What Are Knuckle Push Ups and Are They Worth It?

Handsome man working push ups

Traditional pushups boost a wide-range of benefits, particularly when it comes to strengthening your upper body and core. Yet, when it comes to the good ol’ push up, there’s a new kid in town. 

Knuckle push ups are becoming more and more popular, and for a good reason. You get all the benefits of the traditional push up, minus any potential wrist pain. So, let’s explore these knuckle push ups a little further. What are they exactly? How do you perform a knuckle push up? Is there a huge difference between knuckle push ups vs regular push ups?

What Are Knuckle Push Ups?

Simply put, knuckle push ups involve performing a push up from your knuckles. When comparing knuckle push ups vs regular push ups, this varies since a traditional push up often involves the bending of the wrist and laying the hands flat on the ground. 

So, why bother with knuckle push ups at all? A martial artist might say that knuckle push ups help them increase the strength of their fists, helping them achieve a powerful punch. Meanwhile, someone with sensitive or painful wrists might opt for the knuckle push up to take the pressure off of their wrists entirely while still gaining a tough upper body workout. 

How to Do Knuckle Push Ups

Before performing the knuckle push up, you want to set yourself up for success. Take a moment to assess your gym flooring. If you feel you may experience pain having your knuckles directly on the floor, grab a mat to cushion them.

Next up, clench your hands into fists. This means folding your fingers inward and laying your thumbs tightly on top. Place the flat part of your knuckle on the floor or mat, ensuring they are about shoulder-width apart.

Extend your legs behind you, creating a straight line with your body. If this is difficult, you may also choose to perform this exercise from your knees. For proper form, make sure you keep your core engaged (imagine a tight rope pulling your hip bones together to engage that lower part of the core) and ensure you maintain a neutral spine, without slumping your shoulders. 

If you’ve decided to perform the knuckle push up from your feet, aim to keep your feet close together. Then, inhale and slowly lower your body toward the ground, pausing right before your chest touches the floor or mat. Throughout the exercise, keep your elbows tucked in. This will help keep your shoulders in the correct position, preventing injury.

Exhale, then push back up to your starting position. Aim to do about 8-15 repetitions and 2-3 sets per workout. 

If your back or shoulders begin to ache at any point, double check your form. Are you engaging your core and glutes? Are you keeping your elbows tucked in? Using a mirror can always help you self-correct.

Boxer push ups in gym
Boxer push ups in gym

What Are the Benefits of Knuckle Push Ups & Are They Worth It? 

Knuckle push ups actually require a greater range of motion than the regular pushup. However, this naturally works more muscles, offering you the opportunity to gain even more strength in your shoulders, triceps, biceps, forearms, and chest.

For martial artists, knuckle pushups also offer other advantages. When performed correctly, a knuckle pushup can improve wrist and forearm stability, as well as strengthen the forearm muscle. In turn, this may create improved coordination and power when it comes to punching movements during a fight. 

At the same time, knuckle pushups aren’t for everyone. If you aren’t familiar with push ups in general, knuckle pushups may lead to injury or cause you to slip and fall during the movement. It may also not entirely make sense for non-martial artists or for those without wrist pain. This is because you can achieve similar benefits from the traditional push up. 

Additionally, since knuckle push ups require a greater shoulder range of motion, those with previous shoulder injuries may struggle with this one and may be best to stick to the classic pushup. 

Alternatively, those with wrist pain may want to explore the use of push up bars, which can alleviate some of the pressure placed on the wrists during a traditional push up.

Exercises for Adjacent Muscles  

So, what other exercises should you consider doing alongside knuckle pushups? Some exercises you may want to consider include:

  • Seat Rows – This exercise can help balance out the back with the chest muscles.
  • Wrist/Forearm Flexion and Extension Work – Using a weight and resting your arm on a table, strengthen your wrist and forearm by lifting your hand up with the palm down, then lifting your hand up with the palm face up. This can help counteract any wrist pain you might be experiencing.
  • Overhead Presses – This movement can help strengthen the shoulders, preventing injury or pain from occurring during a knuckle push up.
  • Tricep Extension – This exercise isolates the tricep muscles, which can help you complete a knuckle push up with more ease.

Fit young female athlete lifting heavy weights
Fit young female athlete lifting heavy weights

Eventually, you might even move on past the knuckle push up. For instance, you may opt for bench presses over push ups to lift more weight and take your chest exercises to the next level. Or you might explore the world of one arm push ups or handstand push ups. The important thing here is to ensure you train your body correctly and target the right muscles before levelling up.

Did you know?

Did you know that knuckle push ups offer an alternative to the traditional push up when it comes to preventing wrist pain?

Should You Try Knuckle Push Ups?

This is entirely a personal choice. Yet, at the same time, you should make this decision based on your personal goals and fitness level. If you aren’t experiencing wrist pain or you don’t have a reason to improve your fist strength, knuckle pushups might not make sense for you. 

All in all, knuckle push ups can be great alternatives to the traditional push up. Yet, they aren’t the only option to target these muscles. Thus, if you don’t love ‘em, it may be in your best interest to find other exercises that you do like and that produce similar results.