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Pike Push Up Progression: From Novice to Pro

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Imagine channeling your inner strength to defy gravity. Pike push ups aren’t just a workout; they’re an experience. Let’s delve into the art and science behind this power move.

The standard push-up is a classic exercise many love for its straightforward technique that provides significant gains. Many move on to more challenging variations like the Diamond Push-Up to gain even more strength. 

A man does pike push-ups in a gym
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But what about even harder variations, like the Pike Push-Up?

Although it’s a weird-looking exercise, the pike push-up can significantly benefit the shoulders, triceps, and core. It’s a fantastic exercise for developing stability and coordination.

So, where should you start? Here’s our comprehensive guide on pike push-up progression so you can go from novice to pro in no time. 

What Is the Pike Push-Up?

The Pike Push-Up or Military Press Push-Up is a variation of the standard push-up. It’s a more challenging exercise that primarily engages the triceps and shoulder muscles. 

Pike push-up variations are often used as an exercise progression for handstand push-ups. This is because it has a similar range of motion and increases shoulder strength more than regular push-ups. 

They are an effective exercise for building upper body strength and can be adjusted to match your fitness level. Decreasing the distance between the hands and feet makes it easier while increasing it ups the difficulty. 

Muscles Worked

The pike position engages different primary muscles compared to traditional push-ups. It’s a compound movement, engaging the following muscle groups: 

  • Deltoids (Shoulder Muscles): The movement engages all three heads of the deltoid muscles (front, side, and rear). The vertical pressing motion targets the entire shoulder, making it helpful in building upper body strength. 
  • Triceps Brachii: The triceps are the muscles on the back of your upper arms. They are used when you extend and straighten your elbows during the range of motion. 
  • Chest (Pectoralis Major): While the emphasis is on the shoulders, pike push-ups also engage the pectoral muscles, particularly the lower portion of the chest. 
  • Upper Back Muscles: Your upper back muscles, including the traps (trapezius) and the rhomboids, are involved in stabilizing your scapulae (shoulder blades) during the exercise.
  • Core Muscles: Maintaining the inverted V position with your hips raised engages your core muscles, helping you develop stability, coordination, and strength. 

How to Perform Pike Push-Ups

The absolute perfect form may be impossible to achieve, but you can certainly execute proper form. Because this is an advanced-level exercise, it’s critical to use the proper techniques to avoid shoulder injury or strain. 

Here’s how to perform pike push-ups the right way: 

Step 1: Assume the Starting Position

Begin in a standard pushup position, using a shoulder-width hand placement or slightly wider. Your body will be in a straight line. 

Step 2: Walk Your Feet In

Now, walk your feet toward your hands, maintaining straight legs. As you move your feet closer to your hands, your hips should rise, and your body will create the inverted V shape position. 

Your hands should still be on the ground, and your fingers should be pointing forward or slightly turned outward. This position is similar to the yoga stance, downward-facing dog.

A mna stands in a pike push-up position
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Step 3: Lower Your Body

Bend your elbows and lower your upper body toward the ground while keeping your head in line with your arms. Your nose or forehead should aim to touch the ground between your hands.

Step 4: Push Back Up

Now, press through your palms and straighten your arms to return to the original position. That’s one repetition. Repeat the exercise for your desired rep range. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Like other bodyweight exercises, there are some advanced skills to consider when executing the pike push-up. To get the most out of your bodyweight strength training routine, it’s critical to avoid these common mistakes: 

Using Too Much Momentum

Body weight exercises require control, stability, and coordination. Not only does a slow, controlled movement help you gain major strength, but it also helps prevent injury or strain.

Too much momentum, bouncing, or swaying can reduce the effectiveness of pike push-ups. 

This will reduce shoulder strength gains but can also increase the chance of injury on the shoulder and elbow joints. Instead, take your time with each rep. Take deep inhales, brace your core, and control your body in the downward phase to get the most out of the exercise. 

Rounding the Back or Sagging the Hips

You create a triangle or “V” shape with your body during the pike push-up, with the hips being the highest point.

If you don’t engage your core, you might end up rounding the lower back or sagging the hips. This makes the exercise less effective and can place unnecessary stress on the body. 

Instead, engage your core so your back does not round or overextend. Avoid allowing your hips to sag by sustaining a straight line from head to heels throughout the exercise. You can also perform additional mobility work to enhance your core, back, and hip strength.

Your Feet Are Too Close Together

Your body may become unstable, and you can lose balance if your feet are positioned too close together during the pike push-up. 

Your core will get more engagement, but this is an unusual position that can cause you to fall over, strain yourself, or perform less effective repetitions. Instead, position your feet a bit wider than hip distance apart

This will ensure a more balanced position, allowing you to maintain control and coordination throughout the entire range of motion. 

Incorrect Hand Placement

Just like the feet, your hand placement is critical during the pike push-up for stability and balance. 

Maintain a hand placement around shoulder-width distance right beneath the shoulders. 

Do this before raising your hips and creating a “V” shape. Doing so will provide you with a practical and comfortable position. Your head will have enough space to move throughout the movement without you losing control or balance. 

Why Should You Do Pike Push-Ups?

With so many bodyweight exercises to choose from, it’s understandable to question why you should perform one exercise over another. 

I mean, you only have so much time and energy for your calisthenics workout routine, so why should you use the pike position? 

Pike push-ups provide several exercise benefits, like more shoulder strength and improved core stability, and help you progress to a higher difficulty level. 

Develop Massive Shoulders

Who doesn’t dream of massive boulder shoulders? Engaging the deltoids is a must for building strength that carries over to other exercises, sports, and daily activities. 

Deltoid-focused training can be difficult if you’re only performing calisthenic exercises, but pike push-ups help mitigate this issue.

The body weight movement places a great deal of resistance on all three heads of the deltoid muscle. This will help you develop more shoulder strength, size, stability, and shoulder joint mobility

Increase Core Strength

The pike push-up is an intense plank position, meaning it provides thorough core muscle recruitment. Regularly performing the exercise will help you develop a firmer abdomen, which benefits other forms of bodyweight training. 

Functional movements, like daily chores, playing with your children, and carrying groceries, can become more accessible. This will make your everyday life more manageable, allowing you to get through your day with ease. 

Regression Exercise for Handstand Push-Ups

The handstand push-up or handstand hold is a dream of many athletes. It’s a difficult movement requiring intense body control, stability, and coordination. 

The pike push-up is often used as a progression for developing enough strength for the handstand exercise. 

With proper form, the pike push-up engages similar muscle groups and helps you develop the correct technique. It can also be used to reduce the volume or difficulty of your exercise routine if you can already perform handstand push-ups. 

A man does handstand push-ups
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Progression Tips

The pike push-up is often used as a stepping stone in a calisthenics athlete’s fitness journey and is an essential exercise for developing shoulder strength. 

But regardless if you’re goal is to move onto more difficult push-up variations or work your way up to a handstand push-up, here are some progression tips to get you there:

Start With Incline Pike Push-Ups

The regular pike push-up can be a difficult exercise on its own. It’s more challenging than the traditional push-up and requires advanced body control. 

Thankfully, you can use the Incline Pike Push-Up as a progression exercise between the standard push-ups and the pike push-up. 

By elevating your upper body on an incline (like an exercise bench or sturdy object), you decrease the percentage of your body weight that you need to lift. This reduced resistance makes the exercise more manageable for beginners or those working toward mastering the pike push-up.

Move Onto Decline Pike Push-Ups

If you’ve already mastered the pike push-up, then you can move on to more challenging upper body exercises, like the Decline Pike Push-Up.

The decline variation shifts the center of gravity toward the upper body, increasing the workload on the shoulders, triceps, and upper chest. This makes it a great transition exercise for more difficult calisthenic workouts, like freestanding handstand push-ups. 

With more body control, coordination, and stability, mastering advanced movements will become much more manageable. 

Try Wall Bent Waist Handstand Push-Ups

Once you’re performing decline pike push-ups with ease, you can move on to even more advanced techniques, like Wall Bent Waist Handstand Push-Ups.

This movement is a transition exercise for a full handstand pushup, requiring you to walk your feet up a wall with a bent waist. The position places a higher demand on the shoulders, requiring you to control your body weight through the full range of motion.

Variations like this will prepare your stabilizer muscles, core, body, and mind for a full handstand push-up. 

Work Your Way to a Full Handstand Push-Up

If you’re working your way up through the various exercise progressions, you’ll eventually end up at a full Handstand Push-Up. This could take several months or even years, depending on your level of fitness—but it will be well worth it.

You need tremendous amounts of strength, stability, body control, and coordination to perform a single handstand push-up. 

It doesn’t matter how long it takes; the benefits you gain on the way will be well worth the journey. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Do Pike Push-Ups Work?

Pike push-ups engage similar muscles to traditional push-ups but place much more emphasis on the shoulders, triceps, core, and upper chest. It’s a fantastic bodyweight exercise for developing shoulder strength and stability. 

Is the Pike Push-Up Effective?

Yes, the pike push-up is one of the best calisthenics exercises for engaging the shoulders, triceps, and core. It’s helpful if you need a more challenging push-up and benefits core strength. It’s often used as a progression exercise for handstand push-ups. 

Are Pike Push-Ups Easier or Harder?

Pike push-ups are more challenging than traditional push-ups. The technique requires more body control, stability, and coordination. It also places more emphasis on the shoulders and triceps. Work your way to pike push-ups by performing incline variations or diamond push-ups. 


Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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