Push Ups are a great bodyweight exercise to strengthen your upper body because they involve compound movements and work a number of muscle groups at once. Not only do push ups strengthen your chest, shoulders and triceps, but they also work your entire core.
Push ups are a great core exercise because they are essentially moving planks. But that is also what makes them so challenging. You’ve got to learn to engage your core to keep your body in a nice straight line as you lower your body down toward the ground and then press back up to perform the push up.
That is why Knee Push Ups may not be the way to go if you want to improve your basic push up form. While modifying push ups by doing them from your knees can lessen the amount of resistance or weight that your upper body must carry while performing the press, it doesn’t force your core to engage the same way it would during the full push up.
So while Knee Push Ups can help you strengthen your upper body and improve the strength of your chest, shoulders, triceps, and even your core, they won’t force you to engage your core in the same way you will need to for full push ups.
When you do a full push up, you’ve got to engage your entire core, from your shoulders to your knees, to keep your body in a nice straight line throughout the entire movement.
You need to squeeze your legs together and engage your adductors like you are squeezing something between your legs. You’ve got to flex your quads and engage your glutes to help prevent your hips from sagging or your butt going up in the air.
You have to brace your abs to protect your lower back and make sure your upper and lower halves move in unison instead of performing a worm-like movement as you press. And you’ve got to even engage your back to support your shoulders and prevent your back from rounding or you shoulders from shrugging. You want your body to be nice and straight like a board.
More muscles than you may even realize have to work in unison to perform the full push up. And recruiting them correctly as you do the movement isn’t easy. But Incline Push Ups make it easier to learn how.
Incline Push Ups are a great way to modify the full push up while forcing your body to have to work and recruit muscles in the same way you would for the full push up because you are still performing the moving plank from your toes. The Incline Push Up is simply easier because you lessen the amount of weight and resistance your upper body and core has to handle by placing your hands up on an incline.
The higher the incline you use, the easier the push up will be. And as you get stronger, you simply can lower the incline to make the move harder. But because you are recruiting the same muscles in the same way no matter how high the incline, you will have a better chance of achieving that full push up more quickly than if you only ever do Knee Push Ups.
To do Incline Push Up, you can use anything for the incline – a wall, bench, shelf or bar at an appropriate height that allows you to drop your chest all the way down to the incline while your body stays in a straight line.
Place your hands on the incline with your hands right outside your chest and your body in a nice straight line with your feet together. You may want to set up at the bottom of the push up with your chest against the incline so that you know your chest will hit the incline right at nipple height between your hands.
By setting up at the bottom, you can make sure that your arms will form an arrow shape with your body and that your chest will hit at about nipple height.
Then drive back through your heels to engage your quads as you brace your core and squeeze your legs together. With your body in a nice straight line, press up from the bar, extending your arms out fully as your body moves as one unit. Do not round your back at the top.
Make sure your shoulders don’t shrug as you push up and that your hips don’t sag or your butt doesn’t go up in the air. Do not tuck your chin in toward your chest or let your head jut forward.
Then keeping your core braced, lower your chest back down to the bar and do not let your elbows flare way up by your shoulders. Remember, you want to keep your arms down so that your triceps and body create an arrow shape not a “T.”
Even at the bottom of the push up, do not relax. Keep everything engaged so you can press right back up. As the incline becomes easier, make it lower and lower. If your form starts to falter, do fewer reps from the lower incline or regress the incline and bring it back up. Work your way down to that full push up from the ground!
While this Incline Push Up will be a better way to work up to the full push up, that doesn’t mean you can’t still use the Knee Push Up, especially if you don’t have access to a setup you can use for an incline at the time. Knee Push Ups can still improve your upper body and core strength. The Incline Push Up will just help you get there faster!
For more on improving your push ups, check out these tips and exercises.
Or if you want to have some fun with your push ups and really work your core, check out these 31 Push Up Variations!
Cori is the owner of Redefining Strength, a functional training facility in Orange County, California focused on helping each client find their strong. She started training and writing a fitness blog in 2011 because she wanted to empower people through diet and exercise so that they can lead healthier, happier lives.