Push-ups are one of the go-to bodyweight exercises for building massive pectorals and strong shoulders. Incline and decline push-ups are two of the most popular push-up variations because they don’t require additional equipment beyond an elevated surface to change the angle of your body.
Each of these push-up variations works on different muscles. There are separate advantages to each one, so the best option is to learn how to do decline, incline, and traditional push-ups and cycle through them during your weekly fitness routine.
Read on for the full rundown on decline push-ups, how they stack up against traditional push-ups and incline push-ups, and how you can use all three to get a ripped upper body and a strong core.
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You’re likely already familiar with traditional push-ups from gym class and depictions of boot camps in films and on TV. A surprising amount of people get the form wrong when they do traditional push-ups, which can ruin the gains you would otherwise get from the exercise.
Although you should be pushing with your shoulders and chest muscles, you might also want to concentrate on what your hips are doing. They should never be near the ground but your butt should also not be way up in the air.
Follow these steps to execute the perfect push-up:
- Get down into a high plank position. The best way to do this is to get down on your knees and lean forward.
- Place your hands directly beneath your shoulder. Your feet should be supported by the toe.
- Check your posture. There should be a straight line going from your heels to the top of your head.
- Time to engage the crucial muscle groups: hamstrings, glutes, and core should all be braced.
- Focus at a fixed point a few feet away from your so that your neck stays in a neutral position.
- Lower yourself, allowing your elbows to bend but keeping them close to your body. Keep going until your chest just barely touches the ground, then lift yourself back to the starting position.
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Common Push-Up Mistakes
Whether you’re doing traditional push-ups or an incline/decline variation, some of these common mistakes will wreck your gains and possibly lead to injury. Make sure you aren’t making these errors when you go through your push-up sets:
1. Bending the Spine
Your glutes offer critical support for your spine. When you’re in the high plank position for any push-up variant, you need to engage your glutes to make sure your spine doesn’t sag or bend.
Most people fall into this trap because they can’t see their spine or whether it’s curved. Think about where your shoulder blades are and whether your glutes are activated. You can also have someone spot you to make sure your spine stays straight throughout the movement.
2. Elbows Out Too Far
If you don’t have strength in your shoulders, getting your elbows into the ideal 90-degree angle is much tougher. Many people lt their shoulders leave their sides, causing their body to get into the wrong shape.
Keep your shoulders at much smaller angles to your torso to get the best possible workout from traditional push-ups.
3. Stopping Too Early
Your chest should barely graze the ground at the lowest point of the push-up. There are a variety of reasons you might stop too soon, from fatigue to improper form that makes the action of the push-up too difficult. But the fact remains: incomplete push-ups simply aren’t going to be as effective at growing muscle and functional strength.
If you’re getting close to muscle exhaustion and that’s why you’re not getting down low enough, consider dropping your knees to the floor so you can keep getting reps in with your chest all the way down at the bottom of the movement.
4. Bending Your Neck
Finding that random spot to fixate on is a step in the push-up that most people miss. It’s not meant to make the push-up more stoic or spartanesque. It’s so that your nack stays straight and doesn’t dip your forehead toward the ground.
One of the most common side-effects of doing push-ups with your head in an improper position is neck pain. As with any other exercise, you should stop and reconsider your form if you experience pain doing a push-up.
5. Not Stacking Your Wrists
Stacking your wrists is a critical part of many bodyweight exercises, from side planks to push-ups. Not only will failure to do so risk injury to your wrists, but it can also wreck the rest of your form and render the push-up less effective.
When you’re doing incline and decline push-ups, stacking is even more important because your wrists will be under much more pressure if you don’t stack. When we say stack your wrists, what we mean is that there should be a straight line from your elbow to your wrist.
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What Are Decline Push-Ups?
Decline push-ups are a push-up variation where your feet are higher than your head. This is done by placing them on an elevated surface. It could be a chair, a bench, or a raised platform. All that matters is that your feet are up higher than your head.
While traditional push-ups work your chest muscles, shoulders, arms, and core, the decline variation hones in on your shoulders and upper pecs specifically.
How to Do Decline Push-Ups
Most of the move is the same as basic push-ups. All the requirements for proper form are the same, but getting into position can be a bit tricky when you first start using decline push-ups in your workout routine.
- Squat in front of the elevated surface of your choice. Place your hands out in front of you to stabilize yourself while you kick your feet out behind you onto the elevated surface.
- Remember the rules of a perfect push=up position. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart and directly beneath your shoulders and make sure to stack your wrists. Glute activation is still key for maintaining a straight spine.
- Lower your body by bending at the elbows. Keep them close in at your sides. Depending on how high up your feet are, you may not have your chest graze the floor. The top of your sternum should come close, though.
- Raise back up to the starting position to complete one rep.
As you can see, the decline push-up isn’t so different from a normal push-up. Even though it only has one slight change, the workout it gives your the top part of your pectoralis major makes it an unmissable addition to an upper-body gym day.
Decline Push-Ups Vs Incline Push-Ups
These two push-up variations are basically the mirror image of one another. Decline push-ups have your feet on an elevated surface while incline push-ups require your hands to be on the platform.
Your lower pectoralis gets a bigger workout from incline push-ups. Since decline push-ups work the upper pecs, pairing them with decline push-ups is a great way to hit the entire surface of the pectoral muscle. Your back also gets more activation during an incline push-up.
The form for incline push-ups is the same as basic push-ups and the decline variety. Hands under shoulders, wrists stacked, flat back. Get your chest all the way down and make sure your neck doesn’t bend.
Effect of Angle in Decline & Incline Push-Ups
Both push-up variations have an angle, but just how steep should that angle be? Well, to begin with, we’ll tell you that incline push-ups are generally easier than basic push-ups and decline push-ups are harder.
The higher your elevated surface, the easier the push-up will be. Since incline push-ups are easier already, you might be able to handle a lower surface with them.
In either push-up variation, you can use a wall to get started if you find a lower platform is too difficult. For the inclined push-up, stand a few feet from a wall and lean into it so that your body still has the incline.
Decline push-ups with a wall are a bit more challenging for people with less balance, but just about anyone should be able to nail this move with enough practice. Think of the wall decline push-up as a handstand push-up. Squat with your back to the wall, then get your hands in the right placement and kick your feet up behind you until they’re resting on the wall.
If you want to make decline push-ups easier, use an elevated surface that’s just a few inches off the ground. You’ll be closer to the regular push-up height and should be able to build strength until you can handle more decline push-ups with a more elevated surface.
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Variations of Decline Push-Ups
Many variations of this variation exist. You can make the move much harder and get a better workout for your pectoral muscles, anterior deltoids, triceps, and other muscles. If you’re trying to build muscle for a bigger chest, try a few of these variations on incline and decline push-ups:
This takes more coordination than a standard push-up with both hands but placing one arm behind your back in any kind of push-up will make the move more difficult for the arm you are using. Just make sure you remember to switch back to the other arm so you can build upper-body strength evenly on both sides.
You can also raise one leg in the air throughout the range of motion of a push-up. This alternation to the push-up position causes more activation in your core, lower back, shoulders, and hamstrings. As with one-armed push-ups, you need to remember to switch sides to get an even workout.
Explosive energy like what’s used in this push-up variation can add a bit of cardio to your workout routine. While many bodybuilders correctly stay away from long-distance cardio that might kill their gains, brief explosive cardio will actually help build muscle.
When you’re in the lowest point of a push-up, push through your palms so that your hands leave the ground. Clap once before putting yoru hands back down and landing softly into the standard push-up position.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lift them alternatively after completing each rep. This push-up variation combines the benefits of push-ups with the biceps-building effectiveness of other strength training exercises like biceps curls and rows.
After each rep, pull one of your knees up to meet the elbow on the same side of your body. Alternate between reps to get more lower-body activation during your push-up sets.
How to Increase Your Push-Up Count
Many bodybuilding enthusiasts struggle constantly to do more push-ups. Just like many exercises can help increase your pull-up count, you can build push-up strength with some of the following exercises.
1. Chest Press
The movement in a chest press is similar to how you would handle a barbell during a bench press. For this strength training exercise, though, you need a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing down toward your feet.
Lie down on a flat bench and hold the dumbbells out to each side with your elbows at 90-degree angles. Lift the dumbbells above your chest until your hands are together.
Many bodybuilding enthusiasts ignore this bodyweight exercise because it doesn’t have the same macho appeal as strength training with heavy weights. Not only will this common mistake rob you of a great warm-up and cool-down exercise, but you’ll also be missing out on some great core-building action.
All you have to do is get into a push-up position. But instead of having your palms on the ground, your forearms will be. Make your hands into fists and lift yourself until your back is straight. Hold that position for as long as possible, resting between reps.
You can also use side planks to build your obliques. It’s the same idea as normal planks, except you’ll only have one arm on the ground while the other one can be at your side. Make sure to do side planks an even amount of times on each side of your body.
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3. Diamond Push-Ups
For this push-up variation, your palms will be in the same place as they are for basic push-ups. Make a diamond by touching your index fingers and thumbs together.
It might not seem like making such a small alteration will make a huge difference, but the narrower hand placement targets your pecs and triceps much more. For really well-rounded upper body strength, throw diamond push-ups into your workout routine along with the incline and decline variations.
Tips for Perfect Decline Push-Ups
In addition to proper form, you can get the most out of your push-up sets using the following tips.
For one thing, make sure to take sufficient rest between sets. This will prevent overtraining your muscles and give them time to recover a bit before putting them under pressure again.
Also, take care not to do push-ups every single day. Even though they’re such a critical bodyweight exercise, a common mistake is to wake up and do push-ups each morning. It’s better to wait two days until your muscles can rebuild and have time for hypertrophy to kick in, especially if you’re doing tough decline push-ups or adding plyometric motion to your push-ups.
Rest is important, but it’s also vital to keep pushing your body to its limits. Do as many push-ups as you can stand during each set and try to increase that number consistently each week. If you hit a plateau in your push-up count, you might want to try harder variations, adding weight, or using a resistance band.
Keep track of how many push-ups you can do each week so you can build that number up. If you don’t write your count somewhere, there’s no way to know if you’re getting better.
For decline push-ups specifically, make sure you’re not using a platform that will move. Just as you should try to increase your count, you should also try to build up enough strength to use an elevated surface that’s about three feet off the ground.
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Push-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises because they work so many different muscles in your body. Most people include them in their weekly workout routines already, but not as many folks know about the additional benefits of incline and decline push-ups.
Since these variations work different muscles, it’s best to include all three in your routine. Maybe you don’t need to do all three on the same day, but varying the workout will keep your muscles from getting used to the strain.
Other push-up variations like diamond push-ups are also great inclusions for any arm workout. If you want to get massive chiseled pecs and strong shoulders, bring in the decline push-up and the two other variations and you’ll have a more well-rounded program.
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