Tired of fishing around for the perfect exercise? Cast your net on pike push ups.
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… it’s time to talk pike push ups.
This demanding push-up variation will build strength in your shoulders and upper body, as well as demanding stability from your core.
We’ll break down the nuts and bolts of this calisthenics exercise, highlighting its impressive benefits, such as improving upper body strength and torching calories, as well as a step-by-step guide on mastering the movement and common mistakes to avoid.
- A pike push up is a variation of the regular push up that involves lifting your hips up to create an “A” frame shape.
- It puts more emphasis on the shoulders.
- It can be used as a progression from regular push ups, as well as a way to build up strength for harder calisthenics exercises like handstand push ups.
- Using parallettes, lifting one leg, elevating the feet, or kneeling, are 4 ways you can adapt the movement to better suit your fitness level.
Pike Push Ups – The TL;RD
First things first – what is a pike push up?
If push-ups and downward dogs had a baby, you’d get the pike push up. This exercise is an upper body behemoth, targeting shoulders, arms, and core simultaneously.
It’s a popular way to build up strength for harder calisthenics exercises like handstands or handstand push ups… but it’s also a progression in its own right from regular push ups, for anyone looking to take their bodyweight workouts to the next level.
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.
How to do Pike Push Ups
To do a pike push up:
- Begin by positioning yourself in a high plank, hands placed directly under your shoulders and feet hip-width apart.
- Walk your feet towards your hands slightly and push your hips up and back into the air, forming a an A shape with your body. Your arms and legs should be straight, with your head in line with your arms. This is your starting position.
- Begin by bending your elbows and lowering your upper body towards the ground. Aim to lower your head between your hands while keeping your elbows tucked in.
- Keep your hips lifted throughout the movement. Your body should retain the A shape at all times, with your weight primarily on on your hands.
- Once your head is close to the ground, push back up by straightening your arms, returning to the starting position.
Coach’s Tip – We like to use parallettes for pike push ups, because not only do they give you more range of motion but you might find it more comfortable (as it places less strain on the wrists).
Pike Push Ups Muscles Worked
The pike push up primarily works the anterior deltoids in the shoulders and the trapezius in your upper back.
Your chest, triceps and core are also engaged.
How Your Muscles Are Activated
In the starting position, your body forms an A frame shape, with your hips being the highest point. This requires hip flexion and places your body weight primarily on your hands, resulting in greater work for your upper body.
As you descend, your elbows bend similar to a regular push ups… but, the altered body angle shifts the focus from the chest to the shoulders, specifically the anterior deltoids. Your triceps kick in as they extend your elbow during the upward phase, while your upper back and shoulder muscles stabilize the movement.
Your core muscles, including your abs, obliques, and lower back, maintain an isometric contraction to stabilize your body during the exercise, and the calves, hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps also contribute by maintaining the ‘pike’ position and balancing your weight.
Pike Push Up Benefits
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 help with many everyday movements whilst also reducing the risk of injury.
Targeting Shoulders with No Equipment
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 overhead and will also help your performance in many sports.
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 help maintain a straight spine and prevent you from losing your balance. Engaging your core whilst also supporting weight over your head makes pike push-ups a great exercise for functional movements.
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 Ups on Parallettes
To spice up your pike push ups, try performing them on parallettes. Position your hands on the parallettes while assuming the regular pike push up position.
The elevated hand position allows for a deeper range of motion, increasing the challenge for your deltoids and triceps. If you’re looking to intensify your upper body workout and add an extra layer of complexity, this variation is your ticket.
One Legged Pike Push Ups
Ready to put your balance to the test? Try the one-legged pike push up.
Start in the standard pike position, then lift one leg off the ground. This not only adds a balance challenge but also intensifies the load on your shoulders, arms, and the supporting leg.
It’s a great variation for those looking to up their game and test their stability and strength.
Feet Elevated Pike Push Ups
Elevating your feet during a pike push up changes the game entirely.
By increasing the height of your feet, you shift more weight towards your upper body, amplifying the work your shoulders and arms have to do. Place your feet on a bench or a step and get ready for a true test of upper body strength.
This is perfect for advanced exercisers ready to turn the dial up to eleven.
Kneeling Push Up
For those new to the world of pike push ups, or for whom the traditional version is too challenging, the kneeling push up is a great starting point.
Instead of lifting your hips, keep your knees on the ground, bending at the hips so your body forms a right angle. This reduces the stress on your shoulders and makes the exercise more manageable while still working your upper body.
It’s an excellent variation for beginners or those with limited shoulder strength.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
A common error is rounding the back instead of hinging at the hips. Hinging correctly is really important for maintaining that A shape frame.
However, when you round your back, it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole…it just doesn’t work. Focus on lifting your hips high, pressing your heels towards the ground, and keeping your spine straight.
It’s about hinging from the hips, not bending from the back.
Short-Changing the Range of Motion
It can be tempting to shortchange the depth of your pike push up, especially when fatigue sets in.
But, taking the easy route will only short-change your gains. Aim to lower your head as close to the ground as possible before pushing back up. In the world of pike push ups, depth matters… a deeper dive equals a greater muscle engagement.
Bending the Knees
Pike push ups are not a time for bendy knees. Keeping your legs straight is key to maintaining your body’s alignment and the effectiveness of the exercise.
But, some may find themselves bending their knees, either to make the exercise feel easier or because of limited hamstring flexibility.
This cheat, while tempting, undermines the core engagement and reduces the workload on your shoulders and arms. Keep those legs as straight as possible… think ballet dancer, not flamingo!
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.