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May 07, 2021 9 min read

Unless you’re involved in martial arts or are an avid push-up variation person, it’s unlikely that you already do knuckle push-ups.

That’s because the benefits of doing knuckle push-ups aren’t significantly greater than the benefits that you get from doing traditional push-ups on the palms of your hands. 

Nonetheless, though, there are a few additional benefits to doing push-ups on your knuckles. Moreover, if you decide to give knuckle push-ups a try, you’ll still get all the regular benefits of traditional push-ups plus a few extra ones.

Added Benefits of Doing Knuckle Push-Ups

The benefits of knuckle push-ups can be subdivided into two categories: One for people who do martial arts and the other for people who just want the strength-gaining benefits of doing calisthenic exercises.

Man training karate at gym

1. Benefits for Martial Artists

First off, martial artists regularly practice knuckle push-ups in order to condition their knuckles for punching. In karate and boxing, for example, having knuckles that are callused is helpful because when they punch, the calluses are hard and protect them from potentially painful hits. 

Therefore, they’re able to focus on their punching power rather than their hands and knuckles hurting. So, if you’re a martial artist or interested in trying a boxing training program, knuckle push-ups could help you be a better fighter. 

2. You Avoid Wrist Injury

Wrist pain from doing push-ups on the palms of your hands is very common.  Especially if you’re not regularly stretching and strengthening your wrists, push-ups can cause a lot of unnecessary pain.

If you’re someone who commonly experiences wrist pain from doing push-ups, then knuckle push-ups can be a great alternative. Rather than your body weight falling onto your wrists, it’ll be on your knuckles which are typically better at handling large amounts of weight on top of them.

3. You Get a Greater Range of Motion

Knuckle push-ups require a greater range of motion than regular push-ups do.  Therefore, they’re going to pose a greater challenge to your muscles.  Particularly your anterior deltoids. With a greater range of motion, knuckle push-ups could make you stronger than regular push-ups.

4. You Work Your Core a Little More

Knuckle push-ups require more stability than regular push-ups because balancing on your knuckles is generally more difficult than balancing on the palms of your hands. 

This extra balance challenge will require you to channel the strength of your core a little more than usual. So, if you’re looking to build more core strength, then give knuckle push-ups a try.

5. You Get All the Same Benefits as Traditional Push-Ups

Push-ups are one of the best exercises to warm up your upper arms for chest day, biceps and triceps day, and back day.  They can even be an effective workout by themselves to challenge your upper body.

The best thing about knuckle push-ups is that they have all of the same benefits as regular push-ups. Just a few of the many benefits of push-ups include that they:

  • Are a calisthenic exercise
  • Work your full body
  • Are generally lower impact

Calisthenic exercises are otherwise known as bodyweight exercises that use the weight of your body to build strength.  Push-ups are one of the most popular bodyweight exercises in addition to pull-ups, sit-ups, and lunges.  Calisthenics is generally good for helping you build muscle endurance.

Push-ups also work your full body.  While they’re mostly seen as a great way to warm up or work out a wide range of your upper body muscles, they also challenge your lower body including your abs and glutes.  In terms of the upper body, push-ups primarily work your:

  • Pectoral muscles
  • Triceps and biceps
  • Deltoids

Lastly, push-ups are for the most part a low impact workout. This makes them great for beginners or if you’re trying to avoid injury.  Despite the fact that they’re low impact though, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t a highly effective exercise.

Risks of Doing Knuckle Push-Ups

Before you get started doing knuckle push-ups, consider the risks involved with doing them.  Then, make the necessary modifications to minimize the potential impacts of these risks. 

1. Painful Knuckles

Obviously, if you’re not used to doing push-ups on your knuckles, it’ll be painful at first.  You’ll probably see calluses form and may experience bleeding on and around your knuckles, especially if you’re doing them on a hard surface. While having calluses on your knuckles is great if you do karate, it is otherwise painful and probably unnecessary pain to put yourself through. 

Having to deal with knuckle pain on top of the pain you experience from lifting might not be worth it. If you still decide to go through with doing knuckle push-ups, just be sure to at least start doing them on a soft surface to minimize pain.

2. Sacrificing Form

As you already know, form is key to success.  And, knuckle push-ups require just as good of form as regular push-ups. Because of the added pain and difficulty associated with knuckle push-ups, people commonly sacrifice their form for the sake of doing them. 

Therefore, any benefits they would have gotten from doing the push-ups on their knuckles would be un-done thanks to poor form. If you still want to give knuckle push-ups a try, focus on doing only a few at a time with perfect form from start to finish.

That way, you’ll get the form down and condition your knuckles before you start doing more of them at a time.

3. Increased Risk of Injury From Falling Off of Your Wrists

In case you missed it, a few years back, NBA forward Kevin Love broke his right hand while performing knuckle push-ups. How did that happen? Well, knuckle push-ups require additional stability because it’s really easy to lose your balance while doing push-ups on your knuckles.

Therefore, people sometimes underestimate how much balance they need, fall over, and cause injury. Unlike regular push-ups where you’re fairly stable on your hands, you should be aware that you need to prioritize your stability almost above all else when it comes to knuckle push-ups. Otherwise, you could end up like Kevin Love with injuries that’ll keep you out for weeks.

Proper Knuckle Push-Up Form

Doing knuckle push-ups is more than just forming a fist and going at the push-up.  Like regular push-ups and all other exercises, having the right form when doing knuckle push-ups is the most important factor in getting a good workout and avoiding injuries. Therefore, you should follow these basic knuckle push-up form rules.

1. Balance on Your Inner Knuckles

Clench both of your fists with your palms facing the floor as if you were to throw a punch. First, look at your left hand; when doing a knuckle push-up, you do not want to be balanced the knuckles farthest to the left on your hand.  Rather, you want to be balanced on the two knuckles farthest to the right on your body.

Next, look at your right hand; when doing a knuckle push-up, you do not want to be balanced on the knuckles farthest to the right on your hand.  Instead, balance on the two knuckles farthest to the left on that hand.

Moreover, you want to put your weight on the knuckles that face the inside of your body rather than the ones that point outwards from your body.

2. Point Your Thumbs Towards Your Body

When you’re ready to start the push-up on your fist, have your thumbs pointing towards your body.  Be sure that they’re not pointed in the direction of your head or in any other direction.

3. Maintain a Straight Line From Your Wrist to Your Elbow

This is probably the most important form rule for doing knuckle push-ups.  If you don’t follow it, your odds of developing a wrist injury or some other type of injury increase significantly. Never bend at your wrists when doing knuckle push-ups.  All of the bending should come from your elbows.

When you’re balanced on your inner knuckles as I described in the first form rule, your odds at bending at the wrist decrease significantly.  That’s because flopping to your outer wrists makes it easier for you to bend at the wrist.

Therefore, the first thing you should be aware of when first getting started with knuckle push-ups is maintaining that straight line.  Unless you can do that, the benefit of decreasing the strain on your wrists completely goes away.

Young muscle man doing knuckle push ups in gym

How to Do Knuckle Push-Ups

To do knuckle push-ups, you’re first going to have to achieve a perfect push-up technique for regular push-ups.  That’s simple to do though as long as you follow these steps.

1. Start With Upper Body Stretches

To begin with, start with a couple of basic upper body stretches.  Before your muscles are warmed up, you don’t need to push it too far though.  Just do enough to loosen up your upper body.

2. Drop Into a Plank Position On Your Knuckles

Start by getting into a plank position up on your knuckles.  Follow these rules to ensure your plank position is right:

  • Your body should be a straight line from your feet to your head (neutral spine)
  • Your shoulders should be over your fists
  • Keep your feet hip-distance apart

Probably the most important aspect of the plank position is keeping your spine in a neutral position. That means that your glutes shouldn’t be pointed upward or sink downwards towards the floor.

Moreover, you want to create one long, straight line from your toes to your head. Additionally, you should be following proper knuckle push-up form by keeping your balance over your inner knuckles and your thumbs pointed inwards.

3. Drop Your Chest to the Floor

As you drop your chest downwards, your elbows should stay tucked in at the sides of your chest.  Do not let your elbows flail outwards.  If you do, you’ll likely hurt your wrist and minimize a lot of the muscular benefits of the push-up.

4. Return to a Plank Position

The same as in step 3, be sure that your elbows stay along the sides of your body as you come back up to the top of your plank. Once you’re back up in the plank, you can go back to step 3 and keep the process going until you’re finished doing the push-ups.

5. Recover Properly 

If you want to see gains, the cooldown and recovery process after a workout is just as important as the actual workout itself. To get the most out of your knuckle push-ups and all of your other lift sessions, consider taking a muscle-building supplement like our #1 best-selling 1-ANDRO.

It’s designed specifically for building lean muscle mass. Take one right after you wake up and then a second one 10 hours later. It’s that simple to dramatically improve your strength and power.

Other Push-Up Variations

Because there aren’t many additional benefits to doing knuckle push-ups, try one of these other push-up variations.  Each of these is slightly different from the traditional push-up and works out additional muscle groups.

1. Wide Grip Push-Ups

Wide grip push-ups are going to take some of the pressure off of your triceps and redistribute it to your chest, shoulders, and biceps. To do a wide grip, start by getting on your knees with your back nice and straight. Then, bend forward into a traditional push-up position but put your hands outward away from your torso so that your elbows don’t touch your body.

Turn your hands slightly outward and then bend your elbows to do the push-up. Only bend your elbows to the point where your chest is hovering just below your elbows.

2. Close Grip Push-Ups

Close grip push-ups are the opposite of wide grip push-ups.  Rather than spreading your hands out further from your body, you’re going to pull them in closer to one another. To do a close grip push-up, get into a standard push-up position and move your hands closer to one another. 

Usually, you would have your hands right underneath your shoulders.  However, with close grip push-ups, you want to cut the distance between your hands in half. As a result, you’re going to work your pectoralis major and triceps more than you would if you did regular push-ups. 

muscular man doing clapping push ups in a gym

3. Clap Push-Ups

Most people are already familiar with clap push-ups.  They’re a very common variation that forces you to exert extra power and stability. Clap push-ups use the same push-up technique as traditional push-ups. 

However, as you push yourself back up during the second half of the push-up, you’re going to exert power so that you can lift your hands off of the ground and clap them together before dropping them back to the floor. You should end the push-up in a plank position before dropping back down to do the next push-up.

4. Single Leg Push-Ups

Another common push-up variation, single-leg push-ups add an additional challenge to both your upper body, core, and glutes.  Because you’re balancing on just one leg with the other lifted up, more weight is going to be distributed to your upper body while your glute uses strength to keep that one leg lifted.

To do a single leg push-up, get into the standard plank starting position, then lift one leg so it forms a straight line from your toes to your head.  Then, drop down and start doing the push-ups as usual. It’s really important that you maintain that straight line throughout the exercise to avoid injuring your back.

5. Fingertip Push-Ups

Lastly, and perhaps the most effective way to upgrade traditional push-ups is the fingertip push-up.  Fingertip push-ups utilize all of the same muscles as regular push-ups except they require a lot more strength.  They’re a real test of the strength in your forearm muscles, triceps, chest, stabilizers, and abs.

The only difference between fingertip push-ups and regular push-ups is that you’re balanced on your fingertips.  Otherwise, use the exact same form as regular push-ups.

The Bottom Line on Knuckle Push-Ups

Unless you’re a martial artist or you experience a significant amount of pain in your wrists while doing traditional push-ups, there’s little to no need for you to do knuckle push-ups. While benefits to doing them do exist, other pushup variations are more practical, have more benefits, and are less likely to cause injury.

Bonus tip: For a tricep workout that doesn’t involve push-ups, check out our guide to working triceps with dumbbells only.