Has anyone ever seen that skit with Chris Farley from Saturday Night Live? How Much Ya Bench? - It was hilarious. That use to be the question of the day back in my younger, "weight lifting" days. I guess a better question today would be: "Who cares?"
If you love to bench press, I will go ahead and apologize now. I am sorry. What I am about to discuss will not thrill you. The bench press, while it may pack people into gyms and I'm sure it still helps sell health club memberships, is a relatively useless exercise. The granddaddy of all weight lifting exercises, the ultimate quest for every teenage boy and all would be puffed up chest wielding men, has very little life enhancing qualities. Unless having a big chest does enhance your life - and in truth it can, although it is a superficial enhancement.
What I mean by this is that the bench press is good for making a big chest, putting on mass, and getting you noticed by the public. It can improve your confidence and self esteem - if you place your value on how big you look or how much weight you can press. So there is merit there. But as far as real-world life enhancing abilities, the bench press is lacking. It will not improve your overall ability, performance, or resiliency like the simple pushup can.
What? Yes, the pushup is a "better" exercise when it comes to improving the quality of your life. Remember, I believe that "life" encompasses being able to move well and being able to conquer your golden years with vitality. The pushup does this. It is a great life skill to possess. If nothing else, the pushup will teach you how to get up off the ground should you ever find yourself there. Not only that, the pushup helps tie your whole body together, it helps strengthen your center. It is very arguable if the bench press does this. Yes, if performed properly, the bench press is a whole body exercise - connecting the feet up through the hands, but very few people actually bench press properly.
Anyway, the pushup can help prepare you for life. It connects you. Done properly and progressively, the pushup can prepare you to move, to push, heavy obstacles without getting injured. The bench press can leave you lacking here. I've seen plenty of big chested "pressers" who did not have the core strength to do a solid pushup. That is a travesty. These same "pressers" would not even be able to push a car up a driveway as well as a man who could do a solid pushup. Think about it - no where else in life will you find yourself braced with your back against something so you can push heavy loads. But, you will find yourself having to push something, and you will want your center strong enough to handle the force you will need to generate. The simple, lowly pushup offers this.
Pushups also build good physiques - real physiques. They can be made more challenging too with different hand positions, foot positions, one arm, one leg, one arm and one leg, etc... Pushups can build a powerful, life capable, body.
They wont add size to you like bench pressing will, but who wants a big chest today, and droopy boobs tomorrow? Just kidding. But think about it anyway!
I'm not saying you should never bench press. It has it's benefits. I just think you should really consider the wonders of the pushup - especially if you want to enjoy your life with strength and vitality when you are 96 years old. No one will ever care how much weight you could press "back in the day", you won't either. There will be a day when being able to bounce up off the floor without help will bring more joy than a big bench press ever could.