The bench press and the overhead press are the two major pushing lifts. As such, they are often compared. Which is better – the bench or the overhead press?
The bench press builds more upper body mass because it involves more muscles (chest, shoulders and triceps). On the other hand, when you are lifting the barbell overhead, the chest does not contribute largely to the lift. Of course, there is some involvement, but it’s small. The shoulders and triceps do most of the work.
Ultimately, however, the overhead press is the healthier lift. Contrary to popular belief, the overhead press is not as dangerous as the bench press to your joints. The exercise can rehabilitate and build very strong shoulder girdles because it works the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder joint and the scapula.
One of the surprises that strong benchers encounter when they first meet the overhead press is how weak they are. The popular powerlifter Jim Wendler has said that at one point his overhead press was only 135lbs even though he was benching 400lbs.
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.
In addition, the standing overhead press will have a positive impact on your core. The lift will teach you how to brace your abs and glutes to protect your lower back.
Conclusion: Both lifts are valuable tools. The bench press loads the upper body with more weight and builds up your chest whereas the overhead keeps you ”honest” and produces strong and healthy shoulders.