March 26, 2021 10 min read
Push-ups are the poster child for effective bodyweight exercises. When you’re down there on the floor, it’s just you and your muscles doing what they do best. With just a slight adjustment to your form, you can adapt any bodyweight exercise and target nearly any muscle in your body.
Before you start adding any new exercise into your workout routine, it’s important to know what exactly you’re targeting. This is going to give you perspective into the exercise and help you maintain your form. If you know what you’re targeting, you’re going to easily draw the benefits of the exercise out of your efforts.
Diamond push-ups are similar to regular push-ups in most ways. You’re still targeting muscles in your chest along with some muscles in your arms, but because of the position your arms are in you end up targeting significantly different groups of muscles with different functions. Diamond pushups take the focus off of your pectoralis major and onto the pectoralis minor while forcing your triceps to do most of the hard work.
Your triceps are the muscles that lie opposite of your biceps on your arms. They do pretty much the opposite of everything your biceps do, and without them, your arms would be basically useless. When you bring your hands together and up underneath your chest, you’re moving your point of balance onto your triceps, and this is the biggest thing that separates diamond pushups from a standard push-up. You can be a wide stance champ, but if you’re lacking the tricep strength, you might as well be starting from zero, so prepare yourself for a slice of humble pie if you’ve been neglecting this set of muscles.
Triceps, or the triceps brachii, get their name from their shape and locations. Their Latin name literally just means they’re a three-headed muscle in your upper arm. The longest head of your triceps extends from the scapula, something it shares with your biceps and runs all the way down to your ulna. The lateral and medial heads (the two shorter heads of your triceps muscle) originate above and below the radial groove of your humerus and meet the long head of your triceps down in the ulna.
Your triceps are the unsung heroes of your arms. Their primary function is acting as an extensor muscle. Extensors are the muscles you use to “open up” a joint, so to speak. An easy way to tell if a muscle is extending or flexing a joint is to imagine that joint as an angle. If the angle becomes wilder when you engage that muscle it’s an extensor, flexors do the opposite. Your elbow is the joint in question here, so your triceps are responsible for widening the angle of your elbow. Any time you reach for something, or when you put your weights back down after a set of curls, you have your triceps to thank for allowing your arms to reverse the work your biceps have done.
They’re not just responsible for their obvious function, though. Your triceps are also engaged when you’re making motions that require fine control. When you’re writing or typing, or really anything else that asks for still hands and fine finger control, your triceps are there fixing your elbow in place so you can keep your hands steady, allowing your forearms space and time to engage your hands and fingers in all of the complex movements they’re known for.
This stabilizing effect isn’t restricted to fine motor skills. When you’re making explosive movements to generate a lot of force the lateral head of your triceps kicks into gear, and when you’re making low force precise muscles, you’ll be using the medial fascicle. Have you ever wondered why your bench press gets better after you’ve worked on your triceps? The explosive lifting motion you make to get the bar up off of your chest uses your triceps just as much as your chest. Lowering the weights back down requires your triceps as well. You really can’t avoid using your triceps, regardless of how much you think they’re involved in an exercise.
This means that the balance, control, and power you need in order to pull off a set of diamond push-ups is the perfect blend of motor skills to fully work out your triceps. In fact, the American Council on Exercise found that diamond push-ups (they're also called triangle push-ups) were one of the best triceps exercises you can do.
Your pectoralis minor are also going to be getting a good workout during diamond push-ups. They’re a pair of small muscles that start on the upper and outer edges of your third, fourth, and fifth ribs and pass through your torso to attach to your shoulder blades with a flat tendon that inserts into the medial border and upper surface of the coracoid process of the scapula. When you’re in the diamond push-up position and you feel your shoulder blades engaging, that’s your pectoralis minor keeping your body weight from popping those plates out of your back.
Your pectoralis minor are responsible mostly for keeping your rib cage and your shoulder blades connected. They pull on the point of the shoulder, drawing the scapula superior, or upwards towards the thorax, and throwing the angle at the bottom of your shoulder blades posteriorly, or outwards from the body.
You’re also going to be engaging your core. Your core is mostly made up of your abs, also known as the rectus abdominis muscle. There are a set of muscles right in the middle of your body in an area called the rectus sheath. Your rectus sheath is a sheath of tendons that enclose your rectus abdominis. They basically extend from your obliques and create a wall around each of your abs. This is what separates your abs into segments, and that’s how you get that distinct ab shape on your belly when you burn away all of the fat and work up the muscle definition there.
Your rectus abdominis is responsible for your posture. They work together to move your lumbar spine. That’s the part of your spine that makes up your lower back. Anytime you move your pelvis up towards your rib cage or vice versa that’s your abs at work. Whenever you bend over to pick something up sit up in bed, that your abs.
You can think of push-ups as a plank combined with an upper-body exercise. You should be aiming to keep your back in a straight line and flat throughout the duration of the exercise, which is going to put your core to the test. This can be one of the points of failure if you’re just starting out. If you feel like your core can’t keep up with your arms, you may want to implement some core exercises into your routine in order to build up some muscle and endurance in your abs.
Push-ups are an excellent exercise, generally. Diamond push-ups aren’t necessarily a substitute for classic push-ups. You can think of them as one of the push-up variations to add into your routine for the purposes of targeting different muscle groups. Your standard push-ups and your diamond push-ups are similar from an outside perspective, but once you’ve done them back to back, you’ll see that they’re essentially two totally different exercises.
Standard push-ups are going to focus primarily on your chest. Your triceps and deltoids are coming into play, but almost incidentally. You can think of a standard push-up as an upside-down benchpress. You’re really just using your chest to push a great deal of weight away from your body. Your triceps are going to help extend your arms and stabilize them once you’ve fully extended them, but mechanically most of the work that takes place here is taking place in your pectoralis major.
Diamond push-ups are a lot more like upside-down skull crushers. The triceps are bearing the bulk of the work here. Your pectoralis major are hardly a factor here. Combining standard push-ups with diamond push-ups rather than thinking of diamond push-ups as an upgrade is a great way to get a pretty full upper body workout done with just your body weight.
If you know how to do a clean set of push-ups you’re already most of the way to the diamond push-ups. We’re going to approach this as if you have zero knowledge of push-up form, just to make sure we’re not leaving out any details. Proper form is going to be the only thing in between you and results.
Diamond push-ups are an excellent upper body exercise to add to your rotation. If you’re working out at home and you’re not ready to invest in any equipment, diamond push-ups are going to be a lifesaver. They’re one of the most effective triceps exercises out there, and all you need is your body and the floor. We doubt you’re going to be at a loss of those two things.
If you’re looking for an exercise to challenge yourself, then adding diamond push-ups are going to kick your workout into high gear. You’re going to have to engage your core much more than you will in standard push-ups. Bringing your hands in close together is going to narrow your foundation into a much smaller point, which is going to force you to recruit much more help from your abs.
They’re an intense triceps exercise. A proper full diamond push-up has you handling more or less your entire body weight. This is much more weight than you’re likely to find in a dumbbell or may be willing to load onto a barbell for something like skull crushers. It’s the kind of heavy weight lifting that leads to deep useful exercise. You’re going to be pushing your triceps to the limit and you can build muscle pretty quickly with diamond push-ups.
Diamond push-ups are variable, versatile, and vigorous. Take the time to learn how they interact with which muscle groups, and take them seriously. You’ll find that this simple exercise will pay your dedication back quickly and enthusiastically.