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Push-ups just as good as bench presses for strength building

You're off on holiday: the neighbours are watering the plants; the in-laws are looking after the dog. But who will look after your pecs? How will they survive all those weeks without bench presses? You can't take benches, barbells or weights with you. But according to sports scientists at the University of Valencia in Spain you can work on your chest muscles without doing bench presses. If you use an elastic band, push-ups are just as effective as bench presses.

Weighted push-ups

The Spanish experimented with students, all of whom had experience with strength training. The researchers got 10 of them to do bench presses twice a week for five weeks, while 10 others did push-ups.

Of course you can train harder by doing bench presses than push-ups. The researchers got round this by making the push-ups heavier for the students by using a resistance band. This meant that the subjects in the push-up group did just as heavy sets, and the same number of reps, as the students in the bench-press group.

Push-ups just as good as bench presses for strength building

The researchers measured the electrical activity in the students' chest and shoulder muscles, so that they knew for sure that the push-up and the bench-press trainings were equally heavy.

Increase in strength
Before and after the training period the researchers measured the amount of weight with which the students could just manage 1 and 6 reps - their 1RM and 6RM. The figure below shows that the strength parameters increased in both training groups. The training effect in both groups was also statistically significant.

Push-ups just as good as bench presses for strength building

The 1RM increased by more in the students who trained their chest muscles by doing bench presses than in the students that had done push-ups, but the difference was not statistically significant. The statistics showed that both groups had made equal progression.

"The push-up exercise with added elastic resistance provide a feasible and cost-effective option that may be performed anywhere and may be used as an alternative to traditional bench press exercise in order to provide a high intensity stimulus in the prime movers involved in the action and produce maximal strength adaptations", the researchers write.

"Physical therapists and strength and conditioning specialists may use this information to select or include one of the both exercises performed during a resistance training program."

J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Jan;29(1):246-53.

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