Think bodyweight exercises are just for beginners? It’s time to challenge that assumption. A new study shows push-ups can build as much muscle as the bench press.

If you’ve ever hit the gym at peak time when it’s incredibly busy, you’ll be familiar with the usual frustration of having to wait for a bench to become free. This can hamper your workout and impact the level of volume and intensity you’re able to apply.

As two hugely important variables for greater muscle growth, this is pretty important business. It’s also a massive pain in the backside if you’ve got places to be and can’t afford to wait around.

What if there was an alternative? You may be under the impression that you can’t garner the same gains from a push-up when compared to the bench. This is false, as new evidence shows.



The study

Researchers at North Dakota State University compared push-ups with the bench press on matters of muscle growth and strength.

While you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, it was discovered both groups saw a similar surge in muscle thickness (MT) and bench press one rep max (1RM).

Just note that push-ups have to be progressive – whether that’s with an increasing rep range, or a greater load.

Weight plates, weighted vests or (if you trust them enough) your training partner are all cool ways to pump up your pecs if all the benches are busy – or if you can’t get a full workout in.


Progressive push-ups

One simple set of push-ups won’t cut the mustard. This study put progressive push-ups under the microscope.

This essentially means that you should perform your push-ups with an ever-increasing number of reps, or an increasingly heavy load. You can achieve this by adding weight plates to your back, wearing a weighted vest or (if you trust them enough) asking your training partner to hop on.

assisted press up


How to perform a push-up

Now you know why the hype is real, here’s how to perform a proper push-up:

  • Begin with your hands shoulder-width apart and arms fully locked out
  • Keep your elbows tucked in. They should be in line with your shoulders and wrists
  • Slowly lower to the ground while keeping your core engaged and back straight
  • Pause when your chest is brushing the floor and hold for 1-2 seconds
  • Push back up to the beginning

Note: You can add further tension with an incline push-up. You’ll need to elevate your feet onto a raised surface such as a flat bench, couch or chair.


Push-up mistakes to avoid

With the positives of the push-up clear, it’s worth mentioning the most common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Elbows in: Flaring your elbows out too far places undue stress on the shoulder joint, taking tension off the target muscle groups and instead placing it on the joint.

Engage your core: Keep your abs engaged at all stages of the movement. Not only will this make you stronger, you’ll perform more reps and so place your muscle fibers under sufficient stress.


Bonus push-up tip

When performing a push-up, find the hand placement position that is most comfortable for you. Then, have a friend measure the distance between your two hands.

Take this measurement over to the bench press. When setting up to press, your hands should be this very distance apart. A lot of people struggle with bench press technique and form, and this an easy way of alleviating that.

For more training, fitness and nutrition tips, get TRAIN magazine direct into your inbox every month for free by signing up to our newsletter