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October 24, 2022 9 min read

Regular push-ups are great exercises, but some people may find them too hard to do. Build your strength with wall push-ups and progress to the full version safer and easier. Beginners in strength training can do bodyweight exercises like wall push-ups until they are ready for proper push-ups.

Someone once said wall push-ups are regular push-ups with training wheels to get your body prepared to cope with the real thing. Instead of your body being parallel to the floor in a proper push-up, it is perpendicular to the floor in a wall push-up.

With your hands pushing you away from the wall, your body can get familiar with the movement of using your arms to push your body up. It requires significantly less strength than the regular floor push-up since you’re not fighting against gravity to move your body, allowing time to develop core stability.

People unfamiliar with proper pushing-pressing mechanics and insufficient core stability typically also lack proprioception, an awareness of how your body moves through space.

Muscles comprise bundles of fibers, and they are controlled by nerves called motor neurons. Sensory nerves tell you the position of your muscles, so you can control them without even looking.

However, despite this intricacy, your muscles are also rather dumb. For example, they don’t know the difference between you doing push-ups to develop your pecs, or working your chest on a state-of-the-art chest press machine. All your muscles know is time and tension, and by manipulating those two variables, you can build strength and size using almost any type of workout equipment or bodyweight exercises.

How to do Wall Push-Ups

Proper form, both positioning, and stance are crucial for doing wall push-ups. Back pain could result from wall push-ups performed too close to the wall. In contrast, if you are too far from the wall, you could improperly arch your back, risking a fall and potential back injuries.

Starting position:

With your feet shoulder-width apart, stand facing a wall. Your distance from the wall should be slightly more than arms-length —typically 12 to 18 inches, forming a 45-degree angle between your body and where you place the palms of your hands on the wall at shoulder height. Your hands should also be shoulder-width apart.

Here's how to do it:

  1. All the movements of wall push-ups, and any other push-up variation, must be slow and controlled. Lowering yourself too quickly and uncontrolled could cause you to lose your balance, yet moving too slowly could tire you out very quickly.

  2. From the starting position, with you leaning forward with straight arms and your palms flat against the wall, inhale as you bend your elbows and lean your upper body forward until your forehead and nose nearly touch the wall (without hitting yourself against it). Ensure you keep your arms close to your body throughout the entire range of motions.

  3. Your heels, hips, back, and neck should remain in a straight line, and your feet should anchor you firmly and stay in the same position throughout. However, depending on the distance you are from the wall, you might have to roll onto your toes as you lean toward the wall while doing push-ups. Breathe deeply while doing this phase of the movement. Pause for one or two seconds at the top of the movement before moving on to the next step.

  4. Exhale while you push yourself away from the wall with the slow and controlled straightening of your arms. Do this to a count of two, all the time keeping your feet firmly on the ground, and your hips and back straight.

  5. One rep of the push-up is complete when you are back in the starting position, making sure you don’t lock your elbows.

To get the most out of your wall push-ups, follow these step-by-step instructions and ensure you maintain the proper form.

Furthermore, to build muscle, you have to work out in sets of predetermined numbers of repetitions. Sets with 10 to 15 reps are a good number of push-ups. If you can do another set, rest for one or two minutes before proceeding with the next set.

Benefits of Doing Wall Push-Ups

Including wall push-ups in your regular workout routine has several benefits. 

1. Wall push-ups are less taxing on your shoulder joints and arms than standard push-ups. The traditional push-up posture, which involves a plank position on the floor puts a lot of strain on the shoulders.

2. Wall push-ups are compound exercises that activate multiple muscle groups across the upper body. Similar to classic push-ups, this version builds upper-body strength by activating the anterior deltoids, pectoral muscles, triceps, and more.

3. Wall push-ups help you increase stability since performing them with proper form activates stabilizer muscles in your midsection, your lower back muscles, and your abdominal muscles.

Properly performed wall push-ups activate and strengthen the same muscles as standard push-ups.

Contrary to what you might believe, wall push-ups provide a full-body workout instead of only your upper body. They engage many muscles in the body to stabilize the push-up position and movement.

 The  primary muscles used during a wall push-up include:

  •  Chest muscles (e.g., the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor)

  • Serratus anterior

  • Triceps

  • Deltoids

  • Upper and lower back muscles (e.g., the rhomboids, trapezius, and spinal stabilizers)

  • Core muscles (e.g., the Transversus abdominis, Multifidus, obliques, and rectus abdominis)

  • To some extent, wall push-ups also activate subsidiary muscles in your lower body, such as your quads, glutes, and calves, for stability.

  • These muscles help improve your upper body mobility and postural stability and balance.

  • For example, you can strengthen both your chest and back by squeezing your shoulder blades together and down, almost rowing yourself toward the wall. 

Valuable Tips for Optimal Benefits from Wall Push-Ups

Core

Your core is the central part of your body, and core strength is vital for performing wall push-ups safely. It includes your pelvis, lower back, hips, and stomach. The stomach muscles are sometimes called abs. 

Like many other exercises, wall push-ups require you to brace your core. Here’s how to brace better. Tighten your stomach muscles or abs as if you’re expecting to be punched in the stomach. Draw in your belly button toward your spine.

Tuck your tailbone and squeeze your quads and glutes. Imagine there’s a straight line that goes from the top of your head, through your back, and to your feet. A common mistake is letting the core muscles slip and the low back arch.

Elbows & Shoulders

Your hands should be shoulder-height on the wall and not face-height. Make sure to keep your elbows tucked and facing backward rather than outward and away from your body. Imagine creating an A-shape with your body and not a W-shape.

Allowing your elbows to flare outward will cause your shoulders to turn in, resulting in upper-back pain after a while. Moreover, it will limit your progress toward traditional push-ups, not to mention your strength-building. 

Pull your shoulder blades backward and away from your ears. Instead of squeezing your shoulder blades together, imagine pinching them slightly as you grip a can between your shoulder blades.

Maintain a neutral neck by tucking your chin as if gripping a tennis ball between your chin and throat. This will prevent you from leading the movement with your chin. 

Feet position

Placing your feet shoulder-width apart helps your balance, but you can make the wall push-ups more challenging leaving a narrower gap between your feet. Most importantly, ensure your feet are no closer than an arm’s length away from the wall to ensure you benefit from the full range of motion. 

Another way to make the wall push-ups tougher is to place your feet further away from the wall. Increasing the distance will require you to bear more of your body weight, and it will need a lot more power to push your body away from the wall. 

Don’t rush – focus on slow, controlled movements while maintaining proper form for the most effective workout.

Basic types of Push-Ups

Your progress toward mastering regular push-ups will likely involve the three basic push-up types.

Regular push-up

With hands and feet on a flat, even surface, the up position is a plank position.

Basic Push-up – Image from Shutterstock 

Muscle groups worked: Overall chest, shoulders, arms, and core. 

Incline push-up

Your hands are placed on a raised surface, lifting the upper body farther off the ground than your feet.

Muscle groups worked: Overall chest, shoulders, arms, and core, but more intensely targeting your shoulders and upper pecs.

Decline push-up 

Your feet are placed on a raised surface with your hands on a lower surface or the ground.

Decline Push-up – Image from Shutterstock

 Muscle groups worked:

  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Arms
  • and core

But they intensely target your shoulders and upper pecs.

How to build up the progression of your push-ups

1.  Start with wall push-ups done at a slow tempo with at least 3 seconds down, a 1-second hold, and 2 or 3 seconds back up to the starting position. Work your way up to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.

2. Once you’ve mastered those rep sets in perfect form, do the same with an incline push-up on a bench with your hands on a bench and your feet on the floor. Work toward the same rep sets as the wall push-ups.

3. Once you achieve that goal, progress to the basic push-up on the floor and start with a reduced tempo and volume. For example, 1 to 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps with a tempo of 2 seconds down, no hold at the bottom, and a 1-second return to starting position. As you accomplish this goal, add back in the tempo of 3-1-1, and after accomplishing that begin to increase reps within the sets.

Decline Push-ups

The decline push-up is a versatile exercise that offers multiple options, each with its benefits and variable levels of difficulty. With decline push-ups, you can put your feet on any raised surface like a chair, box, bench, or another surface, and your hands on the floor.

 The main benefit of doing decline push-ups is building a strong upper chest. The act of pushing your arms up and away from your torso works your shoulder muscles and upper pecs.

If you perform decline push-ups regularly, you’ll increase your upper-body strength.

Upper-body strength is not only essential for strength building and weightlifting but also for your day-to-day activities like carrying a backpack, lifting bags of groceries, picking up a young child, and more.

What makes decline push-ups popular is their versatility and that they are adjustable to suit all fitness levels, goals, and preferences, keeping workouts fun and interesting.

The following suggestions show how the difficulty of decline push-ups can be modified.

Make it easier

Use a low step or bench to make decline push-ups easier. The surface should be an inch or two off the ground.

If you struggle with mastering decline push-ups, practice your regular push-ups first. Once you’ve mastered the traditional version, revisit the decline push-up.

Make it harder

The height of your feet’s elevation determines the difficulty level of decline push-ups. You can also vary the height by putting your feet against a wall and walking them up as high as you want, depending on the challenge you want. This is an advanced wall push-up.

Another option is to wear a weighted vest or belt, increasing the amount of weight you need to lift.

Here are more ways to challenge yourself:

Stability ball push-ups: Put your hands on a stability ball instead of a bench in an incline push-up, and engage your arms and core to stay balanced.

Stability Ball Incline Push-up – Image from Shutterstock

 Another option is to put your feet on a stability ball instead of a bench when performing a decline push-up

Stability Ball Decline Push-up – Image from Shutterstock

 One-leg push-ups:  Keep one leg slightly lifted while doing decline push-ups. Repeat with the other leg to complete a set.

One-leg Push-ups – Image from Shutterstock

Knee-tap push-ups: After each push-up, bend one knee toward your elbow and alternate sides throughout the rep set.

Knee-tap push-up – Image from Shutterstock

One-arm push-ups:  While this is a basic push-up option, you can also perform your decline push-ups with one arm behind your back.

One-arm Push-up – image from Shutterstock

Clap push-ups:  In the upward phase, push up explosively while keeping your body straight. Clap your hands together while you’re in the air and gently land, an option for basic and decline push-ups.

Clap Push-ups – Image from Shutterstock

Dumbbell push-up rows: Place each hand on a dumbbell, lifting an alternate side’s dumbbell at each push-up – a basic push-up option, but also an option for decline push-ups if you're brave.

Dumbbell Push-up – Image from Shutterstock

These modifications are advanced moves, not to be tackled by beginners, and when you do, reach out to a personal trainer to provide guidance.

How to focus on different muscle groups

When you perform decline push-ups, you can target different muscle groups by changing the position of your hands and arms.

These muscle groups include:

Shoulders and chest: The width between your hands determines the intensity of the workout on the chest and shoulders. Increasing the width intensifies the level of muscle activation.

Triceps: Placing your hands closer together than shoulder-width increases the triceps activity.

Biceps: To increase biceps activity, rotate your wrists and forearms, placing your palms so that your fingers face back. Doing this version of the decline push-up should only be done while practicing good form, and might be best done with the guidance of a CPT to avoid wrist injuries.

If you find it difficult to meet your workout targets, you might need the help of high-quality pre-workout supplements.

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