T Nation

Push ups vs Bench Press

Never really thought about this before, but I’ve been re-reading a few old articles and something suddenly triggered this thought …

Most people agree that pull ups & chins are superior to pulldowns, right? So wouldn’t it follow that push ups (with added weight of course) would be superior to bench press for similar reasons?

Wouldn’t a weighted inverted push up or horizontal pull up or whatever you call it similarly be superior to rows?

Read Chad Waterbury’s article about a different form of pushup in last week’s issue of T-mag.

I do weighted push-ups a lot by putting a plate on my back between my shoulder blades. I think it’s a great exercise. As to whether it’s superior to bench press, I guess that depends on how you define “superior”.

Does anyone read the “weekly magazine” anymore?!?!?!

I had already read that article, but I get the feeling some of you didn’t. Either that or you didn’t read my post.

In any case, if you had read - and understood - both, you’d see that the article does not answer my question. (In fact, it was one of the articles which prompted it)

Let me rephrase it.

Pull ups are superior to the lat pull down because we’re moving our body around a fixed point, instead of dragging a weight towards our motionless body, correct?

Or, in Poliquin’s words:

“Why are pulldowns a dork exercises? Simple. In pulldowns, you move a free-moving object (the bar) around you. It’s easier to use your lower back and momentum to pull the weight. “Easier” is never the best way to build strength and musculature. With chins, you have to move your body around a fixed object (the bar), insuring an overload on the back and the muscles of the upper arms. This movement is more realistic and has a much better transference to sports performance.”

So why isn’t the same thinking applied to bench press vs weighted push ups?

Isn’t the difference between bench and a push up very similar to the difference between a pull down and a pull up?

So you see, I’m not talking about using push ups for variety. I’m wondering whether or not they are just as superior to the benchpress as the pull up is to the lat pull down.

If so (assuming the logistics of adding resistance were adequately dealt with) why bench instead of push up? Ego? Why do a bent over row instead of the inverted push up variety?

And any of you who want to slam me without really thinking it through first, just because I don’t post 100 times a day doesn’t mean I haven’t read every single article here at least once, nor does it mean I’m clueless, but thanks for the smug little flames anyway.

Mook, I’m think it’s probably a loading issue. The vast majority of people can do a few bodyweight pushups, but you’ll find a lot more than CAN’T do any bodyweight chins. The extra loading to make pushups “as hard” as chins is difficult for obvious reasons. There’s no place to put a barbell or dumbells, and plates across your back are simply very awkward.

Another guess of mine is that, in doing chins, your body is anchored by a single fixed point and is able to rotate about that point, prompting you to stabilize yourself the entire time. In a pushup, you’re anchoring yourself on a flat surface with much less need for self-stablization than when doing a chin. Just speculation by me though. Figured I’d give it a shot.

Also, wouldn’t you be actually spreading out your bodyweight over more area with a pushup than with a chin?? Your feet/legs are helping make it a teeny bit less than bodyweight I would think…where a pullup is much more “concentrated”, if that makes any sense.
I personally could do tons of pushups before I could ever do a pullup.


I get what you’re saying. Open versus close chained movements.

However, the real problem here is loading. It’s difficult to get any kind of similar loading in a weighted pushup as it is with a bar. I mean… how many X-Vests and plates would it take to simulate a 300lb bench?

I think you’re probably right. If you could get appropriate loading, it probably would be a superior movement. But the question is: how the heck do you do that?

Regarding Loading: The thing that I can think of is some kind of band–like a Jumpstretch band.

Regarding the two points vs. three points of contact: Obviously, the muscles worked are different, but I think that everyone here would agree that the handstand pushup is an excellent exercise. (And would be an excellent compliment to chins/pullups).

At least in theory, because I certainly can’t do one.

Bench press has some stability advantages over lat pulldowns: I think doing machine bench presses more closely corelates with lat pulldowns. I.E. pullups:lat pulldowns::pushups:machine bench press.

Just like chins vs pulldowns, you can “cheat” on a bench press but can’t cheat on a pushup…a pushup , like a chin must be done in strict form…but as the others have stated, loading for a pushup is cumbersome and difficult…unless you have a female training partner and can get her to provide the additional loading…

I nkow for me, my shoulders tend to rotate forward on pushups a lot more than on bench. I’d think that most people are the same. So, for shoulder health reasons, loading up the bench is going to be much better than trying to load up your back for pushups.

I Think weighted dips would make a better alternative to bench than pushups, although the pushing is in a slightly different plane relative to your torso.

It really does boil down to the question. What are you trying to accomplish. If you are looking for strength, power, explosives movement then go w/ the bench press. If you are looking for just look good on the beach. Then variation of the push-ups is fine.

Actually loading is very easy if you spend a litle dough on the Power Push Up 2.

I see where you’re going and will agree that loading becomes an issue, but I don’t think it is a huge issue until you really need to bench with 300+ lbs for reps.

You can get decent loading by setting yourself under the smith machine bar and setting the bar across your upper back. Just set the safety stops on the smith machine so that the bar is loaded through the full range of motion and so that you still have enough room to escape. This beats balancing a plate on your back.

Wanted to add…strict form is the purpose of floor presses as you can’t cheat on a floor press like you can on a bench press (by arching and by adjusting the plane of movement, etc) so a floor press may be the best of both worlds…I know Pavel highly recommends the floor press.


Handstand pushups are a tremendous way to increase your vertical pressing, particularly toward the ‘lockout’ range.
I worked up to 20+ reps with this exercise and it had a VERY positive effect on my overhead pressing.

The only problem is that you typically cannot get a full range of motion with them. Unless, that is, you can do them with your hands on two chairs, allowing your head to lower below the level it normally could. However, if you could do that, you a) have amazing balance, and b) are a freakin’ badass.

In the old (OLD) MM2K magazine, Bill Phillips once got a bench-press contest going. I’m relying on memory here, but I think he wanted to bench 500 (?) and invited readers to join in the competition. The guy who ended up winning trained mainly with pushups, because he lived in North Dakotah or something, out in the middle of nowhere, where the closest gym was 75 miles away. He claimed he would start by having his wife and little girl lay on his back until he couldn’t do any more, then have his daughter jump off, then have his wife jump off and his daughter back on, then finish up with just his body weight in some interesting variant of strip sets. In the contest, a couple guys tied in bench pressing, so Phillips decided to break the tie with number of pushups, which this guy easily won.


A practical use for the Smith Machine! I like that idea alot. Good lookin’ out!


Brider: A counter argument to your hypothesis that benching is safer to pushups due to shoulder rotation mayb be that the freedom of the scapula to move while not being pinned to the bench will make it safer then normal benching.

This is cut and paste from a Fred Hatfield article. (Hatfield is a famous powerlifter and the first person to squat over 1000 lbs in competition)

“…Lying on your back with 300-400 or more pounds in your hands pressing your scapulae into the flat bench beneath. You lower the bar to your chest. But the scapulae are pinned to the bench and cannot slide inwards as you lower the bar. And neither can they slide outward as you raise the bar off your chest. This is not good! It causes undue stress on the tendons of the long heads of your biceps. The results?
? Nagging long-lasting pain from biceps tendinitis
? You can?t lift as much
? Far less strength is developed
? Poor sports performance…”

Also … I do not fully understand what you meant when you said “your shoulders tend to rotate forward”
Could you elaborate on this please?