October 08, 2021 9 min read
Your hand position in a push-up greatly affects how the exercise works your upper body. Weight is concentrated on different muscles and the number of push-ups you're able to do might change depending on where your hands are.
Workout junkies and fitness freaks read on to find out everything you need to know about hand placement in push-ups and whether a wide grip or a narrow grip is right for you.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for a standard push-up so you can see the difference when we start talking about alternate grip positions.
We’re going to focus on the first step for most of this guide, although keep in mind that there are forward and backward push-up variations where you don’t stack your wrists and instead place them above or below the normal position, respectively.
In a regular push-up position, your arms will be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your hands should be more or less directly beneath the shoulders, although depending on your body type they may need to be a bit wider. Wide-grip push-ups, as you might expect, use a wider hand placement. Exactly how wide varies from person to person, but in general, you want to place them between 3 and 6 inches wider on each side than you would in a regular push-up.
You may also need to spread your fingers wider to accommodate for the extra distance in your hand position. The distance of a wide grip will be different depending on your body type and wingspan.
Follow these steps to find out how wide your wide push-up stance should be:
Narrow-grip push-ups are done with both hands inside shoulder width. How narrow you place your hands depends on the width of your torso. The most common way to get into position for a narrow-grip push-up is to put your hands together so that your upper arms and elbows are tucked into your sides. The closer your hands are, the more difficult the push-up tends to be.
You can also bring your hands closer together so that your index fingers are touching one another and your thumbs are too. This makes a diamond shape, which is why they’re called diamond push-ups. While similar to narrow-grip push-ups, they make your elbows go out to each side across the transverse plane. A narrow-grip push-up should operate on the sagittal plane.
Here’s how you can find out your hand placement for a close-grip push-up:
Both types of push-ups have their own merits. Choosing between the two depends on your fitness goals and what kind of shape you’re in to start with.
For beginners, both types are most likely going to be more challenging than regular push-ups.
Even if you’ve been training with normal push-ups for a few months, these two variations challenge your muscles in different ways and you might wind up fatiguing earlier than you expect.
That being said, beginners are more likely to be able to do more wide-grip push-ups if they don’t have significant muscle mass in their triceps and pecs.
As far as muscle-building goes, one study went so far as to say that athletes trying to train their pectoral muscles and triceps should focus on the close-grip push-up.
Anyone trying to build mass in their triceps and pecs will benefit from a few sets of close-grip push-ups even if the total amount of reps is less than with a regular push-up.
Neither move is without some injury risk. Narrow-grip push-ups put more stress on your elbows while wide-grip push-ups put more stress on your shoulders.
Consider your injury history, if any, when choosing between these two moves.
Wide-grip push-ups are better for building strength in your serratus anterior. If you want more powerful punches and strength for other serratus anterior exercises like a dumbbell pullover, the wide-grip push-up will work great.
The goal of fitness routines isn’t to build mass and power in either your pecs and triceps or your serratus anterior. You wouldn’t want to only increase your strength without improving your stamina too. So, optimally you want to use both wide-grip and narrow-grip push-ups throughout your weekly routine.
Some trainers and lifters opt to start with a regular push-up grip and slowly widen their grip as they move through their reps. In that case, narrow-grip push-ups could be done on a different day.
Let’s take a look at a sample
5-day split and see where wide-grip and close-grip push-ups can fit in.
Let’s assume your aim is building muscle and body strength and not significant weight loss.
Here’s an idea of what your workout routine could look like with push-up variations:
If this is your 5-day split, days 1, 3, and 4 are perfect for push-ups. You can use them as part of a warm-up, during the regular routine, or for the cooldown. The nice thing about using close-grip push-ups on arm day is that you can almost isolate your triceps. Since your pecs won’t be exhausted until chest day, getting your triceps to complete exhaustion with close-grip push-ups is a good strategy on arm day.
Make sure to follow up with RESTED-AF for maximum muscle recovery.
Chest day is a great time for wide-grip push-ups because you can fit in more reps. Although many exercises activate chest muscles, there are just a handful that target them specifically, so you should be able to fill extra time in your chest day routine with a few sets of wide-grip push-ups.
Core day is a great time to alternate between styles.
If you have a personal preference, you can do more of that variation. Or you could give the alternating push-up a try. Start wide and slowly narrow your grip as you move through your repetitions. Just start slow and try not to jerk your hands into each new grip so you can avoid injury.
In the end, push-ups are a bodyweight exercise. Part of their appeal, apart from building ripped pecs and triceps, is that you can do them anywhere. Once you get good at all these push-up variations, you’ll be able to do them whenever you have a spare moment for exercise.
You might have specific goals that make the wide-grip or close-grip push-up more advantageous for you. Outside of that possibility, you should try to use both in your workout routine.
There are a few other great push-up variations with alternative hand placements. You can also try incline or decline push-ups to build well-rounded strength. Make sure you master many kinds of push-up variations to maintain variety in your workout.