There are no two ways about it: the pike push-up is a weird-looking exercise (you literally perform a push-up from a pike position — downward-facing dog, or inverted V). If you were in the mood to be judgmental, you could snidely opine that it looks like one of those moves performed by people in the gym who know they’re in good shape and want everyone else to know it, too. But we don’t judge here. While researching this article, I learned that the pike push-up is often recommended for those who want to build up to doing a handstand, or a handstand push-up, which was revealing. If your goal is to be able to balance upside down, for whatever reason, then this could be the one for you.
The pike push-up is great for building your shoulders (especially your anterior deltoids, at the front of your shoulder), your triceps, your pectoralis major (your pecs), and your core (which gets more of a workout than you’d think).
Fair warning: this is a tough exercise, the hardest I have tackled so far in this ongoing series. If you do not already include standard push-ups in your training regimen, I would not recommend you try this move just yet. Get in some push-ups first. A lot of push-ups.
How to do a push pike
I recommend using a mat for this exercise, as it can be hard on the hands — and worse on the face…
Begin in a push-up position on the floor, arms straight and shoulder-width apart. Engage your core, and raise your hips as you walk your feet towards your hands until your body forms an upside-down V. It’s a good idea to rise onto your tiptoes. Steady yourself, keeping your arms and legs as straight as possible. Now slowly lower down by bending your elbows until your head just touches the floor, slightly ahead of your fingers. Do not let your elbows flare to the sides — keep them tucked close to your torso so they bend back. This will help protect you from shoulder injury. Now push back up until your elbows are straight. That’s one rep and you’re going to feel it. Engage your core throughout, to help steady your body, which is, after all, in a highly unusual position. You are also loading a great amount of weight onto your shoulders, triceps and pectoral muscles, so they’ll take all the assistance you can give them. Begin with three sets of five to 10 and progress from there.
I did 20 pike push-ups every day for a week, and this is what happened
I’ve done a fair number of upper body exercises in this series of challenges (and I can see more to come — thanks, ed!), but my upper body is still not as strong as my lower. At no point during my week of pike push-ups was I not aware of this fact. I aimed for 20 on day one and was struggling during the final five — wobbling as I lowered, to the point I thought I might face plant. I noticed that my elbows repeatedly tried to shoot out to the sides, which might feel easier, but is mostly a shortcut to shoulder damage. Be sure to rise again into the inverted V position at the end of the move, to get the most from it. You will be sorely tempted to create a gentle arc with your body. Resist!
I was breathless by the end of the set and, a minute later, my delts were twitching (which I took to be them conveying their unhappiness).
On day two, I focused on raising my hips, as I could feel them dropping after 10 or so reps. It’s a good idea to ask someone to watch you perform the move, to ensure good form. Or use your smartphone camera to record yourself — you may not enjoy the playback, but it will help.
After only two days, I was resenting this exercise, as I didn’t feel proficient. I wasn’t sure I could complete the set on day three, but, to my surprise, found I was moving more smoothly and felt a potent sense of achievement when I hit 20. I was even tempted to try for 25, but, mercifully, that moment of madness passed. Afterward, I noticed the effort in my core for the first time, which was a pleasing development. Meanwhile, my dog lay on the couch, peeling grapes.
Days four and five were equally hard, but my form was solid and I never thought I was in danger of smacking my face against the mat. I considered that to be a major victory.
On day six, I managed 25, with a break at 18. On day seven I broke things up into four sets of five reps but added five to the final set without too much difficulty.
I can see that adding this move could bring considerable gains in the shoulders, triceps, and chest muscles. But there are other body-weight exercises that target the triceps (such as bench dips), the pectorals (standard push-ups), and shoulders (incline push-ups, performed on a bench), so I don’t feel the need to continue with the pike push-up. It’s an advanced move and one worth trying — especially if you want to master hand-stand push-ups — but, for me, it goes into the basket marked ‘moves I tried but decided not to continue.' Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a basket.
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John is a writer and editor based in London. He was worked for magazines such as Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Women’s Health and Cosmopolitan. A keen runner, what he lacks in ability he makes up for with enthusiasm and excuses.