Whether the aim is to one day impress others with an enviable perfect hand-stand, or more modestly to improve the strength and endurance of the muscles needed for everyday functional movements, the pike push up is a great choice!
This demanding push-up variation will build strength in your upper body and shoulders as well as demanding stability from your core. As a bodyweight exercise, it requires no equipment but before you dive in, be aware this is not an exercise suited for beginners, those with injury to the shoulders or elbows, nor is it recommended if you are prone to dizziness.
Providing you don’t tick any of those boxes, let’s guide you through perfecting the pike push-up so that you can reap the benefits of this shoulder powerhouse!
How to do Pike Push-Ups
Step 1. From standing, keep your legs straight and bend at the hips to reach your hands down to your toes (or as far as is possible towards the ground).
Step 2. Walk your hands out in front of you until your palms are comfortably flat on the ground, with your arms out straight. Your legs should also be straight but not locked at the knees, and you should have your heels raised, or flat to the ground (raising your heels will add challenge, more on this later).
You should now have created an A-frame with your body (some refer to this shape as an inverted V frame). This is your starting position and for those who are familiar with yoga, it is the same position as the ‘downward facing dog’
Step 3. Check your arms are roughly shoulder width apart and begin to bend your elbows to carefully lower your upper body to the ground. Maintain a straight back, as the crown of your head moves towards the floor. You should be looking through your legs not down to the ground.
Step 4. Do not let the crown of your head actually touch the ground. Instead, drive your hands and toes into the ground to stabilise your body before you straighten your elbows to push back up to the starting position.
Step 5. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, between 5-8 is recommended with a rest of around 1 minute between 2 or 3 sets. Always keep in mind that form, i.e. balance and stability, is far more important than the number of repetitions even if this means only completing 2-3 repetitions in the early days.
Pike Push Up Variations
Remember, pike push-ups are a demanding exercise, even decreasing the challenge with the ideas below may prove too difficult unless you already have some the strength in your shoulders and core to maintain the correct form for the movement. Because of this, you may need practise and perfect your form for easier exercises, such as planks and regular push-ups first.
(Our recent guide on hand release push ups is also a good test of chest and shoulder strength).
Pike Push Up Regression – Decrease the Difficulty
Begin on your knees rather than on your toes with your arms out straight and palms flat on the ground in front of you. As before, bend at your elbows and perform the movement as a forward lean (rather than a regular kneeling push-up) so that you lower the crown of your head to the floor in front of your hands.
Similarly to starting on your knees, rather than having your legs straight, slightly bending at the knees will ease the load of your bodyweight to help to make the movement a little easier.
Widen angle of the A-frame
This can help with your balance as you lower your head to the floor and drive back to the starting position.
Elevating your hands from the ground either by using yoga blocks or any raised surface such as placing your hands on the sofa or a bench in front of you will lessen the intensity of the movement whilst still working the same muscle groups.
Calisthenics bars and parallettes are also a popular choice for such movements.
Pike Push Up Progression – Increase the Difficulty
By performing the movement from a starting position with your heels raised and moving onto your toes as you lower your upper body to the ground, rather than with feet flat to the ground, you increase the intensity of your bodyweight on your shoulders.
Elevate your feet
In the same way starting with your heels raised adds intensity, actually raising your feet from the ground further increases the challenge. The extra height makes the pike push-up closer to a hand-stand push-up by adding more pressure from your bodyweight for your shoulders to control. You could use a bench or any raised surface but make sure it is stable and that your feet, or the bench won’t slip during the movement.
Raise a leg
Perform the same movement but with one leg raised, alternating between the legs between sets. Be extra careful not to lose your balance!
Repetitions and Pace
Of course, more repetitions adds to the challenge, but you can also increase the intensity by performing the same number of repetitions at a slower pace. Remember, form needs to be perfect, so if you are feeling unsteady and like you might topple, stop and progress the exercise more slowly.
Benefits of Pike Push Ups
Your shoulders are the powerhouse for the pike push-up movement and the A-frame shape puts more emphasis on the shoulders as opposed to the chest (like with a regular push-up). Strength in your shoulders helps with many everyday movements whilst also reducing the risk of injury.
Improves upper body muscular endurance
As well as strength, maintaining the correct form throughout this exercise builds muscular endurance, allowing you to hold or shift weight above your head for longer periods. Strength as well as endurance is important for activities such as pruning high hedges/trees, shifting heavy items over-head and will also help your performance in many sports such as tennis and badminton.
Stepping stone for harder bodyweight exercise
Once you master the pike push-up, you have built the base for other impressive bodyweight exercises. The balance and upper-body strength required, is the stepping-stone towards achieving a perfect hand-stand, whilst the vertical pushing motion is practise for an even greater challenge – the hand-stand push-up!
It is the strength from your core that is vital during this movement to prevent you from losing your balance and maintaining a straight spine. Engaging your core whilst also shifting weight over your head makes pike push-ups a great exercise for functional movements.
Muscles Worked During Pike Push Up
The muscles in your upper body work hard to achieve a pike push-up, including the anterior deltoids in the shoulders, and the trapezius in your upper back. The pectoralis major in your chest is also engaged, as is your core to maintain balance and stability. Of course, your triceps also feel the burn as they load your weight to prevent you from face-planting and to drive the push-up.
Make pike push-ups part of your exercise regime today, without the need for equipment or gym membership. Twice a week makes a good starting point for this challenging exercise and without meaning to state the obvious make sure you are not on a hard floor, just in case! As always, if you have any pain or struggle to maintain your balance then stop to avoid the risk of injury.