I watch the AthleanX youtube channel a lot to learn a lot about the body's mechanical working as well as any training tips. In one video, Jeff recommends thumbs up push ups as a no equipment work out for the back. But I can't figure out how it would work. I am sure he is right, as I have learned a huge amount from his videos.

The closest back exercise that I know of that I can compare it to would probably be a straight arm pushdown, but it is still pushing away from the body on the horizontal plane instead of vertical, like the pushdown.

He doesn't say what muscles it might work, and I can't figure it out. Does anybody understand the mechanics of it?

  • His commentary states... This video will show you how to do just that with 5 insane back exercises that are sure to help you with both the width and thickness of your back from your lats to your rhomboids, and everything in between! If that's not what you're looking for, why not just email him?
    – rrirower
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 14:56
  • well yes but i assume he meant that all of them together did that? i have emailed and commented in the past and not got replies... Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 15:01
  • 1
    Why not do some and see which muscles are sore tomorrow?
    – KurtisT
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 21:01

4 Answers 4


I don't know how old this is, the thumbs are pointing up because it helps engage your lats. You are driving your hands into the floor. Think of it as trying to do a face-down lat pull-down. You're trying to lift off the ground by pulling your elbows down in front of you with your arms locked. If you have your elbows bent and straighten them as you move, it'll being in triceps more.

  • In the linked video, the elbows are closed to the sides of the body at the end of the eccentric phase of the movement, which is the opposite to a lat pull-down. The lats are lengthening while the work is being performed, so this can't be a lat exercise. Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 4:17

While this is an old question, I don't think any of the current answers are adequate.

In the video linked, the exercise demonstrated is similar to a wide-grip pushup, but with the forearms supinated. The video clearly shows that during the concentric portion of the movement, the elbows are extending, the scapulae are protracting, and the arms are undergoing transverse adduction.

Therefore the muscles used are the triceps, pectorals, and serratus anterior. Probably the biggest difference between this and a wide grip pushup is that a position of shoulder external rotation is needed in order to get the thumbs pointing upwards. This would have the effect of eliminating any contribution of the anterior deltoid.

The latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and trapezius are all elongating during the concentric phase of the exercise, and so cannot be contributing.

In short, this exercise definitely does not work the back, and the only part of the video I'd agree with is where he says "Now I know you guys are going to say that this is not a back exercise".


in a face pull you are bringing the arms in towards the scapula to work the rotator cuff muscles however in the thumbs up push up you are bringing the scapula out towards the arms. in both cases the rotator cuff muscles are shortening and thus being worked although I imagine the thumbs up push up is a tad more serratus dominant. hope this helps!


It probably maximizes hand strength and works the same as regular push ups(chest, triceps, etc.) But why would you do push ups on your thumbs? You'll end up with 2 broken thumbs and even more serious, 2 broken wrists. Also, not only that, but your traps(upper back) muscles are worked with regular push ups anyway.

  • The thumbs are pushed up in the exercise, they are not utilised at all. Also, in the video he says that it definitely is not a chest/tricep working exercise, and that it targets the back muscles. If you think about how straight arm pushdowns, or dumbbell pullovers work, it makes sense. But they work different muscles, and I was wondering specifically which ones these exercises work, since he does not explicitly mention it. Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 10:57
  • it actually does involve a little chest muscles too.
    – user28080
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 12:32

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