In strength training, the bench press exercise is a standard part of anyone’s resistance training program, and is often used to assess upper body strength as well. The bench press (also known as the chest press) targets the large pectoral muscles that help perform the “pushing” motion. This exercise is typically performed with free weights such as a barbell or dumbbells.
For some without immediate access to free weights, the standard floor push-up is a callisthenic exercise used to strengthen the pectorals. Unfortunately, the floor push-up alone may not provide the same intensity as a free-weight bench press exercise to build the pectoral muscles. Researchers estimate that 70% of a maximal contraction is necessary to hypertrophy a muscle.
Elastic resistance exercises are gaining in popularity as research confirms that the resistance provided by elastic bands and tubes can increase strength and power (Sundstrup et al. 2012). Portable elastic bands and tubes can provide strengthening workouts at home or on the road, making them an alternative to bulky and expensive free weights and machines.
Researchers in Spain wanted to determine if TheraBandTM elastic bands could produce similar muscle activity as a free weight bench press. They presented their findings at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Annual meeting earlier this month. The researchers had subjects perform a bench press with 70% of their maximum resistance (70% 1RM) while measuring the electrical activity of the chest, shoulder, and abdominal muscles using surface EMG. The subjects then performed a push-up with a gold TheraBand resistance band while their muscle activity was recorded.
The bench press and push up with TheraBand resistance produced similar levels of pectoralis major activation (39% maximum contraction). In addition, the TheraBand push up produced 28% more anterior deltoid activity than the bench press. Interestingly, the TheraBand push up elicited 4.5 to 5.9 times more activation of the core muscles (rectus abdominus and external oblique) than the 70%1RM bench press.
This finding is not surprising when you consider the mechanism of a supine free weight bench press requires little to no activation of abdominal stabilizers (4 to 5% maximal contraction) on a sturdy bench. In contrast, the prone push up requires automatic stabilization of the abdominals to maintain neutral alignment of the lumbopelvic region.
In summary, a floor push up with gold TheraBand resistance bands is an inexpensive and convenient exercise for the chest, shoulder, and core muscles, offering more muscle activity than a standard bench press at high intensity.
REFERENCE: Calatayud J, et al. 2014. Neuromuscular comparison of push-up variations and bench press. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 46(5S):670 (Abstract).