“Do push-ups work the same muscles as the bench press?” - Fabrizio Castelli
Yes, push-ups and the bench press both develop mass and strength of the chest, triceps, and shoulders – but they do vary in other ways.
While both push-ups and bench pressing are full body lifts that require full body tension, push-ups have a more core dominant component. The high tension required to bench heavier weights is all about transferring forces from a powerful leg drive across the core and into the upper back to help drive the bar back to lockout.
The core stability required for push-ups is more about remaining in a straight line from your feet to your head. You will be developing more anterior core stability as you ‘prevent’ your hips from sagging (resisting hip extension).
The other difference is that push-ups are a more natural movement, as least as far as your shoulders are concerned. Your shoulder blades are able to more freely in contrast to the bench press where your shoulders don’t move and are pulled ‘back and down’ in a ‘packed’ position – which is more optimal for creating a stable foundation to press heavier weights.
The Perfect Complement
Remember, push-ups and the bench press complement each other. By getting better at push-ups and progressing to overloading them with extra weight, you will be able to build the foundation for better bench pressing. Conversely, after benching, push-ups are a great accessory movement to build the muscle groups that will build a bigger bench.
Meet the Lift Doctor
Jim Smith is a highly respected, world-renowned strength and conditioning coach. A member of the LIVESTRONG.com Fitness Advisory Board, Jim has been called one of the most "innovative strength coaches" in the fitness industry. Training athletes, fitness enthusiasts and weekend warriors, Jim has dedicated himself to helping them reach "beyond their potential." He is also the owner of Diesel Strength & Conditioning in Elmira, NY.