How to Do Incline Pushups

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

A woman on morning workout outdoors. Incline press-up.
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Targets: Chest, shoulders

Level: Beginner

Incline pushups are a great way to start a pushup routine if you have trouble doing the basic pushup. 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 pushups can be done just about anywhere. All you need is a stable surface such as a table, desk, or wall. 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. It can be used as part of a bodyweight exercise routine. Even if you are able to do floor pushups, incline pushups are a nice pre-exercise warmup routine or a post-exercise stretch.

Benefits

This simple movement targets the main muscles of the chest, the pectoralis major and minor. In addition to exercising the chest, the incline pushup 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.

Incline pushups are the perfect compromise if you find that a standard pushup is too difficult or you have trouble easily getting down to the floor (and back up again). Incline pushups can allow you to progress from a simple "push away" from a nearly standing position using a wall and then moving to a table, countertop, or sturdy chair, and eventually to a low step or bench.

Step-by-Step Instructions

The basic incline pushup is done using a bench, table, or another solid surface that is about 3 feet high. Here's how to do this style correctly:

  1. Stand facing the bench, table, or the edge of a bed.
  2. Place your hands on the edge of the bench just slightly wider than shoulder width. Your arms are straight but elbows are not locked. Align your feet so that your arms and body are completely straight.
  3. Bend your elbows to slowly lower your chest to the edge of the bench while inhaling. Keep your body straight and rigid throughout the movement.
  4. Push your body away from the bench until your elbows are extended, but not locked. Exhale as you push up.
  5. Keep going with slow, steady repetitions.

Common Mistakes

To get the most from this move, avoid these errors.

Wide Hand Placement

The most common error is placing your hands too far apart. Spreading your hands too wide will reduce the range of motion of the exercise and reduce overall effectiveness.

Poor Alignment

Keep your upper and lower body in straight alignment without slumping, sagging, or bending your hips or knees. You should have a straight line from head to toe. If you have difficulty maintaining this alignment, you may have weak abdominal and core muscles. Working on them can help you maintain good form.

Short Range of Motion

You need to do each rep through your full range of motion, from straight arms to your arms fully bent (or nose grazing the bench). If you are unable to do this full range, begin with a bench that is higher or use a wall and get as close to the wall as you can while still doing a full range of motion.

Modifications and Variations

The incline pushup is easy to modify by varying 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 pushup from the floor.

Need a Modification?

If starting from a 3-foot surface is too challenging, the least aggressive incline pushup is done using the wall to create the incline. Here's how to do it right:

  1. Stand facing a wall, with your feet a few feet from the wall.
  2. Lean in slightly and place your hands on the wall just wider than shoulder width.
  3. Slowly and deliberately bend the elbows and move in as close to the wall as possible, inhaling.
  4. Slowly and deliberately push off the wall until your elbows are straight, but not locked. Exhale as you push up.
  5. Repeat as many as 20 reps to build strength and endurance.

When this exercise becomes too easy, start lowering the surface you are using.

Up for a Challenge?

When you can do 20 or more basic incline pushups in a row, you may want to reduce the bench height, begin standard floor pushups, or try doing the incline pushup on a less stable surface, such as a stability ball pushup, or BOSU ball pushup. From there you can work your way to decline pushups if you need more intensity. Additionally, you can perform them with one leg lifted slightly off the ground to challenge your strength and balance.

Safety and Precautions

You should not do pushups if you have a shoulder injury. If you feel shoulder pain during the pushup or hear a clicking noise in your shoulder, end the exercise. Incline pushups are easier on the wrists and elbows than floor pushups, but you should use caution if you have any wrist or elbow injury. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist to see if this is an appropriate exercise.

Try It Out

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

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