How to Do Spiderman Pushups

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

spiderman pushup
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Targets: Chest, triceps, shoulders, rectus abdominis, obliques, core stabilizers, hip flexors, quadriceps

Level: Intermediate

Learning how to do spiderman pushups may not turn you into an actual superhero, but when done correctly, they can help you develop superhero-level arm and core strength. For those already able to do full pushups with proper form, the spiderman pushup variation is a good way to further target your core and obliques while also actively engaging your lower body—particularly your hip flexors and quadriceps—during a traditional chest- and triceps-focused movement.

The good news is, if you’re familiar with a basic pushup, the spiderman pushup is pretty easy to pick up. Sure, it has more moving parts (literally), but the concept is simple: Every time you lower yourself into a pushup, simply draw one of your knees out and up, aiming to touch it to the same-side elbow. You alternate sides with every pushup, so you end up looking like Spiderman trying to crawl up a wall.

Spiderman pushups can be added to just about any type of strength or bodyweight workout routine.

You can complete a few sets before doing other chest-targeting exercises like bench press, you can include them as an exercise in a circuit routine, or you can work on your speed and include them as part of a high-intensity interval training workout.

The beauty of almost all pushup variations is that because no equipment is required, you can drop and do a set or two just about anywhere.

Benefits

The spiderman pushup is a level up from the standard pushup in terms of benefits.

Muscles Targeted

Largely, the movement targets the same muscle groups targeted during traditional pushups, but with an added challenge to the muscles of the core, including the deep stabilizing muscles of the abdomen and back, the "six-pack" muscles of the rectus abdominis, and the obliques.

You can expect to feel the burn in your chest, triceps, shoulders, and abdomen, while also feeling engagement through your hips and legs, particularly your quadriceps.

Functional Exercise

Almost all multi-joint, bodyweight exercises like the spiderman pushup are considered effective because they require your body to move through a full range of motion while having to control, stabilize, and "link" different muscle groups in a controlled, coordinated manner. This type of exercise is considered "functional" because it's how your body is required to move in everyday life while performing basic tasks.

For instance, if you're lying on the floor, being able to push yourself up from the floor requires the same muscular engagement you employ when doing a spiderman pushup. And because you're balanced on three limbs, rather than four, while performing spiderman pushups, there's an added element of unilateral limb engagement which helps strengthen each side of your body independently. Specifically, because one leg moves independently during each repetition of spiderman pushups, each leg, particularly the hip flexor and quadriceps, is worked separately, preventing the stronger of the two legs from "taking over."

Anti-Rotational Core Strength

As you perform each repetition, drawing one knee toward your elbow, your core has to work harder to prevent your torso from rotating toward the moving leg. This type of "rotation prevention" strength pays off for reducing the likelihood of low back injury.

Think about it: Low back pain is often associated with unexpected changes of direction or the lack of core strength needed to prevent injury when you move suddenly or quickly. By improving anti-rotational core strength, you're essentially training your core to keep your spine neutral and aligned—protected from potential injury.

Any exercise that improves anti-rotational core strength has the potential to help prevent low back injury.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Spiderman pushups require very little to get started. All you need is an open space roughly the size of a yoga mat (with a little extra elbow room to each side), and a mat for comfort (if desired).

  1. Start in a plank position, your hands slightly wider than shoulder-distance apart, but directly under your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from heels to head.
  2. Tighten your core and begin bending your elbows, so they angle backward at 45-degrees from your body as you lower your chest toward the floor. Inhale as you move through the lowering phase of the exercise.
  3. Pick up your right foot and draw your right knee up and out, so your right knee reaches your elbow just as your chest hovers about an inch or two from the mat.
  4. Reverse the movement, extending your elbows to press up to the plank position as you simultaneously extend your knee and return your right foot to the floor. Exhale as you press yourself back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat to the opposite side, this time bringing your left knee to your left elbow.
  6. When you complete a full set (aim for at least 8-10 pushups, alternating sides), place your knees on the ground and kneel before you move to standing.

Common Mistakes

Common mistakes for the spiderman pushup are similar to those of all pushup variations. The most important thing is to pay attention to your hips and core to make sure your body forms a straight line from heels to head throughout the exercise.

It’s important to keep your spine neutrally aligned throughout, with your core fully engaged to help prevent low back pain or injury.

Hips Sagging

When you fail to properly engage your core, it’s common for your hips to sag, your lower back dropping toward the floor. This can place undue strain on your low back, leading to pain or injury.

Try performing the exercise next to a mirror so you can keep an eye on your low-back and hip alignment. Before doing the exercise, engage your abdominals, and even tuck your pelvis forward slightly as you draw your belly button up and in. Keep your core engaged in this manner throughout the exercise, even stopping to “reset” after each repetition.

Butt Up in the Air

Another common mistake is when you allow your butt to creep up into the air. This actually makes the exercise easier and requires you to support less of your body weight with your chest and triceps, as your legs and shoulders end up taking on more of the weight. You also don’t have to use as much core strength to perform the exercise.

Again, consider doing the movement in front of a mirror. If you notice your butt creeping upward, creating an upside down “V” with your hips at the apex, reset, engage your core, and bring them back into alignment.

Elbows Too Close to Torso

As you lower yourself into the spiderman pushup, with your chest moving toward the floor, your elbows should reach out and back, creating a roughly 45-degree angle between your upper arm and torso. Men, especially, are more inclined to have their elbows move straight back, keeping them close to the torso.

While this variation can be done safely, it targets the triceps more, reducing the challenge to the chest. Start with proper setup—your palms should be under your shoulders, but slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Then, check your form at the bottom of each rep to make sure your elbows aren’t hugging your sides.

Elbows Splaying Too Far From Body

The other common problem with upper-body form is for the elbows to splay too far from the body at the bottom of the pushup, almost pointing straight out to either side of the room at 90-degree angles from your body. This places undue stress on the elbows and shoulders.

Start by checking your hand placement—your palms should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, but no more. Then, perform the pushup in front of a mirror. At the bottom of the pushup, you should be able to tell that your elbows are pointing back, almost “aiming” them toward the opposite back corners of the room, rather than pointing out to the sides.

Head Hanging Between Arms or Craning Forward

The final common mistake for pushups is poor neck alignment. You want your spine—from your neck to your hips—to remain neutral and aligned. Many people drop their neck between their arms when performing pushups, or conversely, look up and forward while doing the exercise. Just ask yourself before you begin, "Is my neck aligned with my spine?" If it's not, simply adjust your head position to fix the problem.

Modifications and Variations

There is almost an endless number of variations for pushups, so you can almost always modify or adjust each movement to meet your level of comfort.

Need a Modification?

If you're not quite ready to level up to the smooth-flowing rhythm of spiderman pushups, where you perform the pushup while simultaneously drawing your knee to your elbow as it bends, try splitting the exercise up into standard pushup followed by a static plank with a knee pull.

  1. Start in a plank position, just as you would for the spiderman pushup.
  2. Perform a pushup, bending your elbows to lower your chest to the floor. Just before your chest touches down, press through your palms and return to the starting position.
  3. Hold a standard plank, but lift your right foot from the floor, and draw your right knee up and out, as though you were trying to touch it to the outside of your right elbow.
  4. Return your right foot to the floor. Perform another pushup, then draw your left knee toward your left elbow before extending your left leg to return to start.
  5. Continue the exercise, adding a knee-to-elbow motion between each pushup performed, alternating sides until you've completed a full set.

Up for a Challenge?

Take the spiderman pushup to the next level by turning it into a walking spiderman pushup with even greater hip mobility.

  1. Start in a plank position, just as you would for the traditional spiderman pushup.
  2. Take a "step" forward with your right hand, and when you plant it a few inches forward, bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the floor as you simultaneously draw your left knee up and out, aiming to place it on top of your left elbow at the bottom of the pushup.
  3. Extend your elbows to press back to plank as you return your left foot to the ground, this time a few inches forward from its starting position, knee slightly bent.
  4. Step your left hand forward as you reach the top of the pushup, placing it on the ground a few inches forward from your right hand.
  5. Perform another pushup, this time drawing your right knee up and out to place it on top of your right elbow.
  6. Continue alternating sides as you "walk" forward performing these pushups.

Safety and Precautions

As long as you're careful about your form, spiderman pushups are a reasonably safe exercise for most people. If you tend to have low back pain, you should be especially conscientious about keeping your core and abdominals engaged throughout the movement to prevent your hips from sagging.

If you tend to have wrist pain while doing pushups, you might want to use pushup bars that help you keep your wrists straight throughout the movement, rather than bent backward. And finally, if you have shoulder pain, you may be able to avoid it with an adjustment to your body's angle. Try the exercise on an incline, with your hands on a bench or wall to take some of the weight off your shoulders. If you feel any sharp or sudden pains when performing the exercise, stop the exercise.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts. Simply try the spiderman pushup in place of any suggested pushup exercise:

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