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How far apart should pushups be?

When doing pushups, hand placement is an important consideration for proper form, muscle activation, and injury prevention. Experts recommend placing your hands at least shoulder-width apart when doing pushups. However, some variations like wide pushups require a wider hand placement. Here is a detailed look at optimal hand spacing for different pushup techniques.

Quick Answer

For standard pushups, place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Aim for your hands to align with the bottom of your pecs or around nipple level. This allows you to keep your elbows close to your sides and engage your chest muscles fully.

Explaining Proper Pushup Hand Placement

When doing a standard pushup with your hands directly under your shoulders, you activate your chest, triceps, and anterior deltoids. However, overly narrow or wide hand placement can limit chest activation or increase strain on your shoulders and wrists.

Here are some guidelines for optimal pushup hand placement:

  • Align your hands under your chest or pectorals – Imagine dropping a vertical line from your nipples to the floor. Your hands should be positioned roughly in line with this.
  • Make a diamond shape with your hands – Place your thumbs and forefingers together to form a diamond shape. This encourages proper shoulder positioning.
  • Keep hands slightly wider than shoulder width – Estimate the width between the centers of your chest muscles. Place your hands just outside this width.
  • Do not go beyond 1.5 times shoulder width – Pushing your hands out too far increases shoulder strain and engages triceps more than chest.
  • Point fingers forward – Keep your fingers pointing forward, not out to the sides. This keeps wrists aligned.

Muscle Activation Based on Hand Positioning

Research shows that pushup hand placement significantly impacts which muscles are worked. Wider hand positions activate the chest muscles less but increase triceps and shoulder involvement. Here is how muscle activation changes with different hand widths:

Hand Width Muscle Activation
Narrower than shoulders More triceps, less chest
Shoulder width Balanced chest and triceps
Wider than shoulders More shoulders and triceps, less chest

Based on these findings, right around shoulder width is ideal for balanced chest and triceps activation. Going too narrow shifts work to the triceps, while going too wide engages more shoulders and triceps.

Common Pushup Variations

Certain pushup variations require specific hand placements for proper form and targeting the desired muscles:

Standard Pushup

The standard pushup works chest, triceps, and shoulders. Place hands slightly wider than shoulder-width for full chest activation. Keep elbows close to your sides.

Wide Pushup

Wide pushups target your chest with greater emphasis on the outer pecs. Place hands 1.5 to 2 times shoulder width. Rotate your hands outward 45 degrees.

Diamond Pushup

Diamond pushups intensely work your triceps. Place hands directly under your chest in a diamond shape. Keep your elbows flared out to the sides.

Decline Pushup

Decline pushups work lower and inner pecs by changing the hand angle. Place feet on a box or bench and hands on the floor. Go for shoulder-width or slightly wider hand position.

Incline Pushup

Incline pushups target upper chest by elevating your hands. Place hands on a box or bench set to around 2 feet high. Use shoulder-width hand position.

Proper Alignment for Injury Prevention

Proper hand placement also helps maintain good alignment in your shoulders, wrists, and elbows for injury prevention:

  • Shoulders: Hands aligned with your chest prevents excessive shoulder rotation or strain.
  • Wrists: Hands pointed forward keeps wrists straight to avoid bend.
  • Elbows: Shoulder-width hand position lets you keep elbows close to your sides.

Flaring elbows out or using a very wide hand position increases wrist and shoulder strain. Stick within 1.5 times shoulder width hand spacing.

Tips for Measuring Hand Placement

Here are some simple methods to gauge proper pushup hand width:

  • Place a yoga mat or towel down and position your hands on the edges.
  • Make a finger frame by touching your thumb to forefinger. Place outer edges of frames at shoulder width.
  • Do pushup position against a wall. Mark hand positions with tape or chalk.
  • Measure your shoulder width and multiply by 1.1 – 1.3x. Use a tape measure across your chest from nipple line.

Start with a shoulder-width hand position and adjust from there for comfort and proper form. Monitor elbow position and wrist alignment as you widen your hand placement.

Modifying for Strength Differences

If one arm is stronger or more flexible, you may need to adjust hand width to accommodate:

  • Widen the hand of the weaker/tighter arm slightly.
  • Bring the wider hand in closer if shoulders become strained.
  • Shift weight slightly toward the strong side as needed.
  • Do isolated arm exercises to improve strength imbalance over time.

Hand placement discrepancies up to a couple inches are common. Focus on keeping your body straight and avoid twisting or tilting.


Placing your hands just outside shoulder-width apart allows for proper pushup form and balanced muscle activation. You fully engage your chest while still working your triceps and shoulders. Going too narrow shifts work to the triceps, while too wide increases shoulder strain.

Measure your ideal pushup hand position based on your shoulder width or pec line. Monitor elbow and wrist alignment as you widen beyond your shoulders. Adjust exact hand spacing as needed to accommodate strength imbalances while keeping proper alignment.