Master The Push-up Before the Bench Press

How much ya bench bro?” A common question heard coming from a bro’s mouth all over the world. Especially on Monday’s, International Chest Day. The bench press has for some reason become the “mating call” of human males. For some people, the bench press has become what separates the men from the boys. That’s great and all but it has a tendency to lead a lot of novice lifters to jump the gun and start trying to bench before they are ready.

From day one a rookie walks into the gym and starts loading the bar up for bench press when they should probably be getting on the floor. Most people would be better off pushing back chasing world bench press records and mastering the pressing basics, and specifically the push-up.

Taking A Step Back For Bigger Steps Forward

Most people come to the gym to build a little muscle and get stronger, and heavy weights are needed to help stimulate that growth. However, mastering the fundamental bodyweight movements before chasing one-rep maxes should be the basis of a beginners program.

In the case of the bench press, if you can’t perform a proper push-up you shouldn’t be loading up the bench press just yet. Bench pressing heavy is fun and challenging but most people, and even some experienced lifters, should take a step back to the basics and master the push-up. It can lead to greater gains in muscle and strength later on down their road.

How the Push-up Makes You Awesome

Core Stability
What other exercise does the push-up look like?? The plank! The push-up is basically a moving plank, requiring you to maintain a neutral spine through core activation. This is where most people get the push-up wrong.

I can’t tell you how many “strong” people I have seen whose hips sag while they are doing push-ups. It ends up looking like something that is talked about in a different kind of blog….

In a push-up done correctly, the body should remain in a straight line while the arms move the body. I will go over some cues for a properly done push-up

Shoulder Stability
The push-up is what we would call a closed-chain exercise, or . The close-chain nature of the exercise really blows up the stabilizing musculature of the shoulder, specifically the rotator cuff.

The push-up also allows the scapulae, or your shoulder blades, to move freely and in the way they were meant to. The bench press actually pins down the shoulder blades through the pressing movement.

By pinning down the shoulder blades you put more stress on the shoulder, which can obviously cause issues.

Quick Reminder of How to Do a Push-up!

  • Position hands slightly outside of the shoulders
  • Squeeze glutes and contract anterior core to maintain neutral spinal alignment
  • Lower body down while maintaining a straight plank position. (Don’t let hips sag!)
  • Keep forearms directly over your hands and elbows out at a 45 degree angle(here is an article on why!)
  • Remember to maintain a tucked chin to help maintain a neural spine throughout.
  • Push the ground away from you until elbows fully extended.