Last Updated on May 21, 2023 by Michael Brockbank
I’m a fan of bodyweight exercises of all kinds. Mostly, it’s because of the practical benefits, such as lifting heavier groceries or moving furniture around the house. Today, we’re going to look at decline push-ups and why you’d want to do them.
These are a bit higher on the difficulty meter. That’s because you’re moving your center of gravity higher on your body, which puts greater pressure on the chest and arms.
Essentially, you’re increasing the resistance you need to exert in order to push yourself up. It would be like adding a few weights on your shoulders while doing regular push-ups.
What is a Decline Push-up?
A decline push-up is just like any other with one notable exception; your feet are higher up from the ground. This shifts the center of gravity and increases the amount of effort needed to push yourself up.
The idea is that this increase in effort puts additional strain on various muscle groups to perform the action.
Although it is more difficult than traditional push-ups, it can be made easier by adjusting the height at which your feet rest. I’ll go over modifying decline push-ups in a moment.
In a traditional push-up, you’re pushing against roughly 70% of your body weight. Of course, this depends greatly on your physiology, as some may be more or less.
When you position your feet approximately 12 inches from the ground, your weight shifts, and you are then pushing against roughly 71% of your weight. In my case, this was the difference between 168.2 pounds vs 174.2 pounds.
Six pounds might not sound like a lot until you’re about four or five reps into your set. You’ll definitely feel the difference between the two exercises.
How to Do Decline Push-ups Properly
First, you’ll need a raised surface such as a bench, couch, chair, or bed. In reality, you can use virtually anything that will support a bit of your body weight as well as stay stable enough while moving.
A lot of people will use exercise balls of varying sizes depending on how difficult they want to make the workout. This not only dials up the resistance, but you’ll also need to focus on stability, which causes various muscles throughout your body to fire while balancing on the ball.
Next, you’ll want to position yourself where your feet are on the object of choice while stretching your body out, hands on the floor. Think of getting ready for a regular push-up, but instead putting your feet on the raised surface.
Make sure your hands are under your shoulders and your elbows are pointed slightly inward.
Once you’re ready, tighten your core, glutes, and quads while bending your elbows to lower yourself to the floor. Don’t forget to keep your back straight while looking down.
Push yourself back up to the starting position. This counts as a single rep.
Modifying Your Decline Push-ups
Like most other bodyweight exercises, there are ways to adjust the difficulty of decline push-ups. And for the most part, it really doesn’t take much on your behalf.
Turning Down the Difficulty
First of all, you can make these push-ups much easier to manage by lowering the height at which you put your feet. Instead of 12 inches off the ground, such as using a couch, you could use a small, yet stable, block and start with just one or two inches.
For example, I have a cement step leading to the backyard of my house that is about four inches tall. This would be far easier for decline push-ups as opposed to the much taller couch.
Though, if you’re interested in declines, I suggest strengthening your core a bit. This could be in the form of regular push-ups or planks.
Ramping it Up to Maximum Effort!
Now, let’s talk about dialing the effort to eleven.
There are a few ways you can make decline push-ups far more difficult. However, I do want to stress that you should always err on the side of safety. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.
Not taking things easy is how people tear muscles, ligaments, break bones, and otherwise cause all kinds of injuries while working out.
Anyway, let’s take a look at making these push-ups harder as you progress.
- Increase how high you rest your feet using taller surfaces.
- Increase the height with a large stability ball. As I said, it greatly shifts your center of gravity while forcing you to work on balance at the same time.
- Use one leg at a time. This helps with balance as well as making the push-ups more difficult.
- Use one arm. Though, if you can’t do one-arm push-ups normally, I don’t suggest doing this.
- Add in dumbbells. Instead of putting your hands on the floor, grip dumbbells. Then, after your first rep, lift one of the dumbbells. Then, alternate arms as you perform each rep.
Again, make sure you’re not putting yourself under any undue strain or in a dangerous position. Your ego will do a vast amount of damage to your body if it’s not kept in check.
Also, remember that the taller the surface, the greater the percentage of your body weight you’ll be pressing against.
6 Things to Avoid During Decline Push-ups
As with normal push-ups, a decline has similar do’s and don’ts attached. Here are several things you’ll want to avoid when doing this exercise.
A few are quite obvious, but they need to be said.
Not Keeping Yourself Straight
One of the biggest issues a lot of people have when first doing push-ups is not keeping their bodies straight. This usually results in a “sag” in the middle.
Not only does this take away from the overall effects of the push-up, but it can also contribute to back pain. Try to remain as straight as possible.
This is one of the reasons why I suggest starting with planks if you’re new to bodyweight exercises.
Locking Your Elbows
Never lock your elbows when doing any kind of a push-up. There should always be a bit of a bend in your arms.
Not only does this keep the workout centered on the muscles, but it’ll prevent putting too much strain on your joints. I’ve personally seen some severe joint injuries due to locking an elbow. In one case, an arm bent completely backward, hyper-extending the joint.
In reality, I can’t think of a single bodyweight exercise where you would want to lock any joint in your body.
Hands in the Improper Position
Another common fault of new exercisers is the placement of the hands on the floor. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders when you’re at the top of your reps.
If they are too far forward or backward, it can cause greater strain on the shoulder and wrist joints, which could lead to injury.
Not Doing a Full Rep
Now, you might be tempted to do quick repetitions without going all the way up or down while doing decline push-ups. The problem is that this lack of range doesn’t work out the muscles nearly as much as it would otherwise.
This is true with a wide range of workouts as well as weight lifting. If you want to reap the full benefits, you need to do the full rep.
Pain in the Neck
While doing push-ups of any variety, look at the ground while performing them. Lifting your head up to see what’s in front of you puts a great deal of strain on your neck.
This is especially true with declines as the angle of your body is much greater due to your feet being higher up from the ground.
Not Using a Study Surface
Lastly, make sure you’re using a sturdy surface. The last thing you want is for your surface to slide out from under you while pushing up from the ground. Imagine your knees crashing into the floor at a high velocity as your weight suddenly shifts.
In other words, you probably don’t want to use an office chair.
This is why I’ll use the couch, a cement step in the backyard, or another piece of furniture that will not move easily.
The only exception to this is when using the stability ball. But the whole purpose of using the ball is to work on balance and keep your feet stable. Just make sure you’re taking safety precautions in case the ball squirts out from under you.
Benefits of Doing Decline Push-ups
Basically, the primary benefit of doing decline push-ups is the amount of sheer effort that is involved. You’re increasing the amount of energy and strength needed to perform several repetitions. This, in turn, contributes to greater strength training.
From a practical standpoint, push-ups focus work on the chest, shoulders, and core. All of these muscle groups are used in so much of day-to-day life, especially when it comes to pushing.
Another aspect of decline push-ups no one really talks about is how it affects lifting heavy objects around the house. For instance, when I carry a five-gallon jug of water into the house, I can feel most of my core muscles firing in addition to my biceps.
It’s lifestyle elements such as this that gain benefits from bodyweight workouts.
Muscles Worked While Doing Decline Push-ups
Your upper chest, shoulders, and triceps are the primary muscles worked when doing a decline push-up. However, they also help improve abs, obliques, glutes, and the serratus anterior. This is the muscle group in the shape of a fan that rests under your armpit and pecs.
What Are Your Favorite Push-ups?
There are a lot of variants for the push-up. One of my favorites is the Spider-Man Push-up. But I think that’s because I have a bit of a superhero complex and will try anything with a Marvel-esque theme.
If you’re not a fan of decline push-ups, what kind do you fancy most?