Bench-Presses and Push-Ups Each Have Their Strong Points

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Dr. Adrian Pujayana

WHENEVER a conversation asks if something is “better,’’ understand that the discussion becomes debatable and situational, and what is better for you on one day is not always better for you on another day. Bench-presses and push-ups are very similar in motion, and like the conversation about running on a treadmill versus running on the streets (the Review, Dec. 20), I’d like to address some similarities and differences so you can decide which move is pertinent to you.

Bench-presses

This maneuver involves lowering a weighted bar to your chest followed by pressing it away from your chest. Your chest muscles are the primary movers but are assisted by your shoulders, triceps and even your scapular muscles. In fact, you couldn’t lower the bar to your chest if you didn’t have control of your biceps muscles. So it is crucial to have all the muscles of the arm, shoulder and scapula coordinated for this multi-joint maneuver.

One of the many benefits of bench-pressing is that you can add more weight as you get stronger. The heavier the weight, the more strain your shoulder joints will encounter as you lower the bar to the bottom position. Not everyone can lower the bar to their chest in the bottom position, nor is it necessary to do so. No matter what weight you use, you should be able to lower the bar far enough to where your elbow is at or slightly below your shoulder-blade level on the bench. If pain is present or movement restriction is present in the shoulders, then it is likely that you are not ready for the weight or the movement itself.

One of the ways to prepare for a successful bench-press move is to strengthen your scapular muscles with rowing and pulling moves. By doing resisted rows with free-weights or cable pulls, you are able to determine if your shoulders have the movement range to position your elbows at or behind the scapula. Stronger scapular muscles will stabilize your shoulders for press maneuvers, thereby strengthening your ability to perform the bench-presses.

Bench-pressing on a machine uses a linear (and thereby limited) range of motion. It may be helpful for someone with chronic shoulder impairment or conditions, and reduces the need for shoulder stabilizers. Combining machine bench-presses with frequent push-ups can be helpful in managing pain while still engaging shoulder stabilizer muscles.

Push-ups

More muscles are involved with push-ups than with bench-press.  Abdominal and trunk muscles are activated more fully with the push-up and to a lesser degree with the bench-press. Trunk control is essential for a well-executed push-up from the ground position. If there is hand and wrist pain, performing push-ups can be difficult and limit the amount you can lower the body. It may help to use a dumbbell as a floor grip in order to keep the wrist in a straight position during your push-ups. Holding a grip keeps the forearm and hand under control, and perhaps may control the pain that stops you from doing push-ups. 

A good push-up from the floor position involves activating your abdominal muscles in order to keep your body from sagging. If you find that slouching in the push-up position happens often, you may need to strengthen your abdominal muscles with abdominal crunches or sit-ups. In other words, get your abs stronger in order to make your push-ups more successful!

In the ground position, push-ups can be done from the knees or on your feet. I urge all women to be able to perform push-ups from the foot position, not the knees. A good push-up is a reflection of adequate strength of the shoulders, chest, arms and trunk muscles. The strength of all these muscles is essential for men and women, and the older you get, the more crucial these muscles become. Strong trunk and extremity muscles allow for safer and more effective ability to transfer your body weight, perhaps to protect you from accidental falls. 

No matter what your age or gender, push-ups and bench-press moves are essential for activities of daily living, recreation and sport. Just remember that the more you are able to control your body weight from any position, the more independent you are to move and help yourself throughout the day.

Strength can be developed steadily over time, so don’t let your lack of strength limit your quality of life. Stay strong everyone!

Dr. Adrian Pujayana has been providing drug-free solutions for health and wellness to adults, athletes and youth since 2000 through his private practice at Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena, a place for strength training and nutrition-based health care. For comments or questions, email him at southpaschiro@gmail.com.