Are Weighted Push-ups as Effective as the Bench Press?

| by Truth Seeker |

Are weighted push-ups as effective as the bench press?

The bench press works. It has built a great number of strong and muscular upper bodies over the years. It’s also one of the three power lifts, and despite the effort of some strength organizations, the overhead press will not negate the royalty status of the bench press any time soon.

However, in spite of the bench press’ rank and track record, the weighted push-up could be just as effective for building muscle and pressing strength.

In some circumstances, the weighted push-up is even superior to the bench press, particularly if you’re a natural lifter.

Why Is the — Bench Press — Such a Powerhouse?

A proper comparison between the bench press and the weighted push-ups requires an analysis of the bench press’ qualities making it a classic upper body movement.

The bench shines for the following reasons:

Compound exercise.  The bench incorporates all major pressing muscles (chest, anterior deltoids, triceps) in one movement. The high percentage of involved musculature results in greater muscular stimulation.

Fairly low stabilization and coordination requirements. Exercises that test and develop one’s balance and coordination are useful for sports conditioning, but too much instability could be detrimental when training for muscle mass as it could cause “stabilization failure” robbing the primary movers of rightful work. Or in simpler terms, a squat is better for quads than a Bosu ball squat.

Incremental jumps. Just like other barbell exercises, the bench press permits the lifter to make small and controlled jumps facilitating the programming of the lift.

Unlimited loading potential. The difficulty of the bench press can be increased until the end of time regardless of how strong a man is without modifying the motor pattern of the exercise. This property turns the movement into a great strength builder and hypertrophy stimulator because the lifter can keep the repetitions per set in a rep range conducive to either goal.

If you want strength, you can do heavy sets between 1 and 5 reps; if you’re training primarily for muscle growth, you can go up too.

Tradition & Trend. Hate it or love it, the bench press is a symbol of upper body strength. A man who has a solid bench press will get some respect from the bros. The status of the lift could preserve a man’s motivation for a long time.

Availability. Most barbell houses on the planet have at least one bench press. They’re obliged from a business standpoint – if people can’t bench press at your gym, many will leave and never return. Subsequently, most gyms have the necessary equipment to perform the exercise.

The Bench Press vs. The Traditional Push-up

The push-up shares many of the same characteristics listed above with only one notable exception – the ability to make it harder without disrupting the moving pattern of the movement.

To increase the difficulty of the basic push-up, one has to switch to more difficult variations by manipulating leverages. (e.g., raising the feet on a platform).

On all other points, the push-up is right there with the bench press. And with the rise of bodyweight training thanks to street workout and calisthenics, push-ups’ social status is strong too.

Nonetheless, ordinary bodyweight floor push-ups are not good for strength development unless you’re untrained or coming from a long break. In a short amount of time, most men would be doing sets of 20+ reps. At that point, push-ups are high-intensity cardio/endurance training.

The Bench Press vs. The Weighted Push-ups

The weighted push-up presents an interesting case. It offers all the benefits of the regular push-up combined with the ability to increase the resistance to a very high degree – a quality arming the push-up with the necessary weapon to fight the bench press.

However, there’s a catch. The weighted push-up could be an awkward lift if you don’t have the proper equipment…and maybe even then.

How do you add weight to the push-up?

The main possibilities are:

A weighted vest. This is one of the more comfortable options but has two major downsides – most commercial vests are expensive and don’t hold a lot of weight. You can circumvent the financial issues by making a homemade version, but it still won’t hold a substantial load.

A backpack. A backpack is arguably a better choice than a weighted vest because it’s cheap, can be used outside of the gym and can hold a lot of weight.

You have to be careful what you put inside of it, though. Filling a backpack with small plates and even dumbbells will not be a pleasant experience.

Odd objects will dig into your back and roll to the side. Therefore, you need something that offers a large evenly spread surface area. Small or larger bags filled with sand are a good option. A voluminous backpack may accommodate even a full-size sandbag. An added bonus of the “sand” method is that the content won’t be stabbing you in the back.

Resistance bands. Resistance bands can increase the difficulty of the push-up too. The downside of this method is that the resistance is “uneven” – it increases as you go up. Subsequently, the greatest pressure is on the triceps which work the hardest during the lockout. This may be good for people looking to overload the triceps, but the pectorals will not receive that much extra “love”.

Chains. Another way to do weighted push-ups is to wrap yourself in chains. Depending on the type of the chain, you may end up with significant overload. However, this route comes with some technical difficulties too. First, chains are a rarity in most commercial gyms. Second, you will have to make sure that the chains are not touching the floor to keep the tension on the body even.

If the chains come in contact with the ground, they obtain the drawback of resistance bands – the stress will increase as you go up, and the exercise will overload the triceps instead of strengthening the entire pushing chain at once. This could be prevented by doing the push-up on three high platforms – one for each of your arms and one for your legs.

A weightlifting belt. People have been doing weighted push-ups by strapping a dipping belt around the waist and raising themselves on three high points. This method fixes all the problems of the previous solutions but creates a new one – the core becomes a limiting factor.

The main purpose of the push-up isn’t to build up your abs and lower back. There are better exercises for that. The genuine mission of the exercise is to upsurge the strength, size and endurance of the pressing muscles.

You can try putting the belt up on the torso, but in most cases, it will slide back to the lower back.

A machine. The Pit Shark weighted push-up machine is probably the only piece of equipment dedicated to the exercise. It makes the process as easy as possible.

My guess is that most training facilities do not have similar machinery at their disposal.

A push-up harness + a platform. A harness wrapped around your chest in conjunction with a platform for elevation is one of the ultimate ways to do weighted push-ups. The harness keeps the load directly under the chest and allows you to make incremental weight increases.

The downside is that most harnesses and platforms are considered ultra-specialized equipment and may be unavailable and/or too pricey for some people. But with a little dedication, you can probably come up with a homemade solution.

This version is the most affordable and does not diminish the effectiveness of the exercise at all. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to program the weighted push-up like any other lift.

The Weighted Push-up vs. The Weighted Dip

The complicated set-up characterizing the weighted push-up leads to a logical comparison with the weighted dip – a movement that can be done in almost any gym.

Technicalities aside, the weighted push-up is the superior of the two because:

The angle of attack. The dip is a downward push that technically works the entire chest, but the lower portion does the grunt of the work. Hence why some people who focus exclusively on the lift have “droopy pecs” (overdeveloped lower chest and shallow upper pecs).

Of course, one’s genetics influence the end result too. Some people get a full chest solely from drips.

Conversely, the push-up activates the clavicular head (upper pecs) a little more because the trainee is pushing horizontally. If you want to increase your chances of getting a fuller chest, push-ups are better.

Joint-friendly.  Out of all horizontal pushes, the push-up is the most shoulder-friendly. The bench press immobilizes the scapulae whereas the dip places a lot of stress on the humeral head and the tissues surrounding it. In addition, the dip could cause sternum issues when done with extra weight.

Why the Weighted Push-up Will Never Be Popular

We can praise the weighted push-up all day long, but it will never receive its rightful place on the podium. It will always be considered a weird alternative to the bench press and the weighted dip because:

  1. The bench press and the weighted dip are already “established” pushing exercises.
  2. The bench press has iron history fundamental to the lifting community even though it is a lot younger than the push-up.
  3. The bench press is 1/3 of powerlifting.
  4. The bench press is loaded with more adrenaline. Pushing a heavy weight above your head is more dangerous than weighted push-ups.
  5. The bench press is more spectacular and better for exhibitions.
  6. The big guys on steroids prefer benching and act as its promoters.

What Are the Main Advantages of the Weighed Push-up?

The weighted push-up may never get the recognition that it deserves, but its training qualities cannot be overlooked.

Here are the main advantages of weighted push-ups:

  1. Joint-friendliness. The scapulae can move. The serratus anterior gets stronger.
  2. Less ego. This is a key point for naturals. The bench press encourages ego lifting and often drags natties who can’t put up great numbers into a severe depression.

The result? Injuries and poor chest development.

Many natties fail to develop their chests with the bench press not because the exercise doesn’t work the pecs, but because they do low volume strength routines and muscle up the weight mindlessly in order to lift more.

Somewhat ironically, many bodyweight guys end up with better chest development than the bench natty crew thanks to the higher volume and the reduced pressure to lift more.

  1. No need for spotters.
  2. Great carryover to other pressing exercises. Push-up strength translates favorably to bench pressing, dips and even overhead presses.
  3. Conducive to muscle growth. The weighted push-up can stimulate just as much upper body growth as the bench press.

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3 comments

  1. Goldust

    Regarding the weight limitations of using a weight vest for pushups, Ketsui Fitness has a new vest coming out that holds weight plates (either Olympic or standard). The capacity is either 110lbs or 225lbs. depending on the version that you buy. I already have a Mir weight vest but haven’t received the Ketsui yet so I haven’t any way to compare them but so far the initial feedback looks positive.

  2. LouisXIV1715

    Good piece.

    Pushups are fine for hypertrophy and better for joint health. Perhaps as good or better than the Bench Press (regarding hypertrophy), especially if one does not have a great strength to bodyweight ratio—and if properly performed. And hey, they can be a good plank simultaneously!

    Some like to emphasize stretch position—if they believe that useful for hypertrophy—which can be done with handles on a pushup. The Barbell is less useful for that preference.

    Due to specificity, pushups are not likely to improve a Bench Press or any Barbell Press or even Dips (especially one is an experienced lifter and if the barbell is not specifically practiced with some regularity). But who cares, unless one is competing in those movements (or believes they are competing).

    Upper Chest development, if doing any exercise at all for the chest, is entirely due to genetics, or so attributable to genetics as to be the same thing (which you have made clear in prior articles). But the contrary belief will prevail through eternity…

    Similarly, nobody gets “droopy pecs” from dips, regardless of their own reportage. The “droop” is due to other factors, usually genetic, then, dietary. In fact, some professionals, like Gironda, believed the lower pec line sharpened up with dips and extended more visibly into the humerus. But if you look at early photos of him he had that naturally.

    Nicely, done Truthseeker. This was a good read, for any time, not just these days.

  3. MaxNattyalreadyReached

    It’s wierd that you didn’t mention the best way to use weighted push-up : having a training partner who can either sit on you or put plates on your upperback, or even both.

    It’s almost impossible to weight a push up alone as an advanced lifter.

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