What is a Pike Push-up
What do we love about calisthenics and bodyweight workouts? They require minimal equipment, they allow us to move and challenge ourselves at our own pace, and they are effective.
However, some functional muscle groups are harder to work just using bodyweight, particularly building strength overhead. In this article, we dissect the Pike Push-up, one of the best ways to increase overhead strength without using weight.
The only exercise to truly take the place of a military shoulder press is a handstand pushup, but as those are very difficult to start off with, we master the Pike Push-up and progress from there.
Please note, if you are unable to complete a series of “normal” push-ups, we suggest you slowly build up your strength before pushing too hard with the Pike Push-ups. Progression is key and consistent practice will get you where you want to be.
How to do the Pike Push-up properly:
So, let’s get into proper form and technique. Variations to make this exercise easier or harder will come further on ahead, but let’s start with the basics. As we mentioned before, this exercise is, in essence, a variation of a shoulder press that does not require any equipment. However, like most bodyweight exercises, proper form and technique will dictate progression and results. So let’s start by focusing on these.
- To start, get into a normal push-up position on your floor or mat. Your hands should lie directly under your shoulders and should be locked straight. Your back is strong and your core is engaged.
- Keeping your legs and arms straight, begin to walk your legs towards your hands and pull your hips up to the sky, making a “V” shape. If you can’t keep your legs and arms straight, it is ok to allow a slight bend or start with a few of the modifications mentioned later in this article.
- Maintaining this “V” position, now bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle away from your body, and allow your head to glide down towards the floor or mat. Your head should drop straight down between your hands.
- Tap your head (or nose) gently on the ground, and then bring your elbows back in towards your chest and straighten your arms. In order to protect ligament strain, it is recommended not to lock the elbows completely on every repetition- so allow for a slight bend.
- Make sure to breathe slowly and smoothly, inhaling as you lower, and exhaling as you push yourself back up.
- As for the cadence of this exercise, we recommend starting with a 2-1-2 count. Two seconds down, hold for one, 2 seconds back up.
Here’s a video demonstration:
Why the Pike Push-up is Awesome
We know, it’s hard. Thankfully this exercise is well worth it, targeting a whole bunch of essential and functional muscle groups. The primary muscles being targeted are your frontal deltoids (Deltoid Anterior) and your triceps (Triceps Brachii). The secondary groups are your pectorals (Pectoralis major) and your middle deltoids (Deltoid lateral). On top of these core groups, the Pike Push-up works a large number of stabilizer muscles including but not limited to your quadriceps and your obliques.
Balance and strength exercises such as these are one of the most effective ways to strengthen your stabilizer muscles, all of which are important in allowing effective multiplanar motion and creating natural momentum movement in all training.
Tips, Tricks & the Extra Challenge:
Whether you have mastered the Pike Push-up or need to build the strength necessary to complete the exercise effectively, there are modifications and tips you can use to adapt. Let’s start with a few reminders to ensure good form.
- Remember to keep your arms at a 45-degree angle from your body. That means you are not flaring them out, nor keeping them tight to your side. Find the sweet spot right in the middle.
- Breathe. Don’t forget to keep it smooth.
- Warm-up before you begin. Get the blood flowing by starting with some simple shoulder rolls or arm and wrist stretches.
- Activate the glutes and engage the core. Sometimes we can start to feel the strain in our lower and upper back, so be sure to engage to stay solid.
Making it Easier
Elevate the Hands: If you are having some trouble completing the full Pike Push-up, one suggestion is to make sure the hands are higher than the feet.
Start with a normal pushup: There is nothing wrong with building strength. If you can’t do a Pike Push-up with good form, just stick with normal push-ups until you’re ready.
Making it Harder
Elevate one leg: If you wanted an extra challenge, reach one leg to the sky while completing the exercise. Not only does this make the push-up harder, but it works your stability muscles even more!
Elevate both legs: The higher you elevate your legs, the harder the exercise. Try starting with your feet on a chair, bench or on the end of a couch. Eventually, we work up to completing this exercise in a handstand position on the wall.
Super Slow: Slowing down the exercise will make it harder, so try a 5-2-5 second count if you’re up for a challenge.
Hands Closer Together: If you are comfortable with the strain on the shoulders, moving the hand closer together will increase the weight on the triceps, isolating and building.
Like most bodyweight exercises, if we use proper technique and form, the risk of injury decreases compared to intense weight training. However, there are always things to keep in mind with every exercise to stay safe and efficient.
Don’t Stay Inverted too Long: When we invert our body, the blood rushes to our head which can cause unwanted effects. If you start to feel light-headed or nauseous, come out of the pose for a few breaths before continuing.
Stretch: Shoulder injuries are no joke. Be sure to stretch before and after these exercises in order to induce warm-up and recovery, prevent injuries and increase flexibility.
If you need to work on mobility, do it: If you are having a hard time stabilizing your body during this exercise, regress and work on postures that will build your strength. Working on normal shoulder push-ups or even staying in plank pose for an extended period will build muscle, engage your core, and develop stability and mobility.
Get those Pike Push-ups going!
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.