The bench press and the overhead press are the two basic pushing lifts beginners encounter. For various reasons people wonder which one of the two offers the most benefits.
In general, the bench press is the better upper body mass builder because it involves more muscle mass – chest, shoulders and triceps. The overhead press is also a solid upper body lifts but the primary movers are the shoulders and the arms. Due to the upright position during the lift the chest does not contribute largely to the lift. This is one of the reasons why bodybuilders from the past did not have as large chest development prior to the bench press era.
With that being said the overhead press is the healthier lift out of the two. Contrary to popular belief it’s not as dangerous as the bench press to your joints and is known to rehabilitate and build very strong shoulder girdles.
One of the things that strong benchers encounter when they first do overhead presses is how weak they are. The popular powerlifter Jim Wendler has said in some of his interviews that he was only able to overhead press 135 lbs -62kg while his bench was 405 lbs – 180 kg. The reason for that was the fact that he never practiced the lift as much as the bench press.
Another benefit of the overhead press is that you don’t need a spotter. If something goes wrong, you can just drop the weight unlike the bench press.
When performed standing the overhead press will also builds core strength and teaches you how to brace your abs and glutes in order to protect your lower back. In addition, the overhead press will strengthen your scapula stabilizers which does not happen when you bench press. This is not something you want to neglect since the shoulder joint is among the most vulnerable.
Conclusion: Both lifts are valuable tools. The bench press allows you load the upper body with more weight while the overhead keeps you ‘honest’ and builds strong and healthy shoulders. There’s no reason not to do both but our pick as better exercise would be the overhead press. A combination of overhead presses and dips can be a good option for those who don’t have spotters and still want to develop pressing strength and powerful pectoral muscles.