Want big arms? Research claims push ups are just as good as a bench press in building big guns

Push ups, with just one small addition, can activate your muscles as much as any bench press

diamond push up
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The humble push up is having a moment, thanks to lockdown. Not only is it a calisthenics exercise that can be done in a small space, it's also easy to do and surprisingly effective. Push ups are great for building both arm- and chest-muscle definition and according to one research, they might be just as good as the coveted bench press exercise.

With fitness fans largely unable to access the best home weights, and no squat racks or bench press in their sheds, more and more home exercisers are turning to push ups, and other bodyweight exercises, to continue training their muscles.

While pull-up bars and resistance bands are becoming invaluable training aids, science claims you can actually replace one key piece of gym equipment with a simple body weight exercise. 

A study published in the journal Sports Medicine International Open measured the muscle activation of eight upper body muscles when performing bench press and push up moves. 

Push up

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The study measured bench press exercises and push ups, using weighted vests to simulate the effects of a heavier load on the push ups. The results speak for themselves: the study demonstrated no differences in muscle activation between the two exercises.

This is great news for people struggling to get their gains in while the gyms remain closed. Bench presses and push ups activate the same muscle groups, including the triceps, deltoids and pectoral muscles. 

With the addition of a weighted vest, participants were able to lift different loads, matching the muscle activation recorded during a bench press!

Gravity Fitness 20kg Weighted Vest | Buy it for £99.95 at Amazon

Gravity Fitness 20kg Weighted Vest | Buy it for £99.95 at Amazon
This 20-kilo weighted vest will add plenty of resistance to your push ups and is made from breathable, durable nylon with removable solid cast iron weights. Unlike the sand weight versions, cast iron weights are not bulky, making wearing this vest at least somewhat bearable. Adjustable velcro straps and foam padding for optimum support and comfort.

push up workout

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Weighted vests can transform your normal bodyweight routine. It can increase the difficulty of squats, pull ups, push ups and total-body exercises such as burpees or Turkish get-ups. Adding to the difficulty of your normal routine simulates the increased stress you put your muscles under with gym machines, training your muscles harder than you could ever manage with bodyweight reps alone.

There's more: one study from the University of Gothenburg found simply wearing weighted vests eight hours a day, for three weeks, and doing no additional exercises resulted in a drop in BMI and lower obesity risks. If you're now working from home, you can go about your day wearing the extra weight and improve your body without even upping your exercise routine. 

Who needs access to the bench press? Grab yourself a weighted vest and get your own home gym for a fraction of the price. Who knows: you might even like it so much that you cancel your gym membership once everything reopens.

Matt Evans

Matt Evans now works for T3.com sister brand TechRadar, covering all things relating to fitness and wellness. He came to T3.com as staff writer before moving on, and was previously on Men's Health, and slightly counterintuitively, a website devoted to the consumption of Scotch whiskey. In his free time, he could often be found with his nose in a book until he discovered the Kindle.