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Ask anybody, even the world’s greatest gym-o-phobe to name a body weight exercise, and chances are they’ll say the push-up.
It’s no surprise; as the foundation to any home workout, a staple move in circuits classes and military training, a punishment in gym class at school, and an accessory exercise for sports men and women, athletes and bodybuilders alike, you’d be hard pushed to find someone who doesn't know what a push-up is.
Some will perform push-ups with a wide grip, others with their hands close together. Some my keep their elbows tucked in, while others will have them so flared they look like they’re impersonating a clucking rooster. One huge difference you’ll notice though is the range of motion most people use.
From just an inch or two, right up to nose to the ground, everyone does push-ups differently.
Let’s look at each of these methods in turn, and tackle the pros and cons of both.
A partial push-up involves using a limited rage of motion. This could be anything from just a tiny arm bend, up to just short of full range, which is with your elbows bent at 90 degrees, or your chest around 5 inches from the floor.
What are the benefits of doing push-ups like this?
From a muscle building perspective, the main benefit is that partial push-ups target your triceps a little more. Just like partial range bench pressing takes your chest out of the equation and targets your tris, the same is true of push-ups. If building monster triceps is your goal, or you feel you've overworked your chest, yet still want to perform push-ups, go with partial range ones.
Secondly, most beginners just can’t manage full range push-ups. You’re best off starting with push-ups on your knees, or with your hands on a raised surface, such as a weight bench, table, or a barbell set at waist height in a power rack or Smith machine. These can quickly become too easy though and you need a stepping stone between these and full floor push-ups.
This is where partial push-ups come in. Even if hands-elevated push-ups are too easy, you won’t be able to manage many full-range ones yet, so partials, where you lower yourself just a little way is the next step to take.
Now for the downsides.
Partial range push-ups just don’t recruit as many muscles as full range ones do.
Sure, this can be beneficial for your triceps, but if your muscles are so well developed that you’re worrying about isolating specific body parts on an exercise, then partial push-ups are probably too easy for you anyway. You’d be best served by performing close-grip bench presses or dips to work your triceps instead.
Your chest gets virtually no activation from partial range push-ups, and the same goes for your shoulders. Add in the fact that your core doesn't have to do much either, and partial push-ups aren't looking so good.
Finally, unless you’re careful, your technique and movement pattern won’t be the same with partial reps as with full ones, so while partials can help get you ready for full reps, incline push-ups (but on a lower surface such as an aerobic step) would be more beneficial.