The bench press - it's every gym's nucleus of muscular power. Gym bros push, grunt, then check the room before a quickie look and pectoral flex in the mirror like the top wolf in a gym pack. And how many millions of times has it been said: "Whaddya bench, mate?" or the even more cringeable "Do you even lift, bro?"
Yet the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research released a 2015 study comparing push-ups and the bench press. It concluded banded push-ups produce similar muscular strength gains to the bench. Yup, push-ups are the winner when it comes to chest exercises.
Here are 15 push-up variations (from easiest to most difficult) to strengthen and tone your chest, all without the expensive bench press equipment:
The basic push-up
I've heard it before: "Mike, I can't do push-ups." Well, change that. Change that because strength (for men and women) is important for your health and simple, daily tasks. Push-ups strengthen your chest, triceps, shoulders, core, and even your legs. Start in the morning by doing 10. Rest. Then perform another 10. At night, do the same, and every third day increase the reps by one. In no time, you'll be able to bang out 25 perfect push-ups.
With hands elevated on a bench, coffee table, or box, perform a simple push-up - the angle places more emphasis on the lower part of your chest.
With feet elevated, more emphasis is placed on the upper chest and shoulders to perform a push-up. So that your lower back doesn't dip, core stabilisation is key.
Lifting a leg in the air reduces lower-body stability, which then intensifies the work required by your core and chest.
Spreading arms further apart takes emphasis away from triceps and puts more bodyweight load on your chest.
To smash your triceps, start in a normal push-up position, then bring your hands together with thumbs and index fingers touching to form the shape of a diamond.
Start in the plank position, transition to the push-up position, perform a push-up, then head back to the plank position. With a moderate tempo, this is a serious test to your chest and core.
Perform a normal push-up, then take one hand off the ground, rotate, and put that hand in the air so your body is in a 'T' position. Return, repeat, and switch hands. You'll work your chest, triceps, core, shoulder stabilisation, rotational movement through the core … the whole body is utilised.
Put an elastic band around your back, and wrap/hold the band in your hands – then perform regular push-ups. The study mentioned above utilised banded push-ups, and they provide the same strength and muscular gains as the bench press.
People that bang out 50 push-ups in a minute rarely use good form. Slow your tempo on the eccentric (down phase) movement to 3-4 seconds to increase TTUT (total time under tension) and build a bigger chest.
Mountain climber push-ups
Perform a push-up, then bring a knee to your chest (one at a time) for four quick repetitions before commencing the next push-up. Boost your push-up with this cardio and core movement.
These are similar to mountain climbers but require a less explosive, knee-to-elbow movement (one each side).
You might push 'up' then clap, or you might just push up from the ground. Plyo push-ups develop explosive force for a toned chest while testing cardio fitness at the same time.
Burpee into a pull-up
Re-visit your lunch by performing a burpee (which includes a push-up), then jump straight up into a pull-up. This all-rounder will exhaust your entire world.
Plyometric medicine ball push-ups
Possibly the toughest variation around. Start in the push-up position with a medicine ball under one hand. Perform the down phase, then with strength and speed, push and rotate your body over the ball to the opposite side so that your other hand is on the ball as you head into repetition two. The ball should be stationary throughout. Power meets coordination in this killer exercise - nothing that can be replicated on a bench press.
Push-ups are the varied winner for me. You can do them at home or on the road. You can super-set them with any exercise at the gym. You can break up a run, boxing session, or biking session. It's clear: push-ups equal efficiency and work all over your body.
So why use the bench press? If you're in the miniscule minority, the bench press might have a place as you require specific strength for your job, train for a bodybuilding competition, or rehabilitate from a pectoral injury.
But for 90-plus per cent of us that are looking to shed some weight, tone up, and build strength, the "do you even lift?" chirp can be answered with a smile and: "Nah, I don't need to."
What's at the core of your workout regimen? Tell us in the comments section.
Passion for lifestyle change is the cornerstone for everything Michael Jarosky does. A Sydney-based personal trainer, he cajoled thousands of Executive Style readers to undertake his 'Cut The BS' diet, and champions a charity weight-loss event, Droptober.