Sphinx push ups are a fantastic progression from regular push ups, particularly if you want to focus on strengthening your triceps. The exercise doesn’t require any equipment, or much space, making it perfect for home workouts too.
It’s a great alternative to diamond and close grip push ups, for those who struggle with shoulder mobility or generating enough strength from the chest. It’s by no means easy though, and requires a good level of upper body strength to begin with.
In this exercise guide, we outline everything you need to know about sphinx push ups, including how to perform them properly, the muscles worked, benefits, and exercise alternatives to try if you’re struggling to do them. We also explain how to make them easier so you can give them a go whatever your fitness level.
Would we recommend sphinx push ups?
Ultimately, we rate sphinx push ups really highly for a bodyweight triceps exercise, and think they are well worth including in all sorts of fitness routines. If you’re a beginner, try doing them with your knees on the floor to help reduce the load.
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How to Perform a Sphinx Push Up
To do a sphinx push up:
- Start in a plank position with your hands shoulder width apart in line with your head (the further away your hands are from your shoulders, the harder the movement).
- Keeping your elbows tucked in, bend at the elbows until your forearms are touching the floor. Keep your arms tensed even when your forearms are touching the floor.
- Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders.
- Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to help provide stability too.
- Contract your triceps to push down to lift your forearms off the floor and to raise your body back to the starting position.
- Keep your core braced for the whole duration of the movement.
- Repeat this for repetitions.
Slow, Controlled Repetitions
We would recommend doing sphinx push ups at a slow tempo to really ensure you have total control during the movement. Incorporating a slow, eccentric (lowering) phase of the exercise will also lead to more muscular growth in the triceps too.
Sphinx Push Up Muscles Worked
Sphinx push ups target the chest, triceps, shoulders and core. In comparison to regular push ups, the triceps take more of the load, making this the primarily muscle group being targeted.
Due to your hands being placed higher (i.e. not under your shoulders like regular push ups), your core is more heavily engaged throughout the exercise too. The starting position is similar to a “high plank”, which requires core activation to create the stability needed to hold such a position.
Once you add the lifting and lowering phase to this, the core is working extremely hard to help keep your body aligned.
Your glutes, quads and hamstrings will also be activated to help provide stability as you move up and down.
Sphinx Push Up Benefits
You’ll struggle to find a bodyweight exercise that strengthens the triceps so effectively as sphinx push ups. In similar vein to tiger push ups, you are putting more of your body’s weight onto the triceps, as opposed to the chest. As a smaller muscle group, this is undoubtedly more challenging and requires a good level of upper body strength to perform the movement.
Developing strong triceps that are able to support your body’s weight is a requirement for more advanced calisthenics movements, such as handstands. Sphinx push ups would also be a great way to practice more advanced push up variations, such as the Lalanne push up too.
Due to your hand placement being higher than with regular push ups (high plank position), your core is heavily engaged for the whole movement. This makes it a very efficient exercise to include in HIIT/circuit training for those looking to engage and activate multiple muscle groups at once. This also makes it very difficult!
Your core has no time to rest and is required to help stabilize and support your body during both the starting position and finishing position. This means your abdominals and obliques are under tension for a long time, and even just a few repetitions will mean they have been heavily activated.
If you’re short on time, being able to effectively train your core whilst you do an exercise primarily for your triceps, makes the sphinx push up a great movement to include in your workouts.
No Equipment Needed
For those who think you need to lift weights to build muscle, the sphinx push up completely voids such opinions.
Without any equipment, sphinx push ups will deliver a gruelling triceps workout and can be slotted into so many different types of workouts (HIIT, calisthenics, circuit, hypertrophy, strength, toning, etc).
Sphinx Push Up Variations
Like regular push ups, there are some simple variations of the sphinx push up that can be used to make the exercise more challenging, or easier.
For those wanting to make sphinx push ups easier, we’d recommend adopting a kneeling push up position. This will mean you’re reducing the weight you’re pushing, thus making it easier (but still not easy!). Alternatively, you could do a standing sphinx push up against a wall, which will still engage the triceps, but won’t involve supporting as much weight.
If you want to make things harder, you can incorporate decline sphinx push ups into your workouts.
Encourages Good Biomechanics
Sphinx push ups encourage good biomechanics for bodyweight pushing exercises, by requiring you to keep your elbows tucked in.
This is something lots of people struggle with when they do regular push ups, but with sphinx push ups, you can see your own elbows due to the high hand position and keep them in check.
This transfers back to regular push ups and can help promote better all round biomechanics for all sorts of pushing movements.
(Flaring your elbows reduces the emphasis on your triceps and chest, and engages the shoulders more).
Things to Consider
Sphinx push ups will put pressure on your shoulders in a different way to regular push ups. If you have existing shoulder pain, this is something to consider and may mean you need to resolve your shoulder pain first before attempting the exercise.
You also need to have existing triceps and core strength to support the exercise, which might mean you opt for sphinx push ups against a wall… or kneeling sphinx push ups to get started.
You’ll also want to ensure you have fresh triceps and core before attempting them for the first time (a side note, we find Fitbod‘s “muscle recovery” tool a great way to help us know when our muscle groups are ready for a workout).
It’s also important to note that because your triceps and core are taking more of the load, it means your chest, by definition, is taking less. This means ensuring you include other exercises in your workout to sufficiently target your chest would be recommended. Our guides on the best exercises to tighten your chest, or our calisthenics chest workout guide are two useful places to start.
For those serious about building muscle in the triceps, we’d also recommend including different tricep exercises into your workouts, so you ensure you’re engaging and activating the medial, lateral, and long head sections of the triceps.
As far as push up variations go, pike push ups, tiger push ups, and diamond push ups are all tricep-dominant exercises that are worth trying. These all involve hand placements closer to your body, which means they don’t require the same strength from your core to support the movements.
In terms of other bodyweight exercises, dips would also be a great addition to help strengthen your triceps.
If you have access to equipment, skull crushers share a lot of the biomechanics of a sphinx push up and allow you to select lighter weights to begin with, which helps to ease into the exercise. For skull crushers, remember to keep your elbows tucked in, and opt for lighter weights with good form, as opposed to lifting heavy and letting your elbows flare.
The kaz press is an underrated tricep-dominant variation of a chest press on a smith machine… that allows you to lift heavier weights, which is great for those focused on strength goals.
Sphinx push ups are tough… but their effectiveness at strengthening the triceps and core are really second to none when it comes to a single bodyweight movement.
We find sphinx push ups are useful to include in so many different types of fitness routines, and help achieve so many goals, they are definitely worth practising and perfecting.
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