Difference Between Close- and Wide-Armed Pushups

Person doing push-ups, part of, close-up
A close-up of a woman doing wide-armed push-ups. (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

A pushup is one of the most effective chest exercises and enables you to work the chest in several ways. You train the large pectoral muscles in your chest and the triceps at the back of your arm differently depending on your pushup stance. Your hand positioning particularly affects how the pectorals are worked during the exercise. Wide-armed and close-armed hand positions target the pectorals and triceps differently, with one of the two being more effective.

Focusing On Your Pecs

A wide-armed pushup focuses the concentration of the resistance during the exercise on the outer portion of your pectorals. The wide-armed position presses your arms out and away from your body. Twist your hands slightly outward to support the downward force and take some of the pressure off your wrists. Typically during a traditional pushup, the hands are positioned straight and not at an angle. When bending at the elbow, go down as far as you can, though it is unlikely you will be able to lower yourself as far as with a traditional pushup. Inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up.

Shifting The Work

The close-armed pushup variation shifts the concentration of the resistance to the inner portion of your pectorals and your triceps. Research published in the August 2005 "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," found that close-armed pushups result in greater muscle activation than wide-armed pushups. Close-armed pushups are typically performed with hands turned slightly inward and thumbs extended, so your index fingers and thumbs form a triangle shape. As you bend at the elbows to lower yourself, keep your arms close to your body and tuck your elbows. The close-armed pushup should be as compact of a maneuver as possible — the opposite of a wide-armed pushup.

Where to Start

Both wide-armed and close-armed pushups require good upper-body strength to perform. Don't feel discouraged if you can't do them the first few times. You can do both variations in an assisted position. An assisted pushup simply means your knees, not your feet, touch the ground. Using the knees instead of the feet reduces the resistance your upper body has to support. Ensure your torso and thighs form a perfect plank in this position. Cross and curl your lower legs upward, then take either a wide-armed or close-armed stance and perform the exercise.

Adding Challenge

Should wide-armed and close-armed pushups performed on the floor not pose a great enough challenge, increase the resistance in several ways. Place your lower legs on an exercise ball to raise your lower body. This changes the balance that you have to support during the pushup. An exercise ball is also unstable, which requires your muscles to work harder to keep your body balanced. If an exercise ball is too difficult, place your feet on a sturdy object, such as an exercise bench or a chair.

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