At some point along your fitness journey, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a barrier with your strength progress. Although frustrating, it’s a completely normal part of resistance training. And fortunately, there are measures you can take to overcome it.
One solution: Practice the triceps push-up, a bodyweight exercise that helps you develop significant strength throughout your upper body. Ahead, discover how to perform the triceps push-up with flawless form, regardless of how you modify or advance the movement. Plus, gain more knowledge about all the advantages the triceps push-up has to offer and why you’ll want to make it a staple in your training program.
How to Perform a Triceps Push-Up
A triceps push-up is essentially identical to a traditional push-up: You’ll begin in a high plank position, gradually bend your elbows to lower your body to the ground, then press into your palms to return to your plank. The key distinction between the two movements? Your elbows are kept close to your sides during a triceps push-up, but they’re extended so your arms form a 45-degree angle with your trunk during a regular push-up, says Antonia Henry, M.Sc., R.Y.T., an NASM-certified personal trainer and pregnancy and postpartum athleticism coach.
If you’re having trouble visualizing the exercise, watch Henry demonstrate the triceps push-up with proper form below.
A. Start in a high plank position on the floor with hands directly underneath shoulders and legs extended, feet hip-width apart.
B. Engage core by tucking tailbone and drawing navel in toward spine. Lock in lats by drawing shoulders down and away from ears. Engage glutes and quads.
C. Look down to keep neck neutral, continue engaging core, and ensure body forms a straight line from head to heel. Keeping biceps close to sides, slowly bend at elbows to lower body, stopping about 3 inches above the floor.
D. Push away from the floor to return to starting position.
The Key Triceps Push-Up Advantages
As you can probably deduce from the name, the triceps push-up helps build strength in your triceps brachii — a large, thick muscle on the backside of your upper arm with the primary function of extending the elbow joint, according to the National Library of Medicine. But that’s not the sole benefit the exercise has to offer.
Engages Multiple Muscle Groups and Joints Simultaneously
The triceps push-up might appear to focus solely on the upper body, but it is actually classified as a compound exercise. This means that you need to activate several muscle groups and joints simultaneously in order to perform the movement, explains Henry. Specifically, your triceps, pectoral muscles, deltoids (or shoulder muscles), and core muscles – as well as your shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints – all need to work together to lower your body to the floor and raise it back up in a controlled manner, she adds.
In essence, push-ups, along with other compound exercises, provide a highly efficient workout that can make daily movements easier. “More intricate movements require improved control and coordination of multiple muscle groups – as well as the joints they impact,” said Bill Kelley, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., owner of Aries Physical Therapy in South Florida, as previously mentioned in Shape. “And this coordination and control translate into other activities, making you stronger and more balanced in the real world,” he added. In everyday life, this might mean effortlessly pushing your child’s stroller up a hill or moving heavy furniture across the room while redesigning your home.
Helps Overcome Plateaus in Upper-Body Strength
Training your triceps not only boosts your confidence and strength, but it can also help you break through plateaus in your weightlifting routine. For instance, during an overhead press, a common sticking point is getting the weight to initiate its ascent from your shoulders, says Henry. The same applies to the initial phase of a chest press, where you need to push the weight off your chest.
“When you struggle to move the weight away from your body, that’s when a lack of triceps strength becomes apparent,” notes Henry. Strengthening this muscle, such as through practicing triceps push-ups, can help you overcome these sticking points and continue increasing your load in other upper-body exercises, she adds.
Targets Your Core Muscles
Surprisingly, triceps push-ups also enhance core strength by working the muscles within your trunk that collaborate to stabilize your spine and prevent injury. Specifically, “your core stabilizes you throughout the movement, similar to a plank in motion,” explains Henry. While core strength may not seem significant, your ability to lift heavier weights – whether during a barbell overhead press or a back squat – and do so safely (i.e., without injuring your lower back) relies on effectively activating your entire core, as previously reported in Shape.
Furthermore, in the case that you were to allow your core to become lax during the triceps push-up, you will experience discomfort in your lumbar region while executing the exercise, states Henry.
Muscles Engaged by Triceps Push-Up
As previously stated, the triceps push-up primarily targets your triceps, more so than the traditional push-up, according to Henry. Your chest and deltoids also play a role, but they aren’t as heavily engaged as they would be in a regular push-up, as your triceps bear more of the load, she adds. Regardless of which variation you try, the triceps push-up will definitely challenge your core stability and control, notes Henry.
Variations of Triceps Push-Up
The classic triceps push-up may not feel suitable for you and your body — and that’s perfectly fine. Whether you want to modify the exercise to match your current abilities or make it more challenging to match your advancing fitness level, you have choices.
Modification: Elevated Triceps Push-Up
The easiest way to make the triceps push-up less demanding is to place your hands on a raised surface, such as a plyo box, stair, or even a racked barbell, instead of the floor, suggests Henry. “The higher your hands are, the easier it will be. And that’s a great way to start doing triceps push-ups today — you don’t have to wait until you’ve achieved a certain level of strength,” she notes.
If triceps push-ups cause discomfort in your wrists, try performing the exercise with each hand resting on top of a dumbbell handle, which reduces some of the stress on the joint, recommends Henry.
Progression: Hand-Release Triceps Push-Up
When you’re ready to increase the challenge of the triceps push-up, attempt it on a decline (meaning with your legs raised six to 10 inches off the floor), suggests Henry. The decline position will place more emphasis on your chest muscles, she adds. Alternatively, you can perform the triceps push-up with lightweight objects on your back or by securing your feet in a suspension trainer, which will further test your core stability.
If those options don’t appeal to you, consider a hand-release triceps push-up. This variation involves lowering yourself all the way to the floor, briefly lifting your hands off the ground, and then placing them back down and pushing up to return to the starting position. “Hand-release push-ups are a really enjoyable way to make these exercises more challenging because you eliminate the stretch reflex, which assists you in moving from the bottom of the movement back to the starting position,” says Henry. By lifting your hands, you eliminate any momentum that would typically aid you in returning to the starting position.
Common Mistakes in Triceps Push-Up
To perform a proper triceps push-up, it’s important to set up your position with intention. Make sure your palms align with your shoulders and avoid positioning your arms in a “T” shape as you might have learned in elementary gym class, advises Henry. Not only does this improper arm placement prevent you from effectively targeting your triceps, but it also “puts a significant amount of stress on your chest muscles and shoulder muscles,” she explains.
You’ll also desire to keep your backbone impartial and core enlisted; if your hips or thighs make contact with the earth before your torso at the base of your push-up, interpret it as an indication that your form could benefit from refining.
How to Incorporate the Triceps Push-Up into Your Workout Routine
Even though the triceps push-up is slightly more challenging than a regular push-up, there’s no need to become proficient in the traditional version before attempting this exercise, according to Henry. “I believe they can complement each other perfectly. If you’re aiming to enhance your overall push-up capability, one day you can perform a standard push-up with your elbows at a 45-degree angle, and another day you can try them with your elbows tucked in,” she advises.
As a general guideline, strive to complete three sets of as many repetitions as possible, recommends Henry. Once you can successfully execute 10 consecutive triceps push-ups, you’re likely to have built sufficient strength to progress further. “This progression could involve performing the first two sets on an elevated surface and then doing the last set on the floor. Alternatively, you can perform as many reps as you can with the more challenging variation and when it becomes too demanding, make it slightly easier,” Henry explains.
If you’re experiencing significant wrist discomfort, it’s advisable to consult with your healthcare provider or physical therapist before attempting this exercise, as it does exert pressure on the joint, notes Henry. Nevertheless, “triceps push-ups generally pose a low-risk movement,” she adds. “The worst-case scenario is that you might accidentally hit your face on the ground,” Henry concludes.
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