Push-ups are a lot of people’s go-to exercise for building upper body strength.
After all, it takes effort to push yourself up and down repeatedly.
But not all push-ups are the same…
In fact, you can vary your push-ups to work different parts of the muscle. You've probably heard of or even tried these variations yourself! There are a ton when it comes to push-ups ... diamond push-ups, incline push-ups, weighted push-ups, and much more.
One of my favorite variations is the decline push-up, and for good reason.
The decline push-up is any push-up you perform when your feet are above your hands.
It's harder than the classic push-up, but there are some key benefits to adding this exercise to your workout.
Keep reading and I'll tell you everything you need to know about decline push-ups: The muscles worked, common mistakes, and even more variations!
How to Do a Decline Push-Up
So how do you do a decline push-up?
To do a decline push-up, you’ll need a box, stand, bench, or something for you to raise your feet above your hands.
To perform a decline push-up, you have to start on your hands and knees. Just be careful not to spread your hands too far apart, or you'll limit your range of motion. This will make them much less effective!
Start by raising one foot at a time onto the bench, step, or box. Then, make sure your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your toes.
Brace your quads, glutes, and core and lower your body toward the floor by bending your elbows ... exactly like a normal push-up.
Resist the urge to bend your back or neck ... core strength and proper alignment will be crucial to prevent injury!
Once you’ve lowered yourself to a comfortable end range of motion, your chest should be close to the ground. At this point, push into the through your arms to put yourself back into your starting position.
As you get more comfortable with the decline push-up, you can raise the height you’re doing it from.
The higher your feet are, the harder the push-up will be, and the more your shoulders will be engaged. I'll explain what I mean...
What Muscles Do a Decline Push-Up Work?
Different variations of the push-up work different portions of the muscles used. This same thing can be said about almost any workout variation! With decline push-ups though, they are still using primarily the pectoralis major, the anterior portion of the deltoid, and the triceps brachii.
I know these are pretty big and fancy words ... but really I'm just referring to your chest, the front of your shoulders, and your triceps.
Let's dive into them...
This fan shaped muscle is the larger of the two chest muscles, and is what most people think of when they talk about their chest.
There are 2 heads of this muscle. They attach to the collar bone, sternum, and rib cage on the medial end, and to the upper arm on the lateral end.
The pectoralis major is responsible primarily for a few movements. One of them is called shoulder flexion. This is pulling your upper arm from resting by your side, to out in front of you, to above your head.
Another movement of the pectoralis major is called horizontal adduction. This is the movement which pulls your arms inward to give a hug or clap your hands.
Anterior Deltoid (Front)
The anterior deltoid is the front portion of this triangular shaped shoulder muscle.
This muscle mainly helps your chest by raising your arm out in front of your body and overhead.
This 3 headed muscle is the largest muscle group in the arm, and it is located on the back side of the upper arm.
The triceps’ primary function is to extend the elbow when its bent to straighten the arm.
On top of working these 3 muscles, decline push-ups can also be a great core exercise. That's because you have to make sure your core is tight to prevent your hips and lower back from sinking.
Benefits of a Decline Push-Up
The main benefit of decline push-ups is working your upper chest. This part of your chest typically gets less attention from traditional push-ups. It also increases the amount of resistance on those muscles without having to add any weight.
Think of it like this...
Every exercise is vertically pushing or pulling a resistance against gravity. With a traditional push-up, your body is parallel with the floor. Because of this, a majority of the weight lifted is just the upper portion of your body that lies above your hands.
With a decline push-up you’re raising your feet, which puts slightly more of your body weight within that vertical path you have to push against.
If you keep raising your feet higher and higher, sooner or later you would be in a hand-stand position. In a hand-stand, you'd be pushing against 100% of your body weight, making it the most difficult!
Don’t believe me? Try it out and see for yourself ... It's super hard, even for very strong and fit people!
If you keep your hands low and continue raising your feet in this manner it allows you to keep increasing the resistance on your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
The opposite is true also. If you keep your feet on the floor and put your hands on an elevated surface ... the exercise turns into an incline push-up which gets easier.
So if you ever want to adjust the resistance on your push-up, elevate your feet to make it harder.
Common Decline Push-Up Mistakes
Changing your push-up style can really benefit your muscles.
However, the decline push-up can make it easier to make big mistakes with your form.
These are some common decline push-up mistakes to watch for and prevent:
- The sagging midsection. Keep your core braced and work your core until it’s strong enough for this movement.
- Improper neck alignment. You want your neck to remain neutrally aligned to avoid straining it.
- Locked elbows. Don't lock your elbows completely, and always keep a slight bend in your elbows to prevent injury.
- Hands too far out. Keep your hands under your shoulders to prevent joint strain.
- Not going low enough. You won't get the full benefits of the exercise if you don’t go low enough.
4 Decline Push-Up Variations to Try
Whether you want to make the decline push-up harder or easier, here are your options...
Just make sure you perfect the regular push-up first.
Single Arm Decline Push-Ups
Use caution ... this one is very difficult!
The one-arm variation will help you work your arms harder and really push your pecs.
Perform this exercise by:
Starting in the high plank position with one of your arms behind your back and your legs opened wider for balance.
Keep your core and glutes engaged to maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your feet.
Bend the shoulder and elbow of the arm supporting your body to lower your chest to the ground.
When you hit a comfortable end range of motion, press into the ground engaging your chest, shoulder, and tricep to return to the starting position.
Remember to repeat for the same number of reps on both sides.
Decline Clap Push-Ups
This is an advanced variation that you should try after perfecting your decline push-ups.
Perform this exercise the exact same way you'd do a decline push-up. But wait ... there's a catch! When you lower yourself to the ground, explode through your arms and chest to clap your hands in front of you. Be careful, because you have to be quick to catch yourself before crashing to the ground!
Stability Ball Decline Push-Ups
This variation is another way to make the decline push-up harder and to work your core more.
Perform this exercise by using a stability ball to hold your feet instead of a box, stand, bench, or step.
The lack of stability forces your core to work harder to keep your balanced.
Perfect the traditional decline push-up before attempting this variation.
Single-Leg Decline Push-Up
This variation also pushes your core harder by reducing your stability.
Perform this exercise by keeping one leg lifted while you lower and raise your body once—that’s one rep.
Don’t forget to exercise both sides of your body for the same number of reps.
Building Muscle As a Whole
Decline push-ups are a great way to increase your physical strength and help you build muscle in your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
However, muscles don’t come just from doing push-ups … or even decline push-ups for that matter.
Muscle growth happens from consistently forcing the muscles to work harder over time. On top of that, it takes eating a diet sufficient in protein, calories, and micronutrients.
Exercise is only one half of the equation … You can’t forget your diet! Without a good nutrition plan in place, the results will never come.
Now, I know that dieting is the hardest part for most people … myself included. Not because I don’t know what to do, but it’s not always easy keeping yourself accountable when you’re tired and stressed on a regular basis.
I know many of you can relate to that, and that’s why I recommend checking out the 1st Phorm app. We give you the tools you need to:
Know how to eat and workout properly to achieve optimal results.
Stay accountable with a real-person advisor there to coach and teach you.
Track your food, workouts, and get all the help you need on a daily basis.
Turn it into a positive lifestyle change that will have a massive impact on your life!
Even if you know what you’re doing, you can still benefit from the resources and tools in the 1st Phorm App.
Ready to try your holistic approach to getting stronger and building muscle?
Download the 1st Phorm App today to get started!
If you ever have any questions or need extra assistance ... we have you covered! We have a full staff of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Nutrition Coaches who are here to help you for FREE.
Just shoot us an email at CustomerService@1stPhorm.com or give us a call at 1-800-409-9732! Your results matter to us, and we're always happy to help.