A “pike” is a common movement performed in various fitness modalities such as strength training, gymnastics, CrossFit, Pilates, yoga, and more. It can be an excellent workout for many of us and those who are both familiar with and new to piking can find the movement to be quite difficult.
There are many variations of pike exercises, all of which refer to a movement where you bend at your hips while keeping your legs and back remain straight forming a “V” shape. The idea of a movement where you will use your own body weight and form a “V” shape with the body may initially sound quite simple to perform, but anyone who has tried a variation of a pike exercise will understand the difficulty of this workout.
One specific pike variation is a pike push-up. This movement consists of walking the hands and feet flat on the floor and then pushing up into a “V” shape with the hips. The movement can look a little awkward to perform, but it is a powerful workout that engages the core and the upper body.
So Why Can a Pike Push-Up Be So Difficult?
Well, the muscles that are required to form a pike are often underused and therefore, they can take a bit longer to develop. Pike push-ups require more activation from the upper back muscles and core muscles than a regular push-up. If you are still struggling to get a regular push-up down, then it is recommended to focus on that before progressing to a pike push-up.
Pike push-ups are notoriously difficult. Most of us think this is an easy exercise to complete because of the simplistic motion of it, but the simple movement does not deny the work being done in our muscles.
If you are struggling already with back stability, a pike push-up may be even more difficult to get the hang of. Try this Hip Hike Exercise to quickly work to stabilize the back.
A Workout Only Using Body Weight Can’t Be That Difficult…
It is correct that you only need to use your own body weight in order to successfully complete a pike push-up. This does not make it easy, but only adds another layer of deception.
The deceiving look of the workout reminds me of the deception most people feel after taking a Pilates class. If you have ever watched a Pilates workout, you are probably thinking to yourself that it seems like a fairly relaxed workout. Laying down on the machine, using minor movements, and oftentimes only use minimal weight to just body weight.
If you have ever taken a Pilates class, you are probably aware that it is much harder than it seems. Pikes, a common exercise performed in Pilates on the reformer machine, are a great example of these deceivingly difficult workouts.
The Muscles That a Pike Push-Up Works
A pike push-up uses only body weight and requires much more muscle engagement than they may appear at first glance. The movement requires working both the upper body and the core for proper form.
As we complete a pike push-up, we are engaging the following upper body muscles:
- The Deltoids: These muscles are found at the tops of the shoulders and are primarily worked when doing a pike push-up. The deltoids are responsible for shoulder abduction, meaning they are turning on when you raise your arms to the side. Pike push-ups heavily engage the deltoids as you press your body back up, which provides an effective workout for these muscles.
- The Triceps: As we push off, we are engaging our triceps muscles, Located on the back of the upper arms, the triceps are responsible for pushing our body upward from the lowered position. They are remaining actively engaged as we push off and extend the elbow joint into our pike-push-up. The triceps also turn on to help us maintain stability in our arms.
- The Pectoral Muscles: The pectorals, more often referred to as our “chest,” are used for additional support and stability through our pike push-up. While we are indirectly using the chest muscles, they are essential for providing stability to the other muscles especially as we begin to lower back down to the floor.
- The Trapezius: The trapezius, also known as “traps,” extend along the shoulders and upper back. The traps help stabilize the shoulder blades during pike push-ups.
- The Rhomboids: Similarly to the traps, the rhomboids are responsible for shoulder retraction and stability. They play a role necessary for keeping proper form through the pike push-up. By working these muscles, you will not only build upper body strength, but also improve posture.
It is critical to turn on all these upper body muscles and ensure they are working in order to complete the pike push-up, but we cannot forget to engage our core as well.
The following core muscles are also being while completing a pike push-up:
- The Rectus Abdominis Muscles: The “abs” are essential to maintaining the pike position while pushing up and keeping the hips high. It is also so crucial to make sure the abdominals are engaged in order to protect the lower back and spine.
- The Obliques: Slow and controlled movements are key to engaging the obliques. Both the internal and external obliques will turn on to engage the core and increase stability. When the obliques are working, they will help keep you stable and prevent your hips from moving side to side.
- The Transverse Abdominis: The transverse abdominis is key for stabilizing the pelvis and spine. While it is not being directly used in a pike push-up, it is key for balance and support throughout the core while completing the movement.
If you are struggling with stability and engaging your core, specifically the obliques, start with this exercise for an athletic core and bulletproof back before working your way up to a pike push-up. (Also see more on what muscles are used in arm wrestling for an interesting read!)
Check In on Your Form
If a pike push-up is relatively an easy exercise for you to perform, that can mean that you have successfully strengthened these muscles. That’s great!
On the contrary, this can also mean that you are not fully engaging these muscles or failing to complete the workout with proper form. If you are doing the pike push-up correctly, it should still feel like somewhat of a challenge, whether you are a seasoned pro or not.
The pike push-up can be quite deceptive as it looks like a simple movement. If you want to take your regular push-ups to the next level, kick it up a notch with the pike push-up. Ensure proper form and that you are working to actively engage the shoulders, chest, triceps, upper back, and core for total stability and improving your physical strength.