Cobra Push-Up: Benefits, Muscles Worked, More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 23, 2022

Push-ups are a well-known exercise due to their simplicity and ease of use as they can be performed virtually anywhere without the need for extra equipment. While the push-up has many variations, one of the more challenging forms is the cobra push-up, a workout that functions for both stretching and muscle strengthening.

The cobra push-up is a challenging stretching exercise for the lower back, quads, abs, and gluteal muscles. Additionally, this exercise strengthens some posterior chain muscles, especially the triceps brachii.

As both a stretching and strengthening exercise, the cobra push-up improves posture, relieves lower back pain, and increases flexibility and range of motion. However, it is important to avoid mistakes in execution such as wrong hand placement, locking the elbows, and lifting the hips in order to gain the proper benefits of the workout.

What is a Cobra Push-Up?

Push-ups are one of the most commonly performed exercises as they work many muscle groups but mostly the triceps, pectoral muscles, and shoulder muscles. The cobra push-up is one variation of this exercise that targets the same muscles while requiring greater strength in contrast to a standard push-up.

cobra push up movement

The cobra push-up is partly a stretching exercise for the pectoral muscles, quads, abs, and even the ankle dorsiflexors. This is a challenging workout as it requires balance, stability, and body awareness. It is an exercise that involves almost the entire body because it also targets the core and hip flexors aside from the muscle groups already mentioned above.

How to Perform a Cobra Push-Up

To perform a cobra push-up, lie prone on the ground with the torso and thighs flat on the floor. Put the palms down on the ground beneath the shoulders and face straight ahead. Push the torso upwards while keeping the hips as close to the ground as possible by pushing with the buttocks. 

Raise the head and shoulders, and push the chest out as the elbows are going into full extension. At the top of the movement, pause for about five seconds before bringing the upper body back to the floor. Repeat for the desired number of reps to complete a single set.

Muscles Involved in a Cobra Push-Up

The cobra push-up is designed to lengthen anterior chain muscles and strengthen or reinforce some muscles in the posterior chain. As such, it is considered to be both a stretch and strengthening exercise.

cobra push up starting position

When pushing oneself up to assume the cobra position in the push-up, the triceps bear most of the work to extend the elbow. The triceps is a large, tri-headed muscle located at the back of the upper arm. It is the main elbow extensor that also contributes to extending the arm at the shoulder joint.

Spinal extension is assisted and maintained by the lower back muscles, specifically the spinal extensors. Additionally, the gluteal muscles, with assistance from the hamstrings, work to keep the hips against or close to the ground. During contraction, these muscles function to extend the hip, which is evident in a cobra push-up as the hips are pushed forward to keep it against the ground. 

cobra push up spinal extension

All other muscles that act opposite to the abovementioned muscles are stretched such as the elbow flexors and hip flexors. Other muscles that are stretched upon assuming the cobra position include the pectoral muscles, abdominals, neck flexors, and ankle dorsiflexors.

Benefits of Cobra Push-Ups

Increased Flexibility and Range of Motion

According to studies, stretching exercises, whether static or dynamic, increase both flexibility and muscle extensibility. Because cobra push-ups stretch the pectoral muscles, the quads, abs, and ankle dorsiflexion muscles, this exercise may increase flexibility such that daily activities are easier to perform. These activities of daily living include squatting down and leaning backward.

Range of motion is also increased in response to stretching exercises. This is because stretching exercises such as the cobra push-up also increase the tolerance of the muscle to stretch.

Relieve Lower Back Pain

As with other exercises that target the core and improve its stability, the cobra push-up also aids in the relief of lower back pain. The stretching maneuver of the exercise helps in this regard as gentle stretches of the abdominal muscles, iliopsoas, and gluteal muscles may reduce lower back pain according to a 2019 study.

Improved Posture

One of the many causes of poor posture may be attributed to tight muscles in the anterior chain that cause rounding of the shoulders and upper back. Spinal extension exercises, like the cobra push-up, assist in reversing the more rounded, slumped posture that many of us take on over the day.

Mistakes to Avoid in the Cobra Push-up

Cobra push-ups are capable of giving multiple long-term benefits with the condition that it is executed in a proper manner. Like most exercises, stretches, or poses, if done incorrectly, it may cause injury and pain instead of reaping benefits. Specifically, the wrong execution of the cobra push-up may lead to lower back pain, shoulder problems, and neck issues. 

Wrong Hand Placement

Hand placement is vital when performing the cobra push-up pose. If the hands are kept too wide and far from each other, this may result in the locking of the shoulders which restricts a stretch on the chest thus causing an uncomfortable sensation on the neck. Care should be taken when placing the hands on the floor, assuring that they are just the right distance from one another.

Lifting the Hips

When performing the cobra push-up, its final position is observably similar to the upward-facing dog pose. However, the difference is that, unlike the upward-facing dog pose, the cobra push-up does not require the hips to be lifted off of the floor. 

The cobra push-up is not about how high the upper body can be lifted. It only requires the chest to be lifted as the focus of the cobra push-up is on the spinal and hip extension. Not lifting the hips during the execution of the workout avoids straining the lower back too much which might cause back pain.

Locking the Elbows

When trying to lift the chest from the floor most would result in locking the elbows instead of letting the arms relax with a slight bend. Locking the elbows will result in restriction of shoulder motion and will give a sensation of a stretch in the spine. This in turn may lead to injury and compromise the intended benefits of the cobra push-up.

Incorrect Leg Width Distance 

The leg distance is another vital factor in the proper execution of the cobra push-up. If the legs are too far apart this may lead to placing unnecessary pressure on other body parts. The proper distance between the legs should only be hip-width apart and not too close or farther apart.

Incorrect Neck Position

When trying to stretch the body with the cobra push-up, overextension of the neck may unconsciously occur. This may result in a blockage of the airway thus making it difficult to breathe. Additionally, overextension may strain the muscles of the neck which will cause pain to these muscles. Neck extension should be maintained such that the eyes are pointed straight to the ceiling.

Final Thoughts

Being a variation of a push-up, the cobra push-up is able to target some of the same muscles that are worked in the standard form. However, a cobra push-up is also able to result in muscle lengthening due to this workout being a stretching exercise.

The benefits of cobra push-ups are helpful not only for their effects on muscle size but also for their use in everyday life such as leaning backward. To make the most out of this workout as well as avoid any possible injury occurrence, care should be taken not to perform any of the mistakes listed above.

References

1. Sungkue S, Septham C, Kongkam U. Effects of Strengthening and Stretching Exercises on Pain and ROM of Trunkin Females with Low Back Pain: A pilot study. Journal of Nursing and Health Sciences. 2019 May 15;13(1):110-20.

2. Page P. Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. International journal of sports physical therapy. 2012 Feb;7(1):109.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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