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.
Muscles Worked in a Push-Up
Wide-grip push-ups and narrow-grip push-ups hit most of the same muscles but not quite in the same way. Before we get into the difference between the two, let’s take a look at which muscles we’ll be discussing.
Pectoral (Chest) Muscles:Push-ups have a reputation as one of the best bodyweight exercises for building mass in the chest muscles. Regular push-ups target the entire pectoralis major but strengthen the lower part in particular. Decline push-ups can be used to target the top part of your pecs.
Triceps Brachii:Located on the underside of your arms, your triceps muscle pulls your arm backward, straightens out the elbow, and brings the arm toward your body’s midline. During a push-up, the tricep works to straighten out the elbow to varying degrees depending on hand placement.
Deltoids:The deltoid muscle is located on top of the shoulder. Its primary job is to prevent the shoulder joint from dislocating. Additionally, the deltoid moves the arm away from the body’s midline and helps bend or rotate it toward and away from the body’s midline. Delts control speed in the decline phase and move the upper arm toward the chest in the incline phase of a push-up.
Serratus Anterior:This wing-shaped muscle begins between the 8th and 9th rib and runs up either side of the torso and under the armpits before terminating beneath each shoulder blade. The primary functions of theserratus anterior are to raise, lower, stabilize, and move the scapula forward. During a push-up, it helps your arms move at a higher height and prevent winging of the shoulder blade.
Core & Abdominals:Several core muscles are recruited to keep your hips in place during a push-up. Maintaining the proper plank position is essential for targeting your core and abdominals while you’re doing push-ups.While push-ups alone aren’t enough to give you a 6-pack, they do build functional strength in your core and are a great supplement to other ab exercises.
The Proper Form for Regular Push-Ups
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.
Start out lying on your stomach. Find the right standard grip position by placing your hands wide enough apart that your forearms are perpendicular to the floor.
Lift your lower body on both knees with your palms flat. Stack your wrists by making sure they’re directly under your arms, not ahead or behind them.
Kick up into a plank position so your body is supported by your hands and toes. Your body needs to form a straight line from head to heel - make sure your hips aren’t lifted or sunk by engaging your core, glutes, and quads.
Engage your shoulder blades and pull them back so that your torso drops slowly. When your elbows are at a 45° angle, you’re at the bottom of the push-up.
Push away from the floor through your palms to return to the starting position. When your arms are fully extended, you’ve completed one rep.
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.
How to Do Wide-Grip Push-Ups
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:
Start on the floor with both knees and hands on the ground.
Place both hands out to either side several inches wider than you would for a regular push-up.
Let your torso and head move toward the floor while still supporting your body with your knees. Stop when your elbows are at a 90-degree angle.
Adjust if your arms aren’t getting to 90° or if you feel you aren’t getting the depth you want. When you have the right distance, kick your feet back to get into the plank position.
Do a few test runs and make sure you aren’t feeling any pain, especially in your shoulders, back, or chest. The more you do these wide-grip push-ups, the less time you’ll have to take finding the right stance.
If you haven’t worked on strengthening your serratus anterior, you might find the wide-grip push-up more difficult the first few times you do it. Your serratus anterior helps push objects and throw punches. Boxers typically target it during workouts to get more power behind their gloves. Push-up variations are one of the few great serratus anterior exercises and the wide-grip is particularly effective.
Easier Repetitions: When your hands are further apart, your torso starts lower to the ground and it takes less time for your elbows to get into a 45° angle. That means both the ascending and descending phases are shortened and you don’t have to push as much per rep. Many people find their push-up count increases when they use a wide grip vs. a narrow grip.
Build Stabilizing Strength:Maintaining even balance is a bit more difficult with wide-grip push-ups. Stabilizing muscles in your core tend to get a greater workout making sure you don’t tip over to either side. There are also stabilizing muscles around the shoulder and elbows that are activated in a wide-grip push-up. One is the serratus anterior which we already mentioned, but the triceps and many smaller muscles around the wrists, shoulders, and elbows are also strengthened.
How To Do Narrow-Grip Push-Ups
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:
Start on your knees and lean forward to place both palms on the floor directly underneath your shoulders.
Now, scoot each hand in a couple of inches. If you want to see what an incorrect position feels like, place your hands on top of each other. You need more space between your arms and your torso than that.
In the proper position, your elbows will have room to bend while staying tucked into your sides. If you’re having trouble getting there, your hands may not be properly aligned with your shoulders.
After you find the right hand placement, kick your feet back and get into plank position. Run through a few test ones and stop if you feel any pain, particularly in your wrists or elbows.
Benefits of Narrow-Grip Push-Ups
Greater Muscle Activation:Narrow-grip push-ups activate your pectoral muscles and triceps more than wide-grip push-ups. Your biceps are also doing more work than in a narrow-grip push-up, although even this variation might not be the best one if your goal is pumped-up biceps. The biceps push-up, which involves pointing your fingers backward instead of forward, is popular for building up biceps. The close-grip push-up is typically used to build strength in the triceps.
Increase Stamina: Training with close-grip push-ups is more challenging, so using them in your workout routine is like playing baseball with a donut on your bat. Regular push-ups will seem easier afterward and your push-up count should increase after some time. Now, at first, your push-up count for narrow-grip push-ups will plummet. You won’t be able to do as many because they’re more challenging and recruit your muscles differently. We’re saying your overall push-up strength will improve with close-grip push-ups.
Better for Fast Workouts: Since each rep is harder, you’ll be getting a great workout with fewer of them. When you’re pressed for time, you can use diamond or close-grip push-ups and get through a few shorter sets faster. Be careful, though. The close-grip push-up puts strain on your elbows and wrists. You don’t want to rush through them too quickly or you could run into joint pain or a serious injury.
Wide-Grip vs. Close-Grip Push-Ups: Which Is Better?
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.
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.
How to Use Wide-Grip & Close-Grip Push-Ups in Your Workout
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.
5-Day Split With Wide-Grip & Close-Grip Push-Ups
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:
Day 1: Arm & Shoulder Day
Day 2: Leg Day
Day 3: Chest Day
Day 4: Core Day
Day 5: Back Day
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.
Push-Up Variations Power Up Your Workout
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.