If I could keep only one move in my workout lineup forever, it would be the humble push-up. She’s classic, functional, effective, and never goes out of style. Push-ups can work almost every muscle in your body–and you’ll never get bored of them, thanks to the never-ending list of variations on the classic move. Speaking of variations, allow me to tee up the next one you’ll want to try: the dolphin push-up.
Similar to the dolphin pose in yoga, this move seriously challenges your shoulder and upper back. “A dolphin push-up is essentially a dynamic forearm plank,” says Katie Fogelson, founding trainer at Mirror. “By adding the push-up you further challenge the shoulders, specifically the muscles surrounding the shoulder blades, and place more demand on the core, in general, to stabilize the spine as the hips move in and out of a pike.”
“Dolphin pose is more commonly seen in yoga, but the pose itself and the push-up version are great for building strong shoulders.” says Fogelson. If you’re a yogi, adding the dolphin pose and push-up into your yoga practice can even help you warm up to inversions. “It can be a great introduction to inverting, especially those new to being upside down or wanting to build strength for more advanced inversions like forearm stands.
Whether you practice yoga or not, the dolphin push-up challenges your shoulders, back, and core (aka the muscles that help your posture). Try it for yourself below with step-by-step instructions from Fogelson.
How to do a dolphin push up
1. Begin by setting up a solid forearm plank. Bring forearms parallel to each other with palms facing down. Before stepping back into the plank, push down through the forearms to establish solid activation and awareness of the shoulders. Think about pushing the ground away.
2. Step feet back into plank, with feet hips-width distance apart. Keep pushing your elbows into the ground and imagine you’re driving the forearms back towards the body to really feel the serratus anterior muscles turn on (these are essential for proper movement of the shoulder blades).
3. Walk the feet towards you to lift your hips towards the ceiling. (This is dolphin). Feel free to bend the knees here if the hamstrings are tight and/or you feel restricted in the legs or hips.
4. Start walking the feet back into your plank and as you arrive in the forearm plank, shift the body forward like you’re sawing the floor. The shoulders will pass the elbows. Shift your weight back, to stack shoulders over elbows.
5. Walk feet back in, and lift or pike the hips up towards the ceiling to return to dolphin.
Form mistakes to look out for
The dolphin push-up is not ideal for true beginners since you’ll need a baseline level of core and shoulder strength to do this move correctly. Not sure if you’re doing it right? Look out for these cues:
1. Shoulders rolling or dropping forward
“The biggest mistake I see in the shoulders is too much anterior rotation at the head of the shoulders (ie. the shoulders rolling or dropping forward), while shifting into the push-up or saw part of the plank,” says Fogelson. If you feel your shoulders moving too far past your elbows, it may be a sign that the push-up is too much. Try to keep your shoulders stacked over your elbows in order to stay strong and safe in the move.
2. Sagging hips and arched spine
The second most common mistake Fogelson sees is sagging hips and an arched spine. “This usually has to do with lack of core strength and ability to stabilize the core in a dynamic movement,” she says. It’s okay for your spine to curve a bit (as it has a natural curve on its own) but avoid letting your hips drop too much, and don’t lose that engagement in your core.
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