Push-Ups vs. Knee Push-Ups

woman doing push-ups on her knees
You can modify push-ups by doing them on your knees. (Image: Adobe Stock/undrey)

The push-up is a staple of the fitness world, but this seemingly simple exercise requires several muscles to do quite a bit of work in unison. There's no shame in not being able to do a push-up; even healthy individuals can struggle with the complex motion.

A knee push-up is a gentler alternative that can help you develop strength, allowing you to work yourself up to the level of fitness necessary for a full push-up.

Perfect Push-Up Form

To perform a traditional push-up, start by lying on your stomach. Place your palms flat on the floor, centered under your shoulders, with your fingers pointed forwards.

Then, lift your body off the floor, supporting yourself on your toes and palms with your body held in a straight line from your head to your heels. As you raise and lower your body in a push-up, keep your elbows out and don't let your middle sag. Repeat this exercise until your muscles start to lose some of their stability from fatigue.

The Knee Push-Up Variation

A knee push-up mimics the namesake motion, but with one variation to make it easier for individuals who struggle with a traditional push-up: the placement of the knees.

Start in the same position as a push-up, and keep your knees in contact with the floor as you press up, lifting your upper body. Keeping your knees on the floor reduces the total weight you need to lift to complete the motion, while still retaining many of the push-up's benefits.

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Incline push-ups are another easier version to try. (Image: pecaphoto77/iStock/Getty Images)

Push-Ups and Fitness

Despite only lifting your bodyweight, a push-up provides an intense workout to your arms, shoulders and core. A push-up is a complex motion; your arms and shoulders rotate slightly as you lower your body weight, requiring balance and strength to perform the motion smoothly.

If a traditional push-up is out of your comfortable fitness level, a knee push-up is a starting point for building up to the full motion. Knee push-ups still strengthen the chest, shoulders, and triceps, helping you build your fitness without the stress of a full push-up.

Understanding Your Fitness Level

Avoid performing any exercise to the point of failure. Pushing outside your comfort zone can result in stress-related injuries, such as a torn rotator cuff in your shoulder. If you're just starting a new exercise routine, alternative push-ups are your stepping stone to your fitness goals.

Along with knee push-ups, those performed while leaning against a wall or countertop can further reduce the stress placed on your shoulders, arms and back. Alternative exercises like this still build strength over time.

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