The bench press is one of the most popular exercises in the gym for building a strong chest.
But guess what? Unless you’re an elite powerlifter, the bench press may be more trouble than it’s worth.
Here are five reasons why pushups are better than the bench press
ONE: The Bench Press Can Seriously Hurt You
You’d think benching is pretty simple. Lie down on your back and hoist this barbell high over your chest.
But here’s the reality: bench press technique is a lot more complicated than often presented. Truth be told, you’re probably doing the bench press with improper form (that’s because almost everyone is doing it with improper form).
And doing it with bad form, is dangerous. A meta-analysis conducted by Bak et al. found that 29 of 112 case reports of pectoralis major (chest muscle) ruptures from weightlifting occurred specifically as a result of bench pressing. The study found “the shoulder is most susceptible to rupture during the lowering-eccentric phase.”
The study also found a strong association between the bench press and injuries to the acromioclavicular joint (which connects the collarbone and shoulder blade) due to repeated microtrauma during benching.
And that’s not all. Anterior shoulder instability that grows worse the more you bench … dislocations … you name. We’re not convinced benching even with proper form is a great idea. The authors of the study specifically state that the bench press puts your body in an “unfavorable position.”
But pushups don’t have these problems, at least when you keep your wrist in the correct anatomical position, as Bear Blocks do.
TWO: The Bench Press Doesn’t Work Your Core Like Pushups Do
This may come as a surprise, but pushups are a great core workout. Gottschall et al. showed that the rectus abdominis is activated more during a pushup than a bench press.
Since “the trunk is supported during the…bench press…there is little need for core activation,” they found.
Therefore the authors recommended pushups if the person is strong enough to do them.
THREE: Pushups Are Much More Functional Than the Bench Press
Question for you: where in nature would you have to lift something off your chest while lying on your back? The only example I can think of is if you’re trying to lift a car off of you, and unless you can bench 4,000 pounds, I’d say you’re out of luck.
On the other hand, pushups and their many variations are more functional, both in everyday life and in sports. Anytime you’re raising yourself from a seated or lying position, you use your strength to push your torso up and off the surface.
Pushups just make more sense.
FOUR: You Don’t Need to Bench to Grow a Strong, Large Chest
Some people think bodyweight exercises aren’t intense enough to build large, strong muscles. But they’re wrong.
The author of You Are Your Own Gym, Mark Lauren, shows how bodyweight exercises, such as pushups, can be made more intense in at least four ways.
These ways include reducing the leverage of your body (so, for example, elevating your feet onto a chair or platform will make pushups harder) and/or turning the exercise into a unilateral (one-limbed) one—so, for instance, doing a one-arm pushup. I talk more about that here [link to other blog post].
Let’s be real: what’s cooler—benching or one-arm pushups? Almost anyone can bench. But one-arm pushups take some serious skill—and only one in a thousand gym-goers (or less) can perform ‘em properly.
FIVE: You Can Do Pushups Anywhere
To bench, you need access to gym equipment—whether at-home or at a commercial gym.
But pushups? You could do pushups at home, in the middle of your chores, while watching the kids (better yet, put ‘em on your back) … even at the grocery store while shopping (but we don’t know why you’d wanna do that).
Pushups are the king of versatility.
There you have it. Five reasons pushups are better than the bench press. And if someone tells you otherwise, show ‘em a YouTube video of a one-arm pushup or handstand pushup. Or, better yet, once you can do one, get down right there and show ‘em.