replace Bench Press?
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In this article I will be answering the question “can push ups replace bench press?”. Both are fantastic exercises and provide great utility in improving pressing strength.
Some people may have stagnated on the bench press or found that there is a higher risk of injury from benching. This article will fully explore whether push ups are a suitable alternative.
Can Push Ups Replace Bench Press?
In some ways it is even better than the bench press as you are moving your whole body through space as well as any extra resistance.
The best ways to load it are using a weighted backpack or my preferred method, resistance bands.
Push Ups Carryover To The Bench Press
SAID or Specific Adaptation To Imposed Demands is all about the body responding to specific stimulus and adapting to the specific demands that you place on it.
If you want to increase your bench press optimally it stands to reason that the best way to do this would be to perform the bench press regularly and apply progressive overload.
This however doesn’t mean that push ups don’t carryover to bench press strength. There are many calisthenics athletes who can bench press semi respectable numbers over 100kg without ever training the bench.
A good example is Austin Dunham, he is a calisthenics athlete whose bench press actually increased from regular weighted push up training. The video below shows how his bench press 1RM went up by 40lbs even when he stopped benching for four months.
That video was from 2017, in 2021 Austin was able to bench press 315lbs pretty cleanly. It goes to show that for him push ups have a tremendous carryover to his bench press.
It is important to note that the carryover that everyone gets from push ups to their bench press will vary based on many factors. Your individual anthropometry is the most important factor as well as how much resistance you add to your push ups.
Importance Of Doing Push Ups Weighted
In order to truly be a good alternative and replacement for the bench press, push ups must be done using added resistance. This could be in the form of resistance bands or a weighted backpack.
Personally I believe resistance bands are superior and you have more control with them. To see the resistance bands that I regularly use in my training click here.
The reason why the bench press is so powerful and one of the best upper body exercises you can do is the unlimited loading potential, and the fact that so many muscles are brought into the movement.
When bench pressing correctly you are technically using your entire body and should be utilising “chain drive” as Scot Mendelson says. Check out this article from T Nation to learn how to use your entire body when benching
In order for push ups to be a good replacement you need to train them in a progressive overload manner using heavier added resistances over time. This is key to getting stronger at the push up movement.
If all you ever do is bodyweight push ups there is only so far you can go. You can build up great work capacity and endurance with higher reps but you won’t get the same strength gains.
Use A Bench For Variations
To really get the most bang for your buck with the push up it is very useful to utilise a weight bench. This way you can perform push ups from different angles and build up strength and size in the upper chest as well.
For example, you can perform an incline push up by putting your feet on a flat bench behind you. This makes the exercise a lot harder and it is an advanced variation. You will hit the upper chest really good from this angle.
Performing decline sit ups with extra resistance and progressively overloading this exercise over time will certainly improve hypertrophy and push up strength long term.
Twenty people were chosen that all had a background of resistance training. They had an age of 22.5 +- 5.24 years and a weight of 83.7 +- 10.7kg.
They were tasked with performing bench presses at 50-80% of their assumed one rep max in increments of 10kg. For the push ups, they were asked to perform them both with and without a weight vest.
With weighted push up the vests used were 10kg, 20kg and 30kg. A linear encoder measured kinematics and the mean and maximum muscle activation of eight upper body muscles.
The results of the study are very interesting. No differences were found in kinematics and muscle activation between the two exercises.
The study demonstrated that by using a weight vest in this case, push ups can mimic different loads similar to the intensities of the bench press. This can in essence build strength and can carryover to the bench.
This also corroborates with the real world evidence of calisthenics athletes like Austin Dunham. He was able to increase his bench press 1RM through the use of weighted push ups even in the absence of any bench pressing.
The data below shows the mean (+- standard error of the mean) and peak muscle activation of all muscles during the upward phase of the lift at each load and exercise averaged over all the trainees in the study.
The solid black line on the graph corresponds to the bench press and the grey line corresponds to the push up.
The data shows that the pecs and anterior deltoid are activated more in the push up compared to the bench press. But the triceps overall are activated more in the bench press. This illustrates just how good the push up really is as a chest builder.
It is not too surprising since good benching should really involve the triceps heavily. You want to take the shoulders out of the equation as much as possible when benching to eliminate any shoulder pain.
To conclude, in this article I have answered the question “can push ups replace bench press?”. The answer to this question is a resounding yes.
However, I will still re-iterate by going back to the SAID principle that optimal strength gains in the bench press will come about from training the bench press specifically.
In terms of muscle activation you are getting all the benefits of the bench press with the push up. There is high carryover to the bench press and you are actually putting more tension on the pecs and anterior deltoid with the push up.
The bench press is slightly more effective at building up tricep strength and size than the push up. Having said that I am confident that diamond push ups done with a super close grip will blast the triceps significantly.
In addition the push up involves a higher degree of core stabilisation than the bench press. You will get more benefits in terms of core strength from the weighted push up.
I hope you enjoyed reading my article and it provided all the information that you needed to know in regards to whether push ups are an adequate replacement.
If you have any questions please leave them in the comments below.
As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!
>> CHECK OUT MY ARTICLE: How to build big pecs
Comparison of Kinematics and Muscle Activation between Push Up and Bench Press