WHEN WE THINK of big-time bodyweight moves, the standard pushup immediately tops most peoples’ go-to list. The exercise is widely considered to be the gold standard of bodyweight moves—and for good reason, as your upper body will get torched after a few sets, while your core will be challenged more than you might expect (if you’re working with good form).
As effective as the standard pushup can be, you might find yourself bored once you’re able to string together a few sets of strong reps without breaking much of a sweat. You’ll also only be able to work your chest to a certain point, due to the limitations of the movement. That’s where the deficit pushup comes in.
When you perform traditional pushups, your range of motion is limited by the floor. By placing your hands on slightly elevated surface—in other words, by adding a deficit—your range of motion increases, allowing you to get a greater and deeper chest stretch while also emphasizing the mid-back squeeze you won’t be able to achieve with the standard variation.
For those looking for an additional bodyweight challenge, the deficit pushup may become your new standard for upper body gains, says Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. “It’s not a required move, but it is a fun one,” Samuel says. “And there is a ton of benefit for your chest in terms of building a little bit of chest and shoulder mobility and also getting that mid back involved.”
What Muscles Do the Deficit Pushup Target?
Each deficit pushup rep allows you to hit primarily the same upper body muscles of the standard variation—your chest, shoulders, and triceps will still be doing the majority of the work. You’ll also work your core as you maintain full-body tension throughout the movement.
And as you’re able to lower a few inches deeper, the additional squeeze required by your shoulder blades is going to hit your mid-back muscles a bit more than the standard version, giving your rhomboids and even rotator cuff muscles involved as you lower yourself deeper.
Who Can Benefit From Deficit Pushups?
Although everyone can do deficit pushups, not everyone needs to be adding deficit pushups to their workouts, Samuel advises. The added elevation also elevates the difficulty level, so think of the deficit pushup as more of an exploratory pushup. It’s a great exercise for when you want to challenge your range of motion and push your shoulder mobility a bit.
Before you take on this challenge, Samuels advises that it’s best to first master the basic pushup; make sure you can string together 15 reps or so with good form without flagging.
How to Do the Deficit Pushup
The goal, obviously, is to create an additional bit of space (or deficit) between you and the floor with this exercise. The best way for this is by placing your hands on an elevated surface—think yoga blocks, weight plates, dumbbells, kettlebells. This doesn’t have to be a massive deficit; just a little extra elevation to get you a deeper stretch (without causing excess shoulder stress) is all you’re gonna need.
- Place your hands on the platform slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, while keeping your abs and glutes squeezed.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades and keep your core tight. Lower yourself down as you would a normal pushup. However, in order to get the intended benefits from a deficit pushup, make sure to lower below the blocks, almost to about an inch from the floor or as close as your body allows.
- Pause momentarily from the bottom then drive up, keeping those shoulder blades squeezed and mid-back muscles nice and relaxed throughout the exercise.
The deficit pushup works ideally as a chest accessory move—especially on a bench press day—as it helps reinforce mid-back mechanics. For this move, because of the added stress and range of motion required, you shouldn’t be aiming to train for volume.
Instead, keep the reps lower, and really really focus on working your entire range of motion—from “screwing” your hands into the ground, keeping elbows nice and tight to your torso as you lower to as close to the floor as possible before exploding up. Aim for three to four sets of six to eight reps.
Jeff Tomko is a freelance fitness writer who has written for Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness, and Men’s Health.
Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.
Comments are closed.