How To Do Knuckle Push Ups: 9 Cool Variations

Guy in a plank on his knuckle about to show how to do knuckle push ups

If you’ve ever seen martial artists performing knuckle push ups and you thought they looked cool and you wished you could do them, then today is your lucky day!

I’m going to show you how to do knuckle push ups, tell you about the benefits of such a cool-looking exercise, and show you some awesome variations to switch things up and challenge yourself in different ways.

I was taking a Chi Flow Yoga Class the other day and the instructor had us perform knuckle push ups, and as I was doing them I couldn’t help but wonder why I don’t do these more.

They’re a powerful variation of regular push ups and, if you have wrist extension issues, they can be a godsend.

So, let’s channel our inner Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, or Chuck Norris and give those traditional push ups a break while we crank things up and rep out some bad-ass knuckle push ups!

What Are Knuckle Push Ups

Knuckle push ups are pretty much exactly what they sound like. They’re push ups done on your knuckles instead of flat on your hands.

They’re popular in the martial arts and boxing communities because they toughen up your knuckles and fists, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why a boxer might want to have tough knuckles and fists.

Even if tough knuckles aren’t a goal of yours, there are still many reasons why you might want to give knuckle push ups a try.

Knuckle Push Up Benefits

There are quite a few benefits of doing knuckle push ups; looking cool is just one of them. They actually have benefits that go beyond what regular push ups can give you. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Improved Grip Strength

Unlike a normal push up where the hands are placed flat on the ground, in a knuckle push up the hands are in a tight fist. Those fists are supporting the weight of your body so you’re required to create a really strong grip for stability.

This strong grip strengthens the muscles of the hands and forearm. Over time and many repetitions, you’re grip strength improves. This is just not something that happens with a standard push up.

Requires More Stability

When performing a knuckle push up, less of your hand is in contact with the ground which creates a greater stability challenge than a standard push up. You’re then required to create more stability in your body which results in more energy expenditure.

This is one of the things that makes a knuckle push up a more difficult variation than some of your other push up variations.

Increased Range Of Motion

By placing your knuckles on the ground instead of the palm of your hand, you’re adding a few extra inches to the range of motion of your push up. This is going to place a bigger challenge on the shoulder muscles and the pecs by forcing them to work into a deeper range.

It will also place a bigger challenge on your core stability as you pass through your normal range into a new depth.

Better Wrist Positioning

One great thing about knuckle push ups is that they allow people with wrist extension issues to regain access to an exercise they might have had to stop doing altogether.

Standard push ups require quite a bit of wrist extension and that can be challenging for a lot of people. Whether you’ve had a wrist injury or you’ve just got weak wrists that need some time to get stronger, knuckle push ups can be a pain-free way to get your reps in without worrying about your wrists.

Cool Points

While this might not be the most sciency reason to do them, it’s still a reason.

Knuckle push ups just look cool! They’re impressive and look powerful. I remember doing some once and someone asked me, “How are you doing that?”

She couldn’t believe how strong I looked!

How To Perform Knuckle Push Ups

The setup for knuckle push ups is similar to traditional push ups; the major difference is in the hands. Instead of placing your hands flat on the ground, you’re going to make a fist and place the top of the fist on the ground.

  1. Make a tight fist with your hands

  2. Now I want you to straighten your arms out in front of you as if you were holding two candlesticks in your hands. Now I want you to rotate your wrists 90º until the fake candlesticks are pointing toward each other. Now find the middle point between those two positions, like you’ve rotated your wrist to a 45º angle.

  1. Place the flat part of your fist, between your knuckles, on the ground while maintaining that 45º angle of the hands. This will set you up so your elbows can travel back at a 45º when you lower into the push up – just like you would in a traditional push up position.

  2. Once your hands are set, take your feet back to a high plank. You’re now ready to perform your push up.

  3. Lower the chest towards the floor while maintaining a tight abdomen, glutes, and legs. Only go as low as you feel comfortable going.

  4. Once you’re at your lowest point, pause and then press yourself back up to the starting position.

That’s how you do a basic knuckle push up. The only positioning difference between this and a traditional push up is the knuckle part.

As you get more comfortable, you can try to get your chest lower to the ground. But remember, the range of motion of the knuckle push up is going to challenge your shoulder muscles and chest more than regular push ups, so be cautious about how low you go at first.

Just because you can touch your chest to the ground in a standard push up doesn’t mean you’ll have the range to do that in a knuckle push up.

Tips for beginners

If being on your knuckles is tough, here are some progressions so you can get comfortable in that position and build up to a full push up.

  1. Start in a tabletop position with your knees and knuckles on the ground and just hold it there. Practice making your fists strong and staying tight through the arms.

  2. From there, start with some Knuckle Plank Step Outs. From that tabletop position, step one leg back to plank, then the other, then return back to tabletop one leg at a time. This exercise will allow you to flirt with that knuckle plank position while not spending too much time there.

  3. Once the step outs are easy, try holding plank on your knuckles. See if you can hold for 30-60 seconds. Keep your entire body tight and rigid, keep the arms strong and straight, and feel yourself driving those knuckles into the ground while pushing the chest away from the ground.

  4. From there, try a few Knuckle push ups on your knees before progressing to a full Knuckle Push Up.

Try not to rush things. Make sure you’re super comfortable in each step before you progress to the next one. This is a difficult variation and it might take your fists and forearm muscles a little while to adapt, so be patient.

Knuckle Push Up Variations

While regular knuckle push ups are cool and they’ll serve you well, sometimes you’re going to want to switch things up to challenge yourself in different ways. I’m a big believer in a variety of movements, so here are some knuckle push up variations for you to try.

Close-grip Knuckle Push Ups

This variation is going to challenge your triceps more than your pecs due to the positioning difference of the hands.

Take those 0º candlestick-holding fists and place them just like that on the ground at the same width as your shoulders. It’s ok if you feel like they need to go a smidge wider, but don’t go too wide.

When you lower down, make sure those elbows brush along the sides of your ribs. This will really challenge the triceps and give you a totally different feeling than the regular ones.

Wide-Grip Knuckle Push Ups

For this variation take those candlesticks and rotate them 90º so the candles are pointing toward each other. Then place the fists just like that onto the ground in a nice, wide position. As you lower into the push up, the elbows will be pointing out to the side instead of back at a 45º angle like the regular version.

Diamond Knuckle Push Ups

This is a tough variation where you place the fists right next to each other underneath the chest. You again want to imagine you’re holding two candlesticks in your fists at 0º and then keep them in that position and place them right next to each other on the ground.

From there, lower yourself down as deep as you feel comfortable and then press back up. The chest will lower towards your hands.

Staggered Knuckle Push Ups

In this variation, one of your hands will be placed exactly like you would for the Close Grip push up and the other hand will be placed like the Wide Grip variation. One elbow will travel straight back as you lower, while the other goes out to the side.

I like to do two reps on one side and then switch the hands for two more reps, but you could do any amount of reps on one side before switching.

Traveling Knuckle Push Ups

For this variation, start like you would for the Diamond Push Up. Have your feet together as well. Step one fist out at the same time as the same side leg, lower into the push up, then as you press back up you step the trailing fist and leg in to meet the lead fist and leg so you’re back where you started.

You’re basically walking as you do your push ups. You can take as many steps to one side as you want before returning in the opposite direction. I like doing two steps one way and then two steps back.

One Leg Knuckle Push Ups

This is set up just like the regular knuckle push up, but you float one leg off the ground. Do as many reps as you want to on one side and then switch to the other. Alternate between the legs.

Spiderman Knuckle Push Ups

Set your hand up like the standard variation but as you lower down bring one knee up towards the same side elbow. As you push back up, return the leg and then switch legs for each rep.

1.5 Knuckle Push Ups

The only difference between this one and a regular knuckle push up is once you hit the lowest point, push up halfway then lower back down to the bottom before extending all the way up to the top. It adds an extra half rep to the push up.

Risks of Knuckle Push Ups

While this type of push up can be better than traditional push ups for some people, there are some things you want to be cautious of.

These push ups can be hard on the knuckles and cause tears of the skin if you perform them on hard and rough surfaces. Make sure you’ve got a mat or some padding under your knuckles, especially if you’re performing them on concrete or other abrasive surfaces.

Be aware that this variation of push ups puts a lot more strain on the anterior deltoids, or the front of the shoulder muscles, due to the increased range of motion. If your shoulders aren’t used to this range, it could cause strain or injury, so be careful.

The main thing you want to make sure of is that you start slow. Use the tips for beginners that I recommended above until you’re sure your wrists, knuckles, and upper body can handle a full knuckle push up.

Conclusion

Knuckle push ups are a great way to spice up your workout routine when traditional push ups start to get a little boring. They not only look cool, but they can challenge you in ways that regular push ups just can’t

From increased gripping strength to bigger ranges of motion, knuckle push ups can take the traditional push up to a higher level and challenge your chest, forearm muscles, and gripping strength, in a whole new way

Most traditional push up variations can be done on the knuckles, so if there’s a certain push up that you like, see if you can do that push up on your knuckles and take note of how differently it challenges you.

Whichever variation you try, start slow and build up when you’re ready. Now go have fun!

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