Push-ups are one of the most convenient and effective upper-body exercises that should be part of every workout routine. Push-ups can be performed in many variations and techniques. Every athlete no matter if you’re a beginner or an expert can benefit from the push-up. Here’s what you need to know about the push-up and the effect of different body and hand positions.

The effect of different body positions

With push-ups you use your own body weight as resistance. By changing your body position you can change the level of resistance. In that way you can adjust the intensity of the exercise to your own level.

Incline push-ups
Microgen / Shutterstock.com

Beginners are advised to start with an incline push-up, by placing the hands on a higher object. In that way you carry less body weight on your arms and shoulders. Once you feel confident in the strength of your arms, chest and shoulders, a horizontal push-up in which you are on your knees is the next step.

More advanced athletes can start with traditional horizontal push-up on your hands and feet. From there, you can alter the angle of the push-up by placing your feet on a higher object, which is know as the decline push-up. The higher you place your feet, the havier the push-up becomes for your arms and shoulders. Ultimately you can progress towards a full handstand push-up (with wall support if needed) whereby your arms carry your full body weight.

You can also perform single-arm push-ups, which  is very challenging. Here you find more popular push-up variations and tutorials.

The effect of different hand positions

Push-up arms wide
Kzenon / Shutterstock.com

You can vary the hand position during the push-up to emphasis different muscles.
In short:

  • A wider hand position is heavier for your chest
  • A narrower hand position is heavier for your triceps

According to the August 2015 issue of the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, the traditional, shoulder-width hand position is best for all muscles. When you place your hands wider than your shoulders, you increase muscle activity in the Trapezius, but you also decrease the activity in the Lats and Serratus Anterior.

Diamond push-ups
Dean Drobot / Shutterstock.com

The November 2015 issue of the Journal of Athletic Training suggests a narrow hand position to target your Triceps. The diamond push-up is well known for its narrow hand position and is very effective for your triceps.

Another way to vary is to change the direction of your hand placement. If you always perform push-ups with your hands parallel and your fingers facing forward, try turning your fingers on a slight outward angle. This position, according to the November 2014 edition of the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, resulted in the greatest number of muscle fibers used when compared with a neutral or an internally rotated position. The internal hand position showed a decrease in pectoral muscle activation, so if you are using push-ups to strengthen your chest, other options are more efficient.

Alternatively you could place your hands with your fingers pointing backwards to your feet. This position will be much harder for your shoulders and biceps and is a good preparation for the Planche position.


When your goals is to increase the strength of your fingers, hands and underarms, then the fingertip push-up is what you need. With this hand position, your palms may not tough the ground. Your body weight should be carried by your fingertips only.


Effect of various hand position widths on scapular stabilizing muscles during the push-up plus exercise in healthy people.
Selective Activation of Shoulder, Trunk, and Arm Muscles: A Comparative Analysis of Different Push-Up Variants.
Effect of the Push-up Plus (PUP) Exercise at Different Shoulder Rotation Angles on Shoulder Muscle Activities.