Diamond Push ups: Which Muscles are Worked? What are the Benefits?
Diamond push ups are the best calisthenics exercise for targeting the triceps for both size and strength. Diamond push ups are also significantly more difficult to perform then regular push ups.
In this article I will explain which muscles are emphasised, what the benefits are and take a look at what make this one of the most difficult push up variations…
Which muscles are worked with diamond push ups?
The two primary movers of diamond push ups are the triceps and pectoralas major (chest) with the shoulders (particularly the anterior deltiod) engaged as secondary movers and the muscles of the core are recruited under isometric tension to maintain posture and provide stability. With diamond push ups the triceps contribute significantly more to the workload then the chest.
Diamond push ups emphasise the triceps with higher levels of tension then any other push up variation. This is due to the hand positioning:
Push ups where your hands are positioned close together focus on the triceps
Push ups with your hand spaced wider then shoulder width will focus the tension more on the pectoral muscle (chest)
With your hands close together in a diamond formation, there is a greater range of movement for the elbow joint to flex and extend. The triceps primary function is to extend the arm at the elbow joint hence why the diamond push up is so effective at targeting this muscle.
To accentuate the tension on the triceps you should make a conscious effort to keep your elbows within 45 degrees to the side of your body, rather then flaring them out too far away from the body.
If you cannot help but flare your elbows out to the side, then this indicates either a lack of stability or a deficit of triceps strength.
Rather then persisting with flared elbows (which will lead to shoulder injury) you should space your hands out a little bit wider and progressively work your hands inwards towards the diamond push up as you get stronger over several training sessions and you then you should be able to keep your elbows tight to the body for maximum activation of the triceps.
The chest does contribute to the pushing force exercise, but because the hands are in close the contribution isn’t too significant so if you are looking to specifically develop the pectoral muscles you need to adopt a different push up variation (check out my guide to the best push up variations for chest development).
The shoulders (in particular the front deltiods) are secondary movers of the exercise which contribute to stability and assisting the chest to generate power. The core is engaged to maintain balance and coordination throughout the exercise.
Do Diamond Push ups Target the Inner and Upper chest?
Diamond push ups do not emphasise the inner chest as this portion of the pectoral muscle cannot be isolated in this way. The diamond push up places far more tension on the triceps then any part of the chest and therefore it is not the optimal exercise to target the chest.
The upper chest can be specifically targeted with push ups as there are two distinct portions to the chest.
The upper cavicular head of the Pectoralis Major (upper chest which is attached to the collar bone and inserts at the humerus).
The sternal head which originates at the sternum and attaches to the humerus.
The diamond push up will work both portions of the chest to some extent but generally speaking, not under enough tension to stimulate significant muscle growth, particularly for someone who is competent with push ups or has a calisthenics background.
The decline push up is far more effective at emphasising the upper chest then the diamond push up. (For push ups that focus on the upper chest to stimulate muscle growth check out my article).
When your hands are together in the diamond formation the contribution of the chest is significantly less then push ups with a wider grip. To target the chest you need to place your hands just wider then shoulder width.
Why are Diamond Push ups so Difficult?
Diamond push ups are significantly more difficult then regular push ups because the emphasis is on the triceps to handle the majority workload and the chest is less able to contribute to the exercise.
With a standard shoulder width push up the workload is more evenly distributed between the chest and the triceps.
The chest is one of the biggest and most powerful muscles in the body and by adopting a diamond hand formation you are putting this large muscle at a mechanical disadvantage to contribute to the movement in favour of the triceps.
The onus is on the triceps to generate the majority of the force for the diamond push up. The triceps are comparatively a much smaller muscle group then the chest so there is less capacity for generating strength and power then the chest.
During pushing exercises you will have become accustomed to the chest and triceps participating proportionally to the exercise, so to suddenly focus the tension on the triceps can be overwhelming at first.
The diamond push up require the elbow joint to flex and extend through a greater range of motion then any other push up. The triceps anatomical function is to flex and extend at the elbow joint which is why a diamond push up is so much more intense for the triceps then a push up with a wider hand placement.
What are the Benefits of Diamond Push ups?
Diamond push ups are an incredibly effective way to target the triceps for increased muscle mass and strength.
Diamond push ups are a focused compound movement that emphasises the triceps and activates chest and shoulders in one coordinated exercise.
They can be used to increase the size and definition of your arms and to develop proportional strength between your triceps and your chest.
Diamond push ups target the triceps better then any other push up variation, which is of benefit because your can use diamond push to:
Target your triceps for muscle growth
Equalise the strength balance between your chest and your arms for more overall push strength and power
The triceps make up roughly 70 % of the size of your arm. So instead of trying to increase your arms with mostly biceps exercises (biceps curls and chin ups are very effective for this) you should be concentrating your efforts on the triceps for impressive arms.
Diamond push ups place the majority of the workload on the triceps which gives ups a lot of opportunity for increasing muscle mass.
For a muscle to increase in size you need to give it a reason to adaptively respond to a higher workload then it is currently accustomed to handling. The muscle reacts to higher levels of tension by increasing in mass and strength so that it can cope with a future higher workload.
Diamond push ups directly load the tension onto your triceps so the exercise is ideally suited for increase the size of your arms. The fact that diamond push ups are so difficult means that there is a lot of muscle building potential for this exercise before you hit a plateau.
To add muscle you should work in the optimal rep range of 8-12 reps for 3-5 sets with a time under tension of 45-75 seconds per set. To do diamond push ups within the optimal framework is very challenging for even a seasoned calisthenics enthusiast, so you may need to build up the strength with smaller reps ranges, but always prioritise the quality of the rep of the quantity.
In terms of building bigger triceps, it is far better to do 5 perfectly executed diamond push ups then 12 reps with bad form.
Diamond push ups are the single most effective calisthenics exercise for adding muscle mass to your triceps and they can be scaled further in difficulty to consistently increase the size of your arms.
More Triceps Pushing Strength Relative to Chest Strength
By emphasising the triceps with diamond push ups you can increase their capacity for strength and generating power in relation to your chest.
The chest can dominate some pushing exercise (depending on your natural preference of the width of your grip) so it is good to focus the intensity on the triceps to increase their strength so they can have a greater contribute to generating force for pushing exercises.
By taking the chest out of the equation and focusing on your arms you can significantly increase your triceps strength in relation to pectoral strength, which will give you more over all push strength which will translate to other exercises and movements.
If you selectively target the chest with a wider hand placement and the triceps with a narrow placement then you can ensure you do not develop a strength imbalance between these two primary movers.
Changing up the width of your push up hand placement will act as a great alternative stimulus which can help you overcome strength plateaus in your training.
Diamond push ups are a compound exercise- Work Multiple Muscle Groups Together
Which means each of the participating muscles learns how to work together cohesively (the triceps, chest, shoulders and core in particular). Exercises that promote different muscle groups working together are beneficial for functional movement and athleticism.
All the muscles of the core are engaged under isometric tension to maintain the posture and balance required for each rep, which over the course of three sets can add up to around three minutes of tension.
The core strength gained will increase your capacity for stability and balance, and also serve as a strong foundation from which to generate force for other compound exercises and movements.
Involving multiple muscle groups to work together in one exercise promotes fluid movement and emulates how you move in real life and the strength gain will be more transferable improving sports performance then comparative machine based isolation exercises such as triceps pull downs.
Working multiple muscle groups together is also a more efficient use of your time in the gym as many of us have to shuffle a workout amongst other life commitments and can only spare 40 minutes per day.
You can also do diamond push ups anywhere which opens up the possibility of training your triceps at home rather then spending time commuting for your workout and solves the problem of not having access to a gym or expensive large equipment which only trains one muscle group at a time.
If you have any questions or comments about diamond push ups please contact me in the comments below and if you would like a comprehensive guide on how to target your shoulders with push up variations that are scaled in difficulty to meet your ability, please take a look at my article.