Last updated on September 27th, 2022 at 05:43 pm
Have you ever wondered, “Why is Bench Press Harder Than Push Ups?”
You typically look at both movements as like-for-like exercises.
By this I mean that you typically work your chest, shoulders, and triceps with both bench press and push ups.
However, you’ve probably noticed that your push up game is strong, whereas you never seem to perform an equivalent number of reps of bench press.
So, what exactly is going on here?
Allow me to explain why bench press seems so much more difficult than push ups.
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Why is Bench Press Harder Than Push Ups?
There are various reasons why bench press is harder than push ups. Firstly, a regular push up requires you to only lift 64% of your body weight. So, you would need to bench press the same weight for a like-for-like comparison. Bench press also provides a constant weight, whereas the weight you push during push ups will vary, i.e. you’re pushing less weight from halfway up and onwards. To better compare the two exercises you should perform decline push ups with your hands on rings/parallettes.
1. Are You Bench Pressing the Same Weight?
The most obvious reason that bench press is harder than push ups comes down to the weight that you’re actually pressing/pushing.
Many people believe that you’re pushing your entire body weight during push ups, but nothing could be further from the truth.
In truth, during a regular push up, i.e. hands and feet on the floor, you’re only actually pushing approximately 64% of your body weight.
Therefore, to get a like-for-like comparison you should be bench pressing 64% of your body weight.
Admittedly, the percentage of body weight you’re pushing can vary depending on your overall physique.
So, as an example, if you have an extremely muscular upper body in comparison to your lower body, then it’s likely that you’ll be pushing more than the standard 64%.
However, the vast majority of people will be lifting around 64-70% of their body weight during push ups.
With that being said, when either your hands or feet are in contact with the ground you’ll never be pushing 100% of your body weight.
In fact, the only way you’ll get to push up 100% (or more) of your body weight is through planche push ups or by wearing a weighted vest.
2. Bench Press is a Constant Weight
Okay, so let’s say that you’ve now adjusted your bench press to be pushing the same weight as during push ups.
So, in principle you should be able to crank out the same number of reps.
Therefore, as a 80kg individual you will be lifting approximately 51.2kg during push ups.
You’re a fairly fit and strong individual, so you manage to perform 25-30 reps of standard push ups.
You then add enough weight to a barbell so that it weighs 51.2kg in total and start performing bench presses.
The likelihood is that as an 80kg person you’ll typically hit failure at around 15-20 reps.
These figures obviously aren’t set in stone, but merely a way for me to get my point across.
However, it still boils down to the fact that even with the same weight you still can’t perform as many reps of bench press as push ups.
Why is this so?
Something else to consider is that bench press provides a constant weight.
By this I mean that no matter where the barbell is during the lift you’re still pressing 51.2kg.
However, the weight you lift during a push up will vary depending on where you are exactly during the push up.
Basically, the lower you are to the ground during push ups, the more weight you will be lifting.
In fact, once you push yourself back up and get past the halfway point you’ll be lifting much less weight.
Admittedly, it may not be a huge difference, but it all counts.
So, whereas an 80kg individual is lifting 51.2kg at the bottom of a push ups, this is likely to decrease to around 45kg once they pass the halfway point on the way up.
And this explains why you can generally perform more push reps than bench press reps with a like-for-like weight.
3. Increase the Range of Motion With Push Ups
Another difference between bench press and push ups is the range of motion you go through.
In fact, to be on par with the bench press you will need to significantly increase your range of motion with push ups.
Additionally, I will also say that many people tend to “cheat” range of motion with push ups.
By this I mean that quite often push ups are more about speed and cranking out as many reps as possible.
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And this typically leads to what I would personally call “half reps”.
Admittedly, the same thing can happen with the bench press, and this is especially true as you start to tire and approach failure.
You know as well as me that once fatigue sets in, you definitely aren’t bringing the bar as low as normal.
However, you must remember that you’re always pushing a constant weight during bench press.
With that being said, it’s generally more likely that you’ll bring the bar all the way down to the chest and then press straight back up again.
Be honest, does your chest always touch the ground with every single rep of push ups?
Realistically, you should perform decline push ups (feet off the ground) with your hands on rings or parallettes.
I would liken the regular push up to more of a decline bench press, which in truth should actually be easier than the standard flat bench press.
So, if you want more of a like-for-like push up compared to bench press then remove both your hands and feet from the floor, while having your feet higher.
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4. Bench Press Has Fewer Points of Contact
Something else to consider is that bench press has fewer points of contact than push ups.
Whenever you perform a push up you’ll have three points of contact with the ground, i.e. both hands and your feet.
I guess you could even label push ups as having 4 points of contact with the ground the further you spread your legs.
However, with bench press you are balancing the bar between two points of contact, i.e. your hands.
This immediately makes the bench press more rotationally unstable.
Now, initially you would think this means that bench press should activate the core more than push ups.
But, in truth, it’s definitely the other way around.
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With that being said, you probably don’t realise how many stabilising muscles are at work during the bench press.
I mean, if they weren’t, there is always the chance that you would topple off the bench while performing reps.
But, even so, the mere fact that you have fewer points of contact during bench press will mean that there is a different type of stress of the joints and other muscles.
So, I hope you now understand the variety of reasons that bench press is harder than push ups.
Firstly, a regular push up will typically mean that you’re only lifting around 64% of your body weight.
Therefore, you’d have to add the same weight to the bar in order to compare the bench press.
Additionally, the bench press provides a constant, fixed amount of weight, whereas the amount you’re lifting will vary depending on what stage of a push up you’re at.
Plus, bench press usually takes you through a greater range of motion, while having fewer points of contact for stability and balance.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.