The Incline Push Up for Beginners

Incline push ups build chest, arm and shoulder strength with less joint stress

Incline Push Ups
Incline Push Ups. photo (c) Stockbyte / Getty Images

Incline push ups are a great way to start a push up routine if you have trouble doing the basic push up. The exercise still targets the main chest muscles (the pectoralis major and minor) but puts far less stress on your elbows and significantly reduces the amount of body weight you are lifting. Incline push ups can be done just about anywhere. All you need is a stable surface such as a desk, wall or another piece of furniture, and a few minutes.

Incline push ups are the perfect compromise if you find that a standard push up is too difficult, or you have trouble easily getting down to the floor (and back up again) or for those with a shoulder, wrist or hand injury. Incline push ups can allow you to progress from a simple "push away" from a nearly standing position using a wall and then moving to a counter top, or a table, a sturdy chair, and eventually to a low step or bench. This simple movement targets the main muscles of the chest, the pectoralis major and minor.

In addition to exercising the chest, the incline push up engages the shoulders (deltoid), arms (triceps) as well a long list of muscles throughout the abs, back, hips and legs that act as stabilizers and prevent any sagging or arching of the spinal column during the movement. Using a slow and deliberate motion can really engage your core and can be used as part of a nice pre-exercise warm up routine or a post-exercise stretch.

The Height of the Incline

Because you can easily modify the height of the object you are pushing up from as you get stronger you can make minor adjustments, and over time you will be able to do the basic push up from the floor. This is perfect for beginners, for anyone doing upper body and shoulder rehab, or even seniors who need to build upper body strength to improve their quality of life and independence.

You can start with a wall, and week by week move closer to the floor until you are doing basic push ups. From there you can work your way to decline push ups if you need more intensity.

The Wall Push Up
The least aggressive incline push up is done using the wall to create the include. I use this exercise with many seniors who are starting from zero and building up. Here's how to do it right:

  • Stand facing a wall, with your feet a few feet from the wall.
  • Lean in slightly and place you hands on the wall just wider than shoulder width.
  • Avoid a wide placement. Spreading your hands too wide will reduce the range of motion of the exercise and reduce overall effectiveness.
  • Slowly and deliberately bend the elbows and move in as close to the wall as possible.
  • Slowly and deliberately push off the wall until your elbows are straight, but not locked.
  • Repeat as many as 20 reps to build strength and endurance.
  • When this exercise becomes too easy, start lowering the surface you are using, as outlined below.

The Basic Incline Push Up

The basic incline push up is done using a bench, table, or other solid surface that is about three feet high. Here's how to do this style correctly:

  • Stand facing the bench, table, or the edge of a bed (see above photo).
  • Place your hands on the edge of the bench just slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Realign your feet so that your arms and body are completely straight.
  • Check that your arms are perpendicular to your body.
  • Perform the movement while keeping your body straight, and bend your elbows to slowly lower your chest to the edge of the bench.
  • Again, keep your body rigid throughout the movement.
  • Return to the start position by pushing your body away from the bench until your elbows are extended, but not locked.
  • Keep going with slow, steady repetitions.

When you can do 20 or more in a row, you may want to reduce the bench height, begin standard, floor push ups, or try doing the incline push up on a less stable surface, such as a stability ball push up, or Bosu ball push up.

Additionally, you can perform them with one leg lifted slightly off the ground to challenge your strength and balance.