While the squat is regarded as the king of lower body exercises, the bench press ‘takes the cake’ for upper body exercises. The bench press is an excellent movement for developing strength, but there are several situations where this exercise may not be feasible. For example, use of the barbell may force the shoulder joint into certain positions throughout the end-range of motion which may be painful or contraindicated for athletes with upper extremity injuries (e.g., rotator cuff, biceps tendonitis, etc.). Alternatively, teams and rehab clinics may not have access to bench press equipment. Therefore, alternative methods for developing upper-body strength that do not require heavy or expensive equipment is desirable.
A new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared a progressive push-up program with a progressive bench press program in moderately resistance trained individuals. Twenty three adult males were divided into a push-up group (n=14) and a bench press group (n=9). Before and after a 4 week training intervention, subjects were tested for 1 RM bench press, push-up progression, medicine ball put and left pectoralis major muscle thickness (via ultra-sound). Both the bench press protocol and push-up protocol were standardized relative to individual bench press or push-up levels. The following push-up variations were used in the training progression; regular push ups, close-grip push ups, uneven push-ups, 1 and 1/2 arm push-ups, archer push-ups and single-arm push-ups.
The results showed that 1 RM bench press strength improved significantly after the training intervention in both groups, with no between-group differences. Push-up progression also significantly improved after training in both groups, however the push-up group experienced significantly greater improvements than the bench press group. No changes in either group were observed for pectoralis major muscle thickness or medicine ball put. The lack of change in muscle thickness indicates that changes in strength were largely due to neural adaptations. Overall, these results indicate that substantial improvements in upper body strength can be made using push-up progressions. This provides a practical and cost-effective alternative for teams who do not have access to weight-room equipment.
Kotarsky, CJ., et al. Effect of Progressive Calisthenic Push-Up Training On Muscle Strength and Thickness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In press.