It goes without saying that to train for the bench press, you need to practice the bench press. However, that's not the only way to get better on this classic lift. If you're looking to move more weight, push-ups can help.
The push-up is essentially a bench press turned upside down. Instead of pressing a heavy bar, you're pressing your body weight. The same muscles of your chest, anterior deltoid and triceps activate similarly during both exercises, showed a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published in 2015. The research went on to show that when both exercises are loaded comparably — a bench press with a barbell and a push-up with a resistance band —they provide similar gains in muscle strength.
Muscle Stress and the Bench Press
To train a muscle to become stronger, you must tear down the muscle fibers so that when they rest — on the days between workouts — they grow back thicker and stronger. Tearing down with repeated sets of the bench press is one way to get better at the bench press, for sure. Progress these lifts over several weeks to heavier weights and multiple sets. But, this strategy can be repetitive and, frankly, there are only so many reps and sets of the same exercise you can do.
Push-ups also provide stress to your muscles and can contribute to improved chest strength, especially at the end of your chest workout when you've maxed out on the lift.
For example, say you've pressed a heavy barbell for five sets of three to six repetitions and really fried your pec muscles. You just can't face that barbell again. Instead of calling it a day, finish your workout with a set or two of as many push-ups as you can do to add one final element of challenge to the muscles. A push-up requires to you lift just 60 percent to 70 percent of your body weight, which is likely considerably lighter than the bench press weight you're using, so it's doable when you're near max fatigue.
Targeting the pec muscles with different stressors also helps them grow. Explosive training for the chest can help you move past the point where you may get stuck in the lift. A common sticking place occurs when you just can't get the bar up past the first few inches over your chest without the help of a spotter. You'll develop power to move through this stick with moves like medicine ball throws and plyometric push-ups.
Plyometric push-ups are "jump" training for your upper body. You do a push-up and catch air before you come back down. They are advanced moves that should only be attempted once you've mastered the classic push-up.
Complete them in a variety of ways:
Standard Plyo Push-Up: Do a regular push-up, but explode up so your hands leave the floor. Land back down into a push-up.
Clap Push-Up: As you explode your hands off the floor, clap your hands under your chest before landing in the push-up.
Alternating Medicine Ball Plyo Push-Up: Place your right hand flat on the floor and the left hand elevated on a medicine ball. Bend your elbows into a push-up, explode up and roll the ball to the under the right hand. Land with soft elbows into the bottom of the push-up to protect the joints.
One Armed Medicine Ball Plyo Push-Up: Place the medicine ball under your right hand and your left hand on the floor. Lower down into a push up and explode up to float your left hand off the floor. Keep your right hand in contact with the push-up throughout the exercise. Repeat all reps on one side before changing to the other.
Include up to eight sets of a low number of reps (three to six) of one or more of these plyo variations, once per week. Plan to do them on a non-bench press day. For example, if you bench on Mondays and Thursdays, do the plyo push-ups on Tuesdays, Fridays or Saturdays.