If you're a push-up pro, you've no doubt started exploring the wide world of push-up variations, from the one-arm medicine ball push-up to the narrow-grip technique. And that means you've probably heard tell of an exercise that sometimes seems like a hardcore badge of honor: The knuckle push-up.
Knuckle push-ups certainly retain the potential benefits of the regular, flat-palmed variety — working the pecs, deltoids, triceps, biceps and core — while significantly upping the intensity. But here's another certainty: They're also a challenging exercise with very specific (and somewhat limited) benefits that can cause injury if not performed correctly.
Changing your push-up position from flat palms to knuckles immediately changes one thing: It means that, to complete a full push-up, you need to complete a greater range of motion. This naturally makes for a more challenging exercise, which can increase muscle engagement (especially in the anterior deltoid) and potentially boost your strength-building benefits.
As for knuckle push-ups strengthening the fists and punching power of boxers and martial artists, that common gym tale seems to be a myth. At his official site, registered USA Boxing coach James LaFond writes, "none of the old-school [...] trainers would even tolerate a knuckle push-up being done by a fighter they cared about," citing concerns about hand safety. If done properly, though, this workout can help increase elbow and wrist stabilization, and strengthen the connective tissue of the lower arms.
Play It Safe
Back in 2012, knuckle push-ups gained a bit of infamy when Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love broke his hand performing the exercise, putting him on the bench for weeks on end. And, sure, being almost 7 feet tall and weighing 261 pounds adds a lot of wrist strain, but it's a warning anyone attempting knuckle push-ups should heed.
To reduce the risk of injury, always use a padded mat when doing knuckle push-ups. Perform knuckle push-ups using standard push-up form, with your balled fists one the same horizontal line, palms facing each other and thumbs pointed straight down so that they contact the mat. Pace yourself with a slow, controlled rhythm and press the weight on the flat face of your fingers rather than the knuckles themselves.
In Your Regimen
Compared to classic push-ups, most people honestly don't have much reason to add knuckle push-ups to their routine, other than bragging rights that may not be worth the risks. With standard push-ups, you stand to gain almost identical benefits with less risk.
If you're already experienced and very comfortable with standard push-ups and seek a challenge — or if you really want to focus on strengthening the wrists and lower arms — this variation might have a place in your regimen. If you do opt for knuckles, start slow and prioritize safety.
Push Your Opinion
Push-up fans are nothing if not vocal, so please do vocalize in the comments. What's your experience with knuckle push-ups, and how do they stack up to the standard variety? Does this tweak have a place in your regimen? Fill us in below.