Incline Vs Decline Pushups: Risks, Muscle, Calories,…

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It’s clear that doing pushups can offer many health benefits. You can however do them in different ways, how do incline and decline pushups compare?

Pushups are a type of calisthenics, also known as bodyweight, exercise. They are a convenient way to work out a wide variety of muscles at home without any equipment.

The health benefits of pushups range from weight loss to longevity and a lot in between. Both incline and decline pushups can offer you these benefits but there are also some differences.

If you are very injury-sensitive incline pushups might be the better choice. When you are injured the amount of exercise you can do goes down drastically.

Incline pushups are also generally more beginner-friendly and target lower chest muscles more.

On the other hand, decline pushups allow you to build more muscle mass and thus burn slightly more calories in a shorter amount of time. Decline pushups also target your upper chest and shoulder muscles more.

In the end, you want to weigh the factors in this article against each other for your personal situation and think for yourself stick whether the incline or decline pushup is the better choice.

Difference in technique

Let’s briefly repeat the technique of a regular pushup before looking at the difference between doing an incline vs decline pushup.

To do a pushup you start on your hands and feet with a stretched body, arms, and legs. For a regular pushup your hands should be at about shoulder width.

You then fold your arms until your face is close to the ground. Next, stretch your arms again and repeat from there.

Your shoulders should be more or less above your wrists, your elbows at more or less a 45-degree angle to your body. Make sure you keep your body straight during the pushups.

Incline and decline pushups use a similar movement but because of their different angles, their effects are also slightly different.

How to do an incline pushup

An incline pushup is very similar to a regular pushup but your hands lean on an elevated surface.

To get into an incline pushup position you walk up to the surface you will use. The next thing you do is squat or bend down to get your hands on the surface.

Lastly, you move your feet back until you can get into the right pushup posture. Once these steps are completed you are ready to start doing incline pushups.

How to do a decline pushup

The same goes for the decline pushup except that your feet lean on an elevated surface. This makes it a bit harder to get into position.

To get into a decline pushup position you walk up to the surface you will use with your back towards the elevated object. The next thing you do is squat or bend down to get your hands on the surface.

After that, you place your feet on the elevated surface. Lastly, you move forward with your hand while keeping your feet in place until you can get into the right pushup posture.

Once these steps are completed you are ready to start doing decline pushups.

Incline vs decline pushups for building muscle

Some people question how much of a difference these varying slopes make. However, the difference between a chest-focused and a shoulder-focused exercise is only 90 degrees.

Here is how incline and decline pushups compare in what muscles they focus:

  • Incline pushups focus more on your lower chest than regular pushups.
  • Decline pushups focus more on your upper chest and front shoulder muscles (front/anterior deltoids).

Let’s say you want to build the most amount of muscle mass per pushup or in the least amount of time. In that case decline pushups would likely be better since you push more weight with your moving muscles per repetition.

When doing incline pushups, more of your body weight will rest on your feet compared to the regular pushup facts about this which means your upper body muscles don’t work as hard.

With bodyweight exercises, you can also hit a ceiling where more repetitions don’t result in that much more muscle mass. In decline pushups, this ceiling in total muscle mass you can build with the exercise is higher.

A lot of the calorie burning from pushups comes from the extra muscle mass you build. That means that decline pushups will also be, even if it is not that much, slightly better for weight loss than incline pushups.

Injury risk of incline vs decline pushups

If you exercise a lot, or you plan to, potential injuries are a very relevant concern. Consistency is a big part of working out.

The effectiveness of your workout plan will go down drastically if you can’t exercise for 2 weeks every month because of injuries.

That means that a pushup alternative with a smaller injury risk may build less muscle today but more in the long term by avoiding periods of injury in which you do no exercise at all.

With incline pushups, your shoulders make a more “natural” movement than decline pushups. This can decrease the injury risk in incline pushups and increase the injury risk in decline pushups.

Added to that is that your shoulders push a bigger weight with decline pushups.

Many people’s front deltoid muscles are also already relatively developed compared to their posterior deltoids. With decline pushups, you target these front deltoids more.

Overdeveloped front deltoids, compared to your posterior deltoids, can lead to hunched shoulders and related injuries.

Lastly incline pushups just put less pressure on your shoulders, wrists, and arms than decline pushups. If you are injury sensitive in any of these areas incline pushups may be the better option.

So incline pushups definitely have a lower injury risk than decline pushups. Not everyone is as sensitive to injury so whether this factor is important depends on your personal situation.

Beginner-friendly difference

Many people will turn to pushups as one of their first exercises in their getting in shape journey. There are differences between incline and decline pushups that may be relevant for these individuals.

First of all numerous people struggle with regular pushups. If that’s the case, decline pushups which make you push more weight are likely not suited for you.

On the other hand, incline pushups may be perfect in that case since your arms have to push less weight.

Secondly getting into position for decline pushups may be more of a challenge compared to incline pushups. This can be relevant for less flexible individuals.

In short, incline pushups may be more beginner-friendly than decline pushups.

Which one is right for you?

Whether the incline or decline version of pushups is the best choice for you depends on your personal situation.

If you are very injury-sensitive, incline pushups may be the better workout option. They also target lower chest muscle mass more.

Strength training beginners who are not able to do regular pushups can turn to the lower-difficulty incline pushups.

If you want to build more muscle mass, and in turn burning more calories long-term, in the least amount of repetitions and shortest amount of time decline pushups may be the better choice.

Decline pushups also target upper chest muscle and shoulder muscles more.

You also preferably want to like doing your workout. If you don’t, it becomes harder to stick to. The exercise that doesn’t get done doesn’t offer any health benefits.

As a strength training beginner pushups are a great bodyweight exercise choice to build muscle mass. To build the most muscle mass you want to do about 4 sets of 10-40 pushups depending on how advanced you are.

That being said, at some point your body weight may stop being enough resistance to build extra muscle mass with pushups.

When this is the case, weighted pushups or strength training exercises where you use external weights are the next step if you want to keep building extra muscle.

Ultimately you want to weigh each of these factors versus each other for each workout and your individual situation. You can then decide which one suits you best.

Another option is temporarily adding both incline and decline pushups to your exercise routine to find out which variation you like more.

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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.