Decline Push Up

1 Minute Plank is Equivalent to How Many Push-Ups

If you’ve spent any time working out, you’ve probably come across the decline push up.

This is a variation of the classic exercise where you elevate your feet on a chair or a bench, forcing you to push a greater percentage of your body weight. This makes the resistance harder, resulting in one of the toughest push ups. It’s a must-have in any push up workout, and works your chest muscles at a different angle.

As a result, you place a significant emphasis on your upper chest muscles and cause higher mechanical tension. So in developing the upper pecs it creates good balance in your overall pec development.

Decline Push Ups Technique

You’ll need something to elevate your feet – a box, chair, bench, or similar. The higher the surface, the more challenging the exercise will be. But if the push up gets too steep it becomes more of a shoulder exercise versus chest. More on that below. 

Practice good alignment and core stability during this pushup.

  1. Position yourself facing away from the elevated surface and place your feet on top of it.
  2. Move out until your body is extended, and plant your hands on the floor and to your sides. Your elbows should be over your wrists and flared out to about 45 degrees.
  3. Engage your core muscles (glutes, abs, etc.) to straighten your body and extend your elbows. Make sure that your shoulders are back and the chest is out.
  4. Take a breath and descend until your chin is almost touching the floor.
  5. Push through your chest and, as you’re extending your elbows, exhale.
Decline Push Up Form

What Muscles Do Decline Push Ups Work?

In general, the push up works four primarily muscle groups: pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulders), triceps, and serratus anterior. Because of the stability requirements, the push up also improves your core stability and helps you become more balanced. (1)

Decline push ups are similar but also have a couple of differences. Because of your body’s position, the decline push up emphasizes your upper chest (clavicular head of the pectoral) while also working your front deltoids, triceps, and serratus anterior.

The clavicular region is the upper portion of the muscle, and the sternal region makes the middle-to-lower portion of the muscle. When you’re angled down in this movement, it will put more emphasis on the clavicular chest head. A normal pushup, on the other hand, only focuses on the sternal portion of the pectoralis major. (2)

Moreover, the decline pushups also activate the anterior deltoids, the front of your shoulders, into working more intensely than they would in a regular pushup. That would make the decline pushup a good shoulder exercise.

Click for more detail on muscles worked doing decline push ups.

When the Decline Push Up Gets Too Steep

When the angle gets more steep (declined), the upper chest gets more activated. However, if you do the elevation too high, the shoulders begin doing the primary work as you do the pushups, and the chest only acts as assisting muscles. This is when you get in an almost handstand position with this pushup.

This movement also helps you develop your core more because the stability requirements are higher.

Important Considerations For The Decline Push Ups

Decline push ups are among the most challenging variations of the exercise, so you should start your push workout with them. So, in other words, do them first in the rotation.

For example:

  • Decline push ups – 4 sets of 6 to 15 reps
  • Bench press – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
  • Dumbbell chest fly – 3 sets of 12 to 20 reps
  • Tricep extensions – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

You can also use push up stands to keep your wrists in a more favorable position and extend the range of motion for a better stretch at the bottom.

Also, you need to keep your back straight as you perform the exercise. This means avoiding arching your back as much as possible. Engage all your body – core and glutes – to stabilize your spine. Instead of looking up, maintain a neutral neck by looking down. Make your back and neck aligned with each other. 

What Makes The Push Up Such a Fantastic Movement

The push up is a unique exercise because you can do them anywhere. You don’t need equipment or a gym. All you have to do is make use of your body and good old biomechanics. (3)

Also, you need to keep your back straight as you perform the exercise. For avoiding arching your back to the most, it is important you tilt your pelvic region towards a backward position. Engage all your body core and glutes to stabilize your spine. Instead of looking up, maintain a neutral neck by looking down. Make your back and neck aligned with each other. For protecting your shoulder, don’t flare your elbows; instead, keep them at 45 degrees.

Just like every other form of exercise, decline pushups need you to have a proper form so they can work effectively on the muscles of the body. Having a proper technique will save you from incidences of injury and pain.

Push ups are also fantastic because they develop the serratus anterior, promote shoulder stability, and you can modify them to emphasize different portions of your chest. For example, the classic push up trains the mid and lower chest better, where the decline push up emphasizes your upper chest more.

You can also make the push up more challenging as you get stronger. In the case of decline push ups, you can loop a resistance band behind your body for extra resistance. You can also fill a backpack with heavy objects (books, for example) and wear it for each set.

Modifying Decline Pushups

If the decline pushup feels too easy to do, you can also add some elevation to make things more fun. Some of the ways you can modify your decline pushups are suggested as below:

Stability Ball Push Ups – the incline pushup using hands on a stability ball helps you increase stability in the exercise to a significant degree.

Medicine Ball Pushups – the standard pushup using one hand over a medicine ball works over the shoulder using a slightly different ROM or range of motion increases the overall stability at shoulders.

Alternative Medicine Ball Pushups – the variation will increase the core stability and the modified range of motion in the basic pushup movement. You will need to roll the medicine ball between your hands after the reps and add new balancing challenges.

The Clapping Push Ups – the plyometric exercise pushes oneself using power so that the hands come off the ground, and you can clap in the air.

The decline push up is the highest resistance push up you can do, and a great bodyweight exercise. Click for more bodyweight exercises.

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David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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  1. MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Which muscles do pushups work?: Pictures and guide. Medical News Today.
  2. Leaf Group. (n.d.). Push-ups that target the inner chest | livestrong. LIVESTRONG.COM.
  3. Biomechanics in sport. Physiopedia. (n.d.).

Click to see our medical disclosure.