How to Do Decline Push-Ups: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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A decline push-up is an advanced variation of the basic push-up, in which you increase the difficulty significantly by placing your feet higher than your hands. Add this exercise to your upper body strength training routine when you're ready for a greater challenge.

Targets: Chest, arms, shoulders, and core

Equipment Needed: Bench or step

Level: Advanced

How to Do a Decline Push-Up

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This exercise requires the use of a bench, step, or another solid object you can rest your feet on. The height of the decline can be as low as an inch or as high as a couple of feet. Adjusting the bench height allows you to customize the intensity of your workout.

Raising your feet too high can cause you to compromise your form, so be careful if you lift your feet waist-high or more.

Start on your hands and knees, with your hands about shoulder-width or a little wider apart. Be careful not to place them too wide or you will limit your range of motion on the descent.

Move your feet into position by extending your body and propping them up on the bench or step, one at a time. Your body should bein a straight line from the shoulders to the toes, with no sagging or arching at the hips. Reposition your hands if necessary, making sure your elbows are extended.

  1. Bend your elbows to lower your chest until it almost touches the floor, stopping once your elbows are at your ribcage. Maintain an aligned position and use a smooth, controlled motion. As you lower to the ground, look up slightly to allow full range of motion and avoid banging your nose or forehead on the ground. This position may make you want to arch your back but resist this temptation as doing so is not helpful and could set you up for an injury.
  2. Push up until your elbows are straight, but not locked, to return to the starting position.

Benefits of Decline Push-Ups

The decline push-up is an advanced upper body exercise that targets the muscles of the chest, shoulders, back, and arms. In addition, maintaining the proper body position requires strength and stability through the core, legs, and back.

Research suggests that doing decline push-ups may improve the performance of athletes engaged in certain sports. For instance, one study involving volleyball players found that adding this exercise to their training routine improved the accuracy of their serve.

The functional fitness you develop with push-ups also serves you well in pushing motions throughout daily life. Since they develop the stabilizer muscles around the shoulders, they may even help protect you from rotator cuff injuries.

Other Variations of the Decline Push-Up

Whether you are a beginner or need more of a challenge, there is a push-up for you.

Basic Push-Up

If you are having trouble maintaining proper body alignment, you should not begin decline push-ups. Keep working until you can do about 20 basic push-ups with proper form.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein 

Consider taking the push-up test to find out how your upper body strength measures up.

Stability Ball Decline Push-Up

Just as the stability ball push-up makes the basic exercise more challenging, you can use a ball to add intensity to the decline push-up as well. The lack of stability forces your core muscles to engage even more, providing a more difficult workout.

Single-Leg Decline Push-Up

Instead of keeping both feet on the step or bench, lift one a few inches in the air. This forces your upper body to work harder to stabilize you during the move.

One-Arm Decline Push-Up

Another way to make the decline push-up more intense is to do this exercise with one arm versus two. When using one arm, hold the other one out to the side. Be sure to work both arms so that you don't develop a muscle imbalance.

Decline Clap Push-Up

Turn this movement into a more explosive exercise by adding a clap. When pushing up to the position where your arms are fully extended, push with enough force to raise your hands off the floor, clapping them together before returning them to the ground and lowering back down.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these common errors to keep this exercise safe and perform it with proper form.

Sagging in the Middle

If the core isn't braced and the torso stiff, your midsection will sag and this can lead to back pain. Should this occur, it is a sign that you haven't built enough core strength. Use the modified plank and practice easier forms of the push-up exercise to develop a stronger core.

Improper Neck Alignment

While you need to tilt your head up slightly to get a full range of motion, you still want your neck to be in neutral alignment with your spine as much as possible to prevent neck strain.

Locked Elbows

Always keep a slight bend in the elbows. Locking your elbows at the top of the movement places too much stress on the joints and can lead to strain or injury.

Hands Too Far Forward

Your hands should be under your shoulders during this exercise as it will put a strain on this joint if they are further out. Lean slightly over your wrists so your elbows stay back behind your shoulders or 45 degrees from your side body.

Limited Range of Motion

You won't get the full benefit from the exercise if you only go down part of the way. In this case, it is better to switch to an easier modification (such as knee push-ups, incline push-ups, or wall push-ups) that you can do with the full range of motion.

Safety and Precautions

You should not do push-ups if you have a shoulder, wrist, or elbow injury. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist to see if this is an appropriate exercise for you or for advice on other exercises that may be safer but can achieve the same goals.

If you want to protect your wrists, you can place your hands on dumbbells or push-up bars to keep them in a neutral position. If you feel shoulder pain during the push-up or hear a clicking noise in your shoulder, end the exercise.

Repeat as many reps of this exercise as you can without compromising your form, working up to three to four sets of 8 to 15 repetitions.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Irmansyah J, Suriatno A. The influence of decline push up and standing fore arm flexion training on the accuracy of the service of SME Ballvolution IKIP Mataram in 2016. Jurnal Ilmiah Mandala Educ. 2016;2(1). doi:10.36312/jime.v2i1.142

  2. Escamilla RF, Hooks TR, Wilk KE. Optimal management of shoulder impingement syndrome. Open Access J Sports Med. 2014;5:13–24. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S36646

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.