What Is a Decline Push-Up?
The decline push-up is a progression of the standard basic push-up. This is where you will place your feet on an elevated surface, such as a chair or table, which will put your body at a steeper angle. When you perform a decline push-up, your upper chest and front delts will have to support most of your weight.
Decline push-ups are considered an intermediate to advanced exercise as they are more difficult to perform. They will require to fully master the basic push up first. The reason they are more difficult to perform is that, unlike the basic push up that spreads the resistance evenly throughout your upper body, the decline push-up will put the most stress towards your upper chest and shoulders. Mastering decline push-ups will help you add strength and size to your upper chest and shoulders, which should in turn allow you to perform pike push ups and eventually handstands!
According to research in a longitudinal cohort study of 1,104 occupationally active participants: those who can complete more than 40 push-ups were associated with a significant decrease in the occurrence of cardiovascular disease compared with those who can do fewer than 10 push-ups.
What Muscles are Worked by Decline Push-Ups?
Decline push-ups activate the upper chest and front shoulders. The primary muscles worked are the pectoralis major, triceps, and anterior deltoids. The secondary muscles worked are the serratus anterior, abdominals, obliques, quadriceps, and glutes.
What Level are Decline Push-Ups?
This exercise is for the intermediate level and above as your body is at a toward angle which forces you to lift more of your body weight. Decline push-ups are more intense than regular push-ups, so make sure you master them before progressing on to this variation.
How to perform Decline Push-Ups
It is highly recommended that you begin with a lower platform as it will place less load on your upper body, which will make decline push-ups easier to perform. Once you have mastered the lower platform, you can move onto a higher platform to increase the intensity.
1. Begin On All Fours
Start on all fours with your hands on the ground at a shoulder-width position. Shoulders are stacked directly on top of your wrists and fingers are pointed forward. Carefully place your feet onto an elevated surface, one step at a time.
Realign your body and engage your glutes and core to ensure your body is in a straight line. Your arms are fully locked out and your body should now be at a downward slope. This is your starting position.
2. Gradually Lower Down
Inhale as you gradually lower your chest down towards the ground. Keep your elbows close to the body rather than flaring out. Ensure that your body is straight, without sagging or arching the hips. Lower down until your triceps are parallel to the ground.
3. Gradually Push Up
Exhale as you push back up to the starting position. Your elbows are locked out and your body remains rigid. This will ensure a full range of motion.
Repeat this movement for a desired number of repetitions (see the recommended reps and sets ranges below). Once you have mastered the low platform, you can move onto a higher platform to increase the intensity.
Decline Push-Ups Workout
- Beginners should perform between 3-5 reps, for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
- Intermediate-level athletes should perform between 6-17 reps, for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
- Advanced-level athletes should perform 18+ reps or more for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
You should move on to harder variations once you have achieved your reps and set goals, I recommend you check out these push-up variations to increase the intensity of your workouts.
What are the Benefits of Decline Push-Ups?
Build Strong Upper Chest
Decline push-ups put your body at a downward slope which places more weight on the upper chest and front deltoids. It will not only increase your upper body strength but will also improve your physique, and will have your upper body conditioned for advanced skills such as the handstand. If you want to learn how to balance yourself upside down, check out this complete handstand tutorial.
Protect Your Shoulders
The rotator cuff is a muscle that allows your joints and tendons to function. The stronger your shoulders, the better they are at preventing injuries. Decline push-ups will develop the stabilizer muscles that surround your rotator cuffs, which may help shield you from rotator cuff injuries. I have written an article where I cover 5 different exercises to prevent rotator cuff injury in this shoulder injury prevention for calisthenics article.
Develop Your Core
Walking down the beach to show off those sets of washboard abs is any fitness junkie’s dream. If you’d like this see this as a reality, you’d need to do a solid amount of push-ups to secure that amazing core you’ve always wished for. With proper form, your core will be actively engaged to keep your body rigid. Combining this with cardio and a good diet will have your abs popping.
Decline Push-Ups Variations
Upper Chest Push-Ups
Forward Grip Push-Ups
This is a great exercise to develop the upper chest. It is a tweak to the regular push-ups where you will place your palms further forward (around 45 degrees angle) rather than it being stacked directly underneath your shoulders. To perform this, you will:
- Begin in plank position where your hands are at shoulder-width and are placed further in front at around 45 degrees. Engage your core and glutes to ensure a straight line along your body. This is your starting position.
- Inhale as you dive your body forward to lower your chest towards the ground. Keep your core engaged.
- Exhale as you push through the heel of your hands to return back to the starting position. Squeeze your chest at the top position, and lock your arms out fully to ensure a full range of motion.
- Repeat this movement between 4-16 reps for 4 sets.
Pike push-up is an excellent variation that puts emphasis on the shoulders, triceps, and upper chest. This variation will require you to lower your head from a yoga downward dog position, then pushing back up. This is an intermediate-level exercise. To perform this, you will:
- Begin on all fours with your hands at the shoulder-width position, and arms fully locked out. Walk your feet forward to form an inverted V shape or a downward dog pose. Keep your core tight, back flat, and engage your glutes and hamstrings. This is your starting position.
- Inhale as you lower your head until your head touches the ground. Keep your core tight and body rigid.
- Exhale as your push back up to the starting position. Lock your arms out to ensure a full range of motion.
- Repeat this movement between 3-10 reps for 4 sets.
Push-Ups For Lower Chest
Psuedo push-up is a progression to the standard push-up. The position of your hands will be as close to the hips as possible, which puts a larger load on your shoulders, biceps, and core, causing them to work harder. To perform this, you will:
- Begin in a plank position with your hands posited as close to the hips as possible at shoulder-width. Your shoulders will be in front of your hands, and your hands are rotated outwards at 45 degrees. Keep tension on your core, glutes, and quadriceps. Your shoulders are depressed and scapulars are protracted. This is your starting position.
- Inhale as your bend your elbows to lower your body towards the floor. Lower until your triceps are parallel to the floor. Keep tension in your core and legs to maintain a straight line.
- Exhale as you return back to the starting position.
- Repeat this movement between 3-10 reps for 4 sets.
Explosive Incline Push-Ups
This variation is a plyometric exercise that works on the lower chest. You will place your hands on an elevated surface and include a jumping element during the push-up phase to increase power and explosiveness. To perform this, you will:
- Begin in a plank position with your hands placed on an elevated surface such as a chair, or a plyometric box. Engage your glutes and core to ensure your body is in a straight line. This is your starting position.
- Inhale as your lower your body towards the ground until your chest almost touches the platform.
- Exhale as you explosively push back up so that your hands leave the floor.
- Land lightly on the platform and immediately resume the next rep. Repeat this movement between 5- 14 reps for 4 sets.
Are Decline Push-Ups Harder Than Normal Push-Ups?
Yes, definitely because the downward angle of a decline push-up will put more load onto your chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles which forces you to push more of your body weight. Incline push-ups are easier than normal and decline push-ups as more of your body weight is transferred to your legs.
The Takeaways: Decline Push-Ups
A decline push-up is an advanced upper body exercise that works on your shoulders, chest, triceps, and core muscles. This exercise is great because you can do them anywhere, you don’t need equipment or a gym. All you have to do is modify the angle of your body to use gravity to your advantage. Over time, you can make your body steeper to intensify this exercise.
If you enjoyed reading this article, I recommend you to check out these follow-along workouts:
All Push Exercises
I’m Pat Chadwick, a qualified Level 2 and Level 3 calisthenics coach and athlete from London, England, with six years of experience. I’ve competed in various UK competitions, including the Kalos Stenos Championships, where I achieved third place in the lightweight category. My passion is highlighting the beauty of calisthenics as an authentic and pure form of body expression. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a champion of their body and mind, and that calisthenics opens the door to personal empowerment.