Why choose? Do both. Pushups and the bench press are two very different exercises, but both can be quite effective at building the muscles of the chest. Include both exercises in your workout and follow these rules.

Pushups will never replace the bench press for building the chest muscles but they do have their place in a well-rounded workout.
Pushups will never replace the bench press for building the chest muscles but they do have their place in a well-rounded workout.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

While pushups will never replace the bench press for building mass in the chest, they do have their place. If programmed right, adding pushups to your chest workout can lead to improved results, not only in terms of muscle development but also a leaner physique.

The beauty of pushups is their simplicity. As a body-weight exercise, they can be performed anywhere, which makes them particularly appealing when traveling or in any other situation in which you don’t have access to exercise equipment. Just because you don’t have gym access, doesn’t mean you have to skip your workout.

But are pushups too basic to be effective? Hardly. You do need to follow some rules, however, to get the most out of your pushups workout.

While pushups primarily work the chest muscles, they’re really a full-body movement. If done correctly, pushups hit your arms, shoulders, core, and even your legs. When performing pushups, your body must work as a unit. This provides many benefits over an isolation exercise, which targets smaller muscles and therefore burns fewer calories. So not only are pushups more time-efficient, they’re also better for fat-burning.

When combined with traditional compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, cleans, and rows, pushups will keep your metabolism elevated long after the workout.

Pushups alone won't get you jacked, but as part of a balanced, complete workout program they can be a valuable exercise.
Pushups alone won’t get you jacked, but as part of a balanced, complete workout program they can be a valuable exercise.
Photo by Pikx By Panther from Pexels

Pushups build muscle and strength in your upper body, there’s no question about that. Though they primarily target the chest muscles, pushups also work the muscles of the shoulders, triceps, core, and even the legs to some degree. Because they require you to stabilize your body while performing the exercise, pushups will also improve your balance and coordination.

Since pushups are a bodyweight exercise, you’ll hit a plateau unless you get creative with your workout program. To ensure continued results, you need to add some variety to your workout. Obviously, you can increase the number of repetitions or sets that you do, but you’ve got several other options to make the exercise harder and more effective.

For starters, you can change your hand placement to shift the emphasis to a different muscle or group of muscles. While all variations of pushups will target the chest muscles, a wider hand placement will recruit more of the shoulder muscles; going closer will provide more of a tricep focus.

Slowing down your tempo during the exercise will really crank up the intensity and adding a brief pause in the bottom position will take your pushups to a whole other level.

Elevating your feet during the exercise will put more emphasis on the muscles of the upper chest. Finally, adding a weighted vest or having a partner position a weight plate on your back while performing pushups will increase the challenge even further.

For more of a fat-burning effect, include pushups as part of a larger, fast-paced or interval-based circuit-style workout. Instead of counting repetitions, you can time yourself during the exercise. As long as there is progressive overload in your workout, the results will keep coming.


Though they are often dismissed as being too basic and therefore easy, pushups can provide certain benefits that the bench press cannot. As you can see, pushups don’t have to get boring. There are many techniques you can use to make the exercise more interesting. The most effective chest workout will include both pushups and bench presses.