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Pushups are a famous exercise that is familiar to most everyone. Some people may even know variations on its common theme, such as changing how you place your hands on the floor in front of you. Reverse pushups, though, are much lesser-known.
Even if reverse pushups aren’t familiar to you, you may benefit from learning how to do them, as they can work some different muscles than regular pushups. To learn more about what reverse pushups are and how to do them, we talked to Olympic Level USA Boxing Coach Cary Williams, CEO of @boxingnbarbells, and WeStrive App Trainer Cathal Savage.
Meet the Expert
What Are Reverse Pushups?
The first thing to know about the reverse pushup is that you do them entirely differently than you do a regular pushup. You won’t be facing the floor, and you won’t be pressing your head towards it, either. Rather, Williams tells us that “the reverse push-up is a variation of the traditional push-up, but instead of facing down, we face up while still having our hands placed on the floor.”
Reverse pushups are similar to standard pushups in that you press through your arms to lift and lower the weight of your body. But, they are different from regular pushups because you’re facing away from the floor, and due to how arms bend at the elbow, your body won’t be in a fully straight plank form unless you’re very advanced. Instead, think of a reverse pushup as likely looking more like a bridge to start, where your arms are behind your head.
You can do reverse pushups on the floor or a mat, like regular pushups, or they can be done with your hands resting on a surface, such as a workout bench. Your legs can be completely straight, or you can be bent at the knee. Let’s look at what this unique exercise can do for us.
Benefits of Reverse Pushups
- Reverse pushups are a strengthening exercise. Savage says they are best for strengthening your triceps, specifically. Williams adds that they strengthen your shoulders and chest muscles, as well.
- Reverse pushups help you build better core stabilization. Williams says that’s because your core is needed to keep you in the proper position to perform the exercise.
- No equipment needed! Just like a standard pushup, reverse pushups are a bodyweight exercise. While equipment is useful, it’s very much possible to build a complete workout plan without any at all. You can do reverse pushups anywhere that you have enough space to lay down.
- It’s a compound upper body move. Rather than working just your biceps or triceps alone, reverse pushups exercise multiple muscles throughout your upper body.
Proper Reverse Pushup Form
This instructional is for a full reverse pushup, which is an advanced move. You may wish to begin with one or more of the modifications offered below.
- Begin in a face-up position on a mat. Place your legs in front of you, with your heels touching the floor and your arms softly straight underneath your shoulders.
- Lift your hips off of the floor. Savage notes that your fingers should be pointing behind you, while Williams says to focus your weight onto the base of your hand and to make sure you’re comfortable and stable here before moving on to the next step.
- Then, bend down at the elbow. Use both of your arms equally, just like a regular pushup. Let your arms lower your body toward the floor until your lower arms are nearly parallel to the floor.
- Now it’s time to push! Raise yourself back up through your arms, landing in your starting position face up, with your arms softly straightened. Williams suggests that you “think of pushing your hands through the floor” while lifting yourself back to your starting position. Once back to your starting position of straightened arms, you’ve completed one repetition. If possible, continue with more reps.
Common Reverse Pushup Mistakes
- It may be a challenge to keep your back in perfect alignment, but proper form for it is key to not getting injured; Savage tells us to “be sure to keep your spine straight” and to “squeeze your glutes to protect your lower back as well.”
- Not having a set tempo can make the exercise haphazard. To avoid this, Williams suggests “a two-count on the way down. Then, “pause for one and lift yourself with another two-count.” After that, “pause at the top for a count of one.”
- Your shoulders shouldn’t wiggle around when you do this move. Though it may be tempting to let them relax a bit, be sure to keep your shoulders straight.
- Reverse pushups require a lot of strength, and you shouldn’t try them if you aren’t strong enough to support your bodyweight. Williams says that “it’s important to note that the reverse push-up can require an amount of shoulder mobility and strength that not everyone will have to do safely.” To avoid injury, she suggests practicing with a reverse plank prior, and doing just those “until you can own that top position.”
- Your neck muscles shouldn’t get involved. It may be difficult initially to not squeeze up into your neck. To avoid that, Savage says to “focus your mind on the back of your arms so you are not using your traps.”
The Best Reverse Pushup Modifications
The instructions we gave are for an advanced, full reverse pushup. Just like standard pushups, though, modifications may help you be more easily able to begin to do this exercise.
- Keep your knees bent, with your feet underneath them, instead of placing your feet all the way out in front of you. This will make it so that you support some of your body weight with your legs, rather than it all resting on your arms.
- Use a bench or chair so that your arms aren’t on the floor. Williams tells us that this will give you “a more advantageous angle,” as well as help you get stronger and “more efficient at this movement before then progressing to the regular reverse push up.” It may take some adjustment of your chair or bench. She says that “you might have to adjust the angle you place your hands,” as well.
- If you’re able to bend and straighten your arms, but it feels too difficult to do multiple repetitions, try not lowering your arms all the way down. That way, you can get used to doing the move without exhausting yourself quite so quickly.
- Instead of a reverse pushup, begin with a tricep dip. For that move, your arms will bend a smaller amount, and your feet will be closer to your shoulders, helping you build the muscles needed for a full reverse pushup move.
Reverse pushups are a bodyweight exercise that helps to build upper body strength. They can assist you with building stronger triceps and back and shoulder muscles, and they also utilize your core for stabilization. Not an easy move, reverse pushups can take some practice before you’re completely able to do them. If a full reverse pushup move is too challenging, you can simplify it by placing your arms, legs, or both in more supportive ways. Though you may not have yet incorporated reverse pushups into your workout routine, you now have the info needed to try them!