Is Doing a Push Up the Same as Benching Your Weight?

Ever wondered, “Is Doing a Push Up the Same as Benching Your Weight?”

I would hazard a guess that most of you already have an inkling to the correct answer.

Basically, you can literally feel the difference whenever you perform push ups or the bench press.

However, I wanted to delve a little further into the push up and benching debate.

Is Doing a Push Up the Same as Benching Your Weight?

You will be “lifting” far less weight when doing a push up compared to bench pressing your own weight. The most commonly cited study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research claims that when in the standard push up position, your hands support approximately 64% of your body weight.

Percentage of Body Weight Lifted in a Push Up

A Man Doing Plyometric Push Ups

I’ve mentioned that the most commonly cited study about push ups and body weight percentage lifted was published by the Journal and Strength and Conditioning.

This study was based on data from research by M. Dulley and V.M. Zatslorsky in 2002.

The conclusions on the percentage of body weight being lifted during push ups were as follows:

  • Incline push ups (hands on a bench) – 41%
  • Modified push ups (hands and knees on the floor) – 49%
  • Standard push ups (hands and feet on the floor) – 64%
  • Decline push ups (hands on floor, feet on bench) – 75%

So, you can clearly see that based on these figures that the push up is nowhere to being the same as benching your own weight.

With that being said, these figures didn’t sit right with me.

Something felt a little untoward.

So, after further research and investigation, I found another study that was more in line with my way of thinking.

Push Up Progression Level 1-10

The February 2011 Push Up Study

A Man Surrounded By Sketches Which Portray That He is Thinking

I note that the phrase “your hands support approximately 64% of your body weight” was used to draw conclusions from the original study.

For me, it always felt that the push up was “harder” at different phases of the exercise.

What I mean by this is that from an arms fully extended position down to the halfway point, the push up feels fairly easy.

However, from the halfway point down to the floor, the push up definitely feels more difficult.

As it turns out I was right.

A later study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2011 alluded to this point.

This study was focused on “The Effect of Position on the Percentage of Body Mass Supported During Traditional and Modified Push Up Variants”.

In plain and simple English – the percentage of body weight you are pushing will vary depending on what position of the push up you are in.

The Push Up Results

The study participants were 28 men.

These were individuals who regularly performed push ups and were involved in resistance training a number of times a week.

The vast majority of these men were members of Special Forces and SWAT units.

Basically, they were very fit and strong.

The participants performed either modified push ups or standard push ups.

So, they either did push ups on their hands and knees, or on their hands and feet.

The percentage of body weight was measured in 4 static positions at different stages of the up and down position of the push up.

The results were as follows:

  • The modified push up saw 53.56% of the body weight supported in the up position and 61.80% in the down position.
  • The standard push up saw 69.16% of the body weight supported in the up position and 75.04% in the down position.

The initial conclusions we can draw from these figures is that you’re supporting more of your body weight in the down position, irrespective of push up variation

It’s also very obvious that these percentages were higher than the original study.

This actually made a lot of sense to me, especially in terms of the top and bottom position of the push up.

Let’s say you’re doing a high-rep set of push ups and coming close to failure.

There is a tendency to “cheat” by not going all the way down to the ground as you fatigue.

Basically, you may end up doing half push ups.

And the reason for this is obvious now – you need to support more of your body weight the closer you get to the ground.

A Quick Example (Or Two)

Let’s say that someone weighs 170lbs (77.27kg) and performs standard push ups.

At the top of the push up they will be supporting 117.57lbs (53.44kg).

Whereas at the bottom of the push up they will be supporting 127.57lbs (57.99kg).

A person weighing 140lbs (63.63kg) performs modified push ups.

At the top of the push up they will be supporting 74.98lbs (34.08kg).

And at the bottom of the push up they will be supporting 86.52lbs (39.33kg).

So, once again you can see that irrespective of push up, this is clearly not the same as benching your own body weight.

The Difference Between a Push Up and the Bench Press

A Man Doing The Bench Press

Another “discrepancy” that is often mentioned is that most of us can’t seem to bench an equivalent number of reps to push ups when the weight is equal.

So, using the above example, let’s say that our 170lb person decides to bench 122.57lbs, i.e. the halfway point

This person can typically perform 40 push ups in a set.

However, when it comes to benching 122.57lbs, they get to about 30 reps and can’t go on anymore.

What’s going on here?

There’s a number of reasons why they are unable to bench an “equivalent” weight.

Firstly, when benching, the exercise is far more chest-isolated.

RELATED====>Don’t Feel Chest During Push Ups?

Okay, I know that the bench press is a compound exercise, and it also recruits the shoulder and tricep muscles.

However, when performing push ups, far more of the body’s muscles are involved.

The most obvious is that the core is activated during push ups.

RELATED====>Can Push Ups Reduce Belly Fat?

I’m not saying that helps in any way to crank out more “reps”, but it’s certainly less restrictive than benching.

When performing the bench press you are solely reliant on the chest, shoulders, and arms to lift the weight.

Secondly, the range of motion is completely different between push ups and benching.

You would think that this works to the advantage of the bench press, i.e. less range of motion.

Finally, and probably most importantly, the bench press involves lifting a continual weight.

By this I mean that in this example the person is constantly benching 122.57lbs, whether their arms are fully extended or the bar is touching the chest.

We are now aware that we are “lifting” less weight with the push up at the top of movement.

The Official Bench Press Checklist

Which is Better – Push Ups or Benching?

As with most exercise comparisons the honest answer is “”it depends”.

The bench press is far more strength-focused as an exercise.

Basically, you can continue to add weight to the bar in order to make the exercise harder, while still working the same muscles.

However, with the push up, regardless of the variety you will never be “lifting” 100% of your body weight.

The only exception to this rule is handstand push ups.

RELATED====>The Ultimate Guide to Calisthenics

You could argue that you will be supporting far more of your body weight when performing one-arm push ups.

But, in reality you will be also working different muscles from the standard push up.

Don’t get me wrong, many of the same muscles are worked in both the standard and one-arm push ups.

However, due to the additional balance requirements, as well as the different angle the body approaches the ground, one-arm push ups will work many more stabilizing muscles.

RELATED====>How Long Does it Take to Learn One-Arm Push Ups?

So, in effect the standard push up is typically seen more as a conditioning and strength-endurance exercise.

How About Adding Weight to the Push Up?

A Marine Doing Push Ups While A Boy Sits on His Back

You could of course “even things out” by adding weight to the push up.

But this never quite works out the way you hope it will.

The easiest way to achieve this is to wear a weighted vest, although this can feel awkward and limit the range of motion as you approach the floor.

Then there is the idea of placing a weight plate on your back, but this can be impractical and have safety concerns.

Finally, you could wear a weighted backpack, but this typically leads to lumbar hyperextension as you fatigue, i.e. the core and hips sagging

Does This Mean The Bench Press is Better?

I’ve already spoken on the limited range of motion when it comes to benching.

Unfortunately, bench pressing stops scapular mechanics, simply because the bench is in the way.

Due to the position of the bench, you can’t properly protract and retract the shoulders.

Furthermore, I don’t view the bench press as being anywhere near as athletic a movement as the push up.

I mean, come on, you’re lying down on a bench.

At no time in history, the present, or the future will “lying down” be viewed as athletic.

My Opinion

For me, the “better” exercise will always depend on your training goals.

From a personal perspective, you may be shocked to hear that I hardly ever bench press.

I know, I know!

This means I don’t qualify as a “BRO”.

I would guess that I have performed the bench press on less than 10 occasions in the last 5 years.

My days of really heavy lifting are well behind me.

That being said, I do love a heavy squat and a heavy deadlift, but benching just doesn’t do it for me.

I will always be in the camp of push ups.

Push ups win hands down (no pun intended).

My workouts nowadays are far more focused on functional training, mobility and flexibility.

Yes, I still push heavy weights fairly often, but just not the bench press.

And if you really want to know, weighted parallel bar dips, incline and decline dumbbell chest presses are my preference.

5 KILLER Chest Exercise with NO Bench

Final Thoughts

So, is a push up the same as benching your weight?

I’m sure you now realise the answer is a definite NO.

There are many push up variations you can perform.

And you will be “lifting” more of your body weight the more advanced the push up you perform.

However, you will never get to lifting 100% of your body weight until you are performing free-standing handstand push ups.

And if you want to learn how to work your way up to handstand push ups check out my review of The Ultimate Guide to Calisthenics.

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