How to Do Decline Push Ups

A Difficult Variation

woman doing a decline push up outside
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A decline push up is a variation of the basic push up that increases the difficulty significantly by placing your feet higher than your hands. Adjusting the bench height allows you to customize the intensity of your workout using just your body weight.

The decline push up is an advanced upper body exercise that targets the muscles of the chest, the shoulders, back, and arms. In addition, maintaining the proper rigid body position requires a fair amount of strength and stability through the entire core, legs, and back. Adding this exercise to your upper body strength training routine is a nice alternative to performing a basic push up, plus, you don't need a lot of equipment. All you need is a bench, a step, a curb, a sturdy chair or some other solid object you can rest your feet on which gives you a bit more body weight while doing a standard push up.

Raising your feet up a bit slightly changes the angle of movement, providing a slightly different range of motion. This minor change works the muscles in a whole new way. The decline push up is one of many different ways you can modify a push-up, so go ahead and add it to your workouts once a week or so?

Before you jump into decline push ups, it's a good idea to do about five basic push ups with proper techniques and full range of motion. If you are having trouble maintaining proper body alignment, you should not begin decline push ups. Keep working until you can do about 20 perfect basic push ups. Then you are ready to tackle the decline style. If not, consider taking the push up test and find out just how your upper body strength measures up.

Next review these tips that will make your decline push up routine effective and safe.

How to Do the Decline Push Up

  • Warm Up. Perform a few (5-10) basic push ups in a smooth and steady motion to warm up the shoulders and elbows and practice good core stability and alignment.
  • Choose the height of the decline. This can be as low as an inch or two or as high as one of two feet. Going much higher than that can compromise your form, so be careful if you want to lift your feet up to waist high or more.
  • Get into position. Start on your hands and knees, place your hands on the ground, about shoulder width or a little wider. Be careful not to have them too wide or you will severely limit your range of motion on the decent.
  • Carefully move your feet in position by extending your body, and propping your feet up on the bench, or step, one at a time.
  • Realign your body so that it is in a straight line for shoulders to hips to toes, without sagging or arching at the hips.
  • Reposition your hands if necessary, making sure your elbows are extended.
  • Lower your chest by bending your elbows. While maintaining a nice, aligned body position, lower your upper body in a smooth controlled motion towards the floor.
  • Look up slightly. As you lower to the ground, you will need to look up slightly to allow full range of motion and avoid banging your nose, or forehead on the ground. It happens, so watch out. As soon as you lift your head, you will want to arch your back but resist this temptation. Arching your back during this move is not helpful and could set you up for an injury.
  • Return to the start position. Once you have descended as far as you can, and still maintain your form, return to the start position by pushing up your chest until your elbows are straight, but don't lock them.
  • Repeat as many reps as you can do without compromising your form. When you can't complete another high-quality repetition, stop.
  • If it's too easy, add some height. If too difficult, reduce the height or go back to the basics until you build up. Learn how to do more push ups.

Muscle Involvement During the Decline Push Up

The pectoralis major is the prime target of this exercise, however, the height of the bench slightly changes the focus. A higher bench engages the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, but not the sternal head of pec major. A lower bench focuses on the sternal head of pec major, but it also engages the clavicular head of pec major as a synergist and helps with the movement.

Other synergistic muscles that are active during the decline push up include the anterior deltoid and the triceps brachii.

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