Pike Push-Ups? Everything you need to know (How to do them right, which muscles involved, variations for beginners and more)

First of all, let’s be clear on what a pike push-up actually is: It’s a variation of the push-up where you get your body in a inverse V position. You want to make your body look like a pike (as in: a hill or mountain with a pointed summit—in this case, your ass being the summit😂). If you’re doing yoga, you know this position as the downward-facing dog pose. Another name for pike push-ups is jackknife push-ups.

Picture from Men’s Health

That’s really all there is to a pike push-up.

How to do a pike push-up

I created this little illustration for you:

how to perform pike push-ups

Some noteworthy details:

  • Your hands should be shoulder-width apart.
  • Your legs can be wide apart for better stability/balance.
  • Keep your legs, back and neck straight.
  • Push your hips up as high as you can. (Without bending your knees, back, or neck—it’s worth restating that. It’s better to do the exercise with your hips lower but a straight body, than it is to bend your knees, back and neck just go push your hips a few inches higher.)
  • When you reach the lowest point of the pike push-up (when your head almost touches the floor), hold for 2 seconds. This will require you to put more effort into the exercise, but you’ll also get more muscle gains out of it.
  • When you’re at the lowest point, you should look through your legs (not to the ground)
  • Engage your core throughout the exercise
  • Straighten your arms, but not to the point where you lock your elbows. You want to put the pressure on your muscles, not on your ligaments.

Also watch this great video that walks you through this:

Can’t do pike push-ups?

First of all, you need to figure out why. The primarily two causes if you’re unable to do pike push-ups are either lack of flexibility or lack of strength.

If it’s lack of strength, try lowering your hips (but otherwise keep proper form). If that also is too challenging, practice decline push-ups first. (And if that too is too challenging, practice regular push-ups first.)

Not flexible enough for the pike push-up?

The pike push-up needs a certain amount of flexibility in your spinal extensors, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

Plenty of guys won’t be able to get into that exact starting position. (I don’t). That’s ok, the angle doesn’t have to be that sharp. Just focus on having your legs and upper body straight, and then work with whatever angle your flexibility allows for.

I also suggest to do some range of motion warmup exercises, like neck-rolls, shoulder-rolls, and shoulder-shrugs.

Mike Fitch advises to stretch the lower erectors of the spine, the glutes and the hamstrings.

Difficulty keeping your knees straight?

If you’re having difficulty keeping your knees straight in particular, stretch the gastrocnemius muscle.

Difficulty keeping your head between your arms?

If you find it difficult to keep your head between your arms during a pike push-up, it’s most likely because you have tight lats.

Tip: Stretch your lats!

What muscles does a pike-push up work?

A pike push-up primarily targets your shoulder muscles (the deltoids), the triceps, and your chest muscles.

Like Mike Fitch said: “Not only is it great for building rock hard shoulders, but it’s going to be your “go to” exercise while working your way up to the Handstand Push-Up.”

Pike push-ups too easy? Want a more advanced form?

If you find that you can easily perform a lot of pike push-ups, first of all check that you’re actually doing them in correct form. (I suggest recording yourself doing a set of pike push-ups, and then analyzing the recording yourself, or even having someone else watch it and give you feedback. If you have a personal trainer of course, work with them.)

If you actually do a pike push-up in proper form and find it too easy, here are two simple tweaks to make this into a more challenging exercise:

Raised leg pike push-up

Raise one leg up high behind you while performing the pike push-up.

Elevated feet pike push-up

Place your feet on an elevated object (like a box or a bench). This will then increase the load your upper body has to carry.

Pike push-up with hands close together

You can also do a pike push-up where you put your arms together closer than shoulder-width. This will then shift more of the load to your triceps to carry.

Pike push-ups with your head through the floor

Of course you’re not actually breaking your head through the floor. What you instead do is to put your hands on two boxes, to elevate them above the ground. Then you can push your head through the ground level. This increases the range of motion you go through. However, only do this exercise if you’re at an advanced level, as it will drastically increase the load you put on your shoulders (increased injury risk!).

Other good sites that cover the topic on pike muscles:

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