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How Many Decline Push-Ups Should I Do For Proper Gains?

Although most people have a general sense of how to do a standard push-up, the decline push-up exercise is an advanced push-up modification that many people have never seen, let alone tried.

If you are ready to add decline push-ups into your workouts, you may wonder: how many decline push-ups should I do for strength and muscle growth?

In this workout guide, we will cover how to do decline push-ups, how to modify decline push-ups, and ultimately answer your question: How many decline push-ups should I do based on my fitness level?

Let’s jump in!

A decline push-up.

How Do You Do Decline Push-Ups?

Before we look at how many decline push-up reps you should do based on your fitness goals and training level, let’s cover how to perform decline push-ups properly.

Here are the steps for how to perform decline push-ups:

How To Perform A Decline Push-Up

  1. Find a surface like a weight bench, stair, plyometrics box, or other elevated surface that is stable and sturdy enough to support most or all of your body weight. Place your toes at the edge of the weight bench curled under as they would be with a normal push-up and your heels pointing up towards the ceiling. 
  2. Bridge your body off so that you’re in a normal push-up position with your body in a straight line from your heels to your head with your hands down on the floor stacked under your elbows and under your shoulders. Your body should be in a regular push-up position, but your feet should be up instead of down at the level of the floor, and your hands should be down on the floor.
  3. Squeeze your glutes, engage your abs to keep your core tight, and maintain that straight plank position throughout the entire exercise. Do not allow your hips to sag down or stick up into the air.
  4. Bend your elbows to lower your chest towards the floor. Bend your elbows at least 90°. You might need to turn your head if your face is going to hit the floor, depending on the angle that you are using for your decline push-up workout.
  5. Move as slowly as possible as you lower your body to maximize the strengthening benefits of decline push-ups and to challenge your core stability.
  6. Once your elbows are bent and you have lowered your upper body as much as possible, pause and hold the lowered position, flexing your triceps, deltoids, rhomboids, and traps. Make sure that you are also keeping your core muscles engaged. 
  7. After 2 to 3 seconds, press powerfully through the heels of your hands to straighten your arms and return to the starting position with your elbows fully extended.

Modifying Decline Push-Ups

Keep in mind that decline push-ups are not a good exercise for beginners. This advanced push-up exercise requires tremendous upper-body strength.

Decline push-ups should also be avoided by anyone who has elbow or shoulder injuries or who suffers from wrist pain, as the body position for decline push-ups puts a tremendous amount of stress on these joints.

Additionally, if you have any contraindications to inversions (having your head below the level of your heart), such as if you have low blood pressure, orthostatic hypotension, migraines, etc., you should not attempt decline push-ups without first consulting with your doctor or a physical therapist.

Here are a few ways to progress or modify decline push-ups as you get stronger:

A decline push-up.

#1: Use a Higher Box

The best way to modify decline push-ups based on your fitness level is to change the height of the surface you are using to elevate your feet.

Beginners can start with just a low step or yoga block.

As you get stronger, use higher surfaces such as a weight bench or plyometric box.

The more elevated your feet are relative to your hands, the greater the percentage of your body weight you will be lifting with each decline push-up rep.

#2: Do Handstand Push-ups 

Decline push-ups are challenging, even for advanced weightlifters.

However, if you need even more of a challenge and you have the core stability, shoulder strength and stability, and someone to spot you, you can build up to handstand push-ups or inverted push-ups.

This involves performing a push-up in the handstand position.

It is extremely difficult to balance in the handstand position with such a small base of support. Moreover, you have to lower and lift your entire body weight, making the handstand push-up very difficult for your shoulders, triceps, traps, rhomboids, and lats.

You can progress to handstand push-ups by doing decline push-ups and putting your feet up on the wall at increasingly higher angles until you are almost vertical and just using the wall for balance.

Then, once your core stability is good enough and your shoulder strength has increased, you can move away from the wall and try freestanding handstand push-ups.

People doing handstands.

#3: Wear a Weighted Vest

With any bodyweight strengthening exercise like decline push-ups, wearing a weighted vest will increase the resistance and make the exercise more challenging. 

The weighted vest essentially acts like additional body weight.

You can add a weighted vest to decline push-ups if your goal is to increase strength and build muscle because the weighted vest will help you achieve progressive overload.

How Many Decline Push-Ups Should I Be Able to Do?

If you’re a competitive athlete, you might ask: How many decline push-ups are “good” for men or women?

Although there are no official decline push-up standards, the table below shows the average number of decline push-ups for men and women based on fitness level, according to 15,205 lifts logged by community users of Strength Level.1Decline Push Up Standards for Men and Women (lb). (n.d.). Strength Level. Retrieved December 4, 2023, from https://strengthlevel.com/strength-standards/decline-push-up

Because the intermediate level is said to be the average ability level—or represent the 50th percentile— it can be said that the average number of decline push-ups for females of all ages and ability levels is 16 while the average male decline push-up count is 28.

Strength LevelAverage Decline Push-Ups Reps for FemalesAverage Decline Push-Ups Reps for Males
Beginner< 1< 1
Novice< 110
Intermediate1628
Advanced3950
Elite6574
A push-up.

Keep in mind that the data from Strength Level, while drawn from a large sample size, is still mined from relatively eager or motivated weightlifters because the data points come from a community of users who are interested in strength training.

Therefore, these average decline push-up reps might be somewhat high, even for lower levels of fitness.

Again, this is because the users are self-motivated enough or interested in fitness enough that they use a website about strength training to record how many push-ups they can do specifically.

All of this is to say that if you consider yourself an intermediate lifter and you can’t do the number of decline push-up reps for your sex, as shown in the table, don’t put too much stock in the implications.

You can always improve from where you are, and these are not standardized push-up norms by any means. 

A decline push-up.

How Many Decline Push-Ups Should I Do For Proper Gains?

Working as a certified personal trainer for the last 15 years, I have witnessed, all too often, people trying to eke out extra reps, particularly with bodyweight exercises like decline push-ups.

Your ego might want you to attain a more impressive number of decline push-ups without stopping, but this typically comes at the detriment of maintaining optimal technique for decline push-ups.

Basically, you might begin shortchanging the range of motion and not going down deep enough or allowing your form to break down and your core muscles to relax rather than remain engaged and supporting your spine properly.

Similarly, when people try to do decline push-up sets for time rather than reps, they may rush through the reps rather than moving carefully and deliberately and only use a truncated range of motion.

Any of these types of issues will decrease the strengthening benefits of decline push-ups and can greatly increase the risk of injuries.

A decline push-up.

The solution? 

Do fewer reps of decline push-ups and make sure that every rap is as perfect as possible.

Think quality over quantity of reps for decline push-ups.

To that end, the slower you can move, particularly in the lowering portion of the exercise, which is known as the eccentric contraction, the more strengthening and hypertrophy benefits you will get for the muscles worked by decline push-ups.

This is because you are increasing your time under tension, and studies have found that the eccentric portion of a strength training exercise can lead to greater gains in strength and hypertrophy.2Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., Vigotsky, A. D., Franchi, M. V., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Hypertrophic Effects of Concentric vs. Eccentric Muscle Actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research31(9), 2599–2608. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001983

Try to count to 4 to 5 seconds on the lowering portion of the decline push-up exercise to really work your triceps, shoulders and pecs.

A good starting place is aiming for 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 10 reps of decline push-ups. Advanced athletes can do three sets of 10 to 25 decline push-up reps.

As you get stronger, you can first add more sets of decline push-ups per workout and then increase the number of reps of decline push-ups per set once you can do all of your sets with perfect form.

To learn more about how to strengthen your upper body for decline push-up workouts, check out our guide to the best upper-body workouts here.

A stability ball push-up.

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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