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Incline Push-Ups Build up All the Arm Strength You Need to ‘Drop and Gimme 20’

Zoe Weiner

Zoe WeinerJune 6, 2020

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Recently, our minds were completely blown when trainers told us that you should never, ever do push-ups from your knees. Because apparently, that’s a sure-fire way to keep you from building up enough strength to be able to do an actual push-up. But now that our go-to modification is suddenly a no-go,  how else are we supposed to build up to mastering the move in full form? The answer, according to pros, is to start by doing them on an incline.

What is an incline push-up

Incline push-ups make the traditional move slightly easier by elevating your hands, which changes the plane you’re moving your body from. This gives you more leverage, and lightens the load that you have to lift each time you physically push your chest up. “Instead of having both your hands and feet grounded on the floor, in an incline push-up, your hands are planted on an elevated surface, such as a box step, weight bench, stair steps, countertop, or racked barbell,” says Brianna Bernard, Isopure athlete and personal trainer. “They’re easier than regular push-ups because you are lifting less of your own bodyweight and they reduce pressure on your shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints.”

The benefits of incline push-ups

Though raising your push-up on top of the platform requires a smaller range of motion than one you’d do on the floor the move requires a smaller motion, that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. Incline push-ups work your deltoids (shoulders) and triceps (arms), and actually work your shoulders and upper chest more than an OG push-up does. In addition to the primary muscles that they hit Bernard adds that incline push-ups require you to engage your abs, low back, glutes, hips and legs, which she says are necessary for maintaining proper form. This becomes especially important as you start to get tired (and ideally work your muscles to exhaustion), as it will keep your mid-body from collapsing and messing with the effectiveness of the move.

How to start doing incline push-ups

A general rule to keep in mind? The higher the incline, the easier the push-up will be. The further your chest is from your feet, the smaller your range of motion will be, which means you won’t have to move as much weight each time you raise and lower your chest. “If you are a beginner to incline push-ups, I recommend starting with the highest incline possible,” says Bernard. She’s a fan of using a set of stairs with your feet on the ground and your hands on the fourth step, then working your way down to the third step, then the second step, then the first step until you’re ready to move to floor.

“The best way to work your way up to it is to do them three at a time, then work your way up to five, then eight, and so on,” says trainer Oscar Smith. Once you’re comfortable doing a full set push-ups on an incline, you’ll have enough strength to progress to the full expression on the floor.

Proper incline push-up form

With incline push-ups, you’ll want to keep the same standard practices in mind as you would for a regular push-up. Squeeze your core, engage your glutes, and try to keep your body in one straight line from your head down to your ankles—avoid raising or lowering your hips, and keep your gaze fixed on the mat.

1. Place your feet on the floor and your hands on an elevated surface (a chair, a table, a bench, a stair) slightly farther apart than your shoulders.

2. Inhale as you bend your elbows to lower your chest down to kiss the bench, keeping your core and glutes engaged to maintain a straight line down the back of your body.

3. Exhale to straighten your arms and push straight up, continuing to squeeze your core and glutes.

4. Repeat until your muscles fatigue.

Push-up variations

Once you’ve perfected the art of the incline push-up, there are a number of other push-up variations you can try in order to amplify the move and work different muscles. Try one of these moves, listed here from easiest to most challenging.

1. Traditional push-up

There’s a reason why the traditional push-up has stood the test of time as a fitness class staple. It works your chest, shoulders, and core, and challenges you to move the weight of your entire body. Start in a high plank position, then inhale as you bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor, squeezing your abs and glutes to keep your body in a straight line (be sure not to raise your butt or drop your hips, as it will prevent you from reaping the full benefits of the move). Exhale to push back up to start.

2. Tricep push-up

To fire up an entirely different set of upper-body muscles, drop down into a tricep push-up. Lower down to the floor keeping your elbows close to your body (instead of going out to the side, the way they would in a regular push-up), until they’re parallel to your shoulders. Straighten your arms to push back up, keeping your abs engaged, your hips directly in line with your shoulders, and your tailbone tucked in.

3. Decline push-up

Instead of placing your hands on a raised surface, decline push-ups require you to raise your feet. “Decline push-ups work more the upper back, core, and upper chest, and are harder than incline push-ups,” says Smith. Place your feet on top of an elevated surface (a chair, a bench, stairs, a coffee table) and your hands slightly farther apart than your shoulders. Inhale as you bend your elbows to lower your chest down to the floor until your nose nearly touches the mat, engaging your glutes and core to keep your body in a straight line and moving as a single unit. Exhale to straighten your arms and push back up.

4. Spiderman push-up

Touted as the “impossible push-up,” Spiderman push-ups up the ante on the move by challenging your obliques. As you lower down into a standard push-up from the floor, pull your knee toward your elbow to crunch your side body. Return to start, then repeat on the other side.

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