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Incline Push-Ups: How To Do Them & What Muscles They Work

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Last updated: May 28, 2023

Push-ups are a fantastic compound exercise to target your chest as well as your back and arm muscles. And while you might have dreams of one day doing one-arm or decline push-ups, you’re better off starting with the right technique.

I’ve often seen people do ten half push-ups where they don’t even get their elbows to a right angle, and then they pat themselves on the back for a great workout.

But if that’s all you can currently do with your level of strength, then incline push-ups are definitely the better option for your upper body.

Here’s how to do them properly.

Quick Summary

  • Incline push-ups can be categorized as compound workouts, and they mostly target the chest, back, and arm muscles.
  • The different variations of incline push-ups are lifting one leg up, adjusting the weight bench height, and changing your hand position.
  • Incline push-ups are very effective in building upper body strength, when compared to other types of push-ups.

How To Do Incline Push-Ups With Proper Form

woman smiling while doing push ups

Incline push-ups work great for the upper chest, arms, and back and you can still take full advantage of your body weight to target the main chest muscles (pectoralis major).

Unlike a regular push-up, the incline push-up will make it a lot easier to get a full range of motion with less resistance.

And here’s what’s involved.

1. The Proper Incline Push-Up Setup

man being assisted while doing the pushups

Place your feet about shoulder-width apart and stand your height away from an elevated surface like an exercise bench.

Lean forward and get your hands to rest on the bench.

You should be in an elevated plank where you keep your body in a straight line.

If you’ve been struggling a lot with enough strength for regular push-ups, then I would suggest placing your hands a bit more than shoulder-wide apart.

2. The Incline Push-Up Down Move

shirtless man working out

There are two things to keep in mind with the entire movement.  First of all, there’s the breathing.

As you slowly lower your chest down towards the bench, you should be inhaling all the way.

This helps provide maximum oxygen for the more straining part of the push-up.

Secondly, you don’t want to aim to get this done as quickly as possible. Count to three while you lower your chest and inhale to maximize the amount of time your muscles are under strain.

3. The Powerful Upward Move

shirtless man doing pushups on a platform

Once you get to the bottom, it’s time to push yourself back up again.

This time, you should exhale with force and count to two before you get back to your starting position.

It should all be a smooth and simple movement, and it’s important to keep your whole body in one straight line.

Also, make sure that you engage your core to get the most out of every single incline push-up.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

woman doing the push ups, and a man stretching his arms

As a personal trainer, I constantly see people make simple mistakes with push-ups. And even though incline push-ups should be easier, mistakes can slip in quickly.

Here are a few things to avoid.

1. Poor Alignment

You have to keep your entire body in a straight line from your feet to your head for the whole movement.

When you don’t keep your body straight, you can add joint strain that results in a shoulder injury [1], and you could increase pressure on your lower spine as well.

2. Limited Core Muscle Engagement

The push-up movement itself doesn’t trigger the core, but the plank position does. However, when you focus more on your core muscles [2], then you should feel more of your own body weight, adding a muscle strain to better tone your stomach.

“Push-ups help in engaging your core or abdominal muscles as well as the triceps, pectoral muscles, shoulders, thighs and legs.”

- Plavaneeta Borah, Writer at

3. Lack Of Stretching

When you’re doing compound exercises like incline push-ups, you should always do a pre and post-exercise stretch.

This is as important for people with injuries as for those who just want to avoid unnecessary muscle or ligament damage. And if you have concerns about an existing injury, it’s always best to get professional medical advice before doing compound exercises.

Incline Push-Up Variations

three people doing pushups on a platform

You might think that once you get used to the incline push-ups that it’s time to move onto regular ones.

But there are a couple of simple variations that make it a bit tougher.

1. Lift One Leg Up

This will challenge your balance and also your core. And one thing I suggest to people is that they alternate which leg they lift between every rep.

2. Change Your Hand Position

Another option to make it tougher on your arms is to bring your hands below your shoulders with your elbows close to your torso. It’s kind of like a military push-up that works the arms more than the chest.

3. Adjust the Weight Bench Height

Any kind of raised surface will work as long as it’s a stable surface. Either find a low bench or see if there’s a CrossFit box at your gym that’s about a foot high.

The further down you go to the ground, the more you’ll challenge your chest and triceps, and the closer you’ll get to doing regular or decline push-ups.


Do Incline Push-UPS Build Muscle?

Yes, incline push-ups build muscle even if the strain isn’t as tough as a regular push-up. The advantage is that you can get through the full range of motion, which will better target your chest area.

And with slightly wider hand placement, you’ll also target your shoulders.

Should You Do Incline Push-UPS Every Day?

No, you shouldn’t do incline push-ups every day. Giving your shoulders, chest, and arms time to recover will speed up the muscle-building process and allow you to get better results in the long term.

Have You Added An Incline Push-up Set To Your Workout?

Rather than only get halfway down, switch to the inclined push-up for a while to build upper body strength properly.

You’ll be surprised by the result after just a few weeks, and then you can switch to doing a standard push-up or even a decline push-up.

And when you keep track of your personal data from each training session, you'll see how quickly the above exercise variations provide improvements.

Also, we have articles on protein powders that can help you pick the one that's right for you:

Let us know in the comments or on social media how they worked out for you.


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