What Are Knuckle Push-Ups?
The knuckle push-up is a push-up variation where you make your hands into a fist and balance on your knuckles, rather than having your hands flat on the floor. Doing this will give you a greater range of motion which puts more demands on your muscles compared to regular push-ups.
Also, it’s worth exploring knuckle push-ups if your wrists hurt when regular push-ups as knuckle push-ups could reduce wrist extension pains because the wrists will be placed in a neutral position. This variation is popular with combat sports practitioners as it replicates punching and conditions your knuckles.
According to research, push-ups encourage metabolism and blood circulation, enabling you to burn more calories throughout the rest of your workout. Moreover, if performed on a regular basis, it will strengthen, tone up the muscles and develop major muscles, which can make your daily activities easier, along with improving your sports performance.
What Muscles are Worked by Knuckle Push-Ups?
Knuckle push-ups activate more of the upper chest and front shoulders. The primary muscles worked are the pectoralis major, triceps, and anterior deltoids. The secondary muscles worked are the serratus anterior, abdominals, obliques, forearms, quadriceps, and glutes.
What Level are Knuckle Push-Ups?
The knuckle push-up is an intermediate-level exercise because If you try knuckle push-ups, you will quickly notice that they feel different and harder. This is due to the increased range of motion (of extra 2-3 inches), which will put more time under tension on your targeted muscles. Also, your balance point will be smaller which increases instability and reduce your balance, this is a great way to develop core strength and body proprioception.
Knuckle Push Ups Benefits
Below are four benefits of doing knuckle push-ups:
- Reduce the strains on your wrists as the hand grip is placed in a neutral grip position, there is no wrist extension involved therefore you’ll feel no more wrist pains!
- Increase range of motion. When your hands are formed into fists this will add extra 2-3 inches of height, which will allow you to go deeper into the push-up and increase muscle activation in the chest
- Strengthen your forearms as your hands are formed into a balance point on the ground. This will increase your grip strength
- Toughen up your knuckles especially if you do knuckle push-ups on hard surfaces. Ideal for combat sports such as boxing, MMA, kick Boxing, and Muay Thai.
How to do Knuckle Push-Ups
1. Get Into A Plank Position
Begin by forming a fist in both hands and get into a plank position. Your hands are at the neutral grip and are shoulder-width apart, while your feet are together. Engage your glutes and core to keep a straight line. This is your starting position.
2. Gradually Lower Down
Inhale as you gradually lower yourself to the ground by bending the elbows. Keep lowering until your triceps are parallel to the ground. Keep your core and glutes tight and maintain a rigid body.
3. Gradually Push Up
Exhale as you gradually push back up to the starting position by extending your arms out. Lock your arms out to ensure a full range of motion, and squeeze your chest and triceps at the top position.
Repeat this movement for a desired number of repetitions (see the recommended reps and sets ranges below).
Decline Push-Ups Workout
- Beginners should perform between 3-5 reps, for 4 sets, 2 times a week.
- Intermediate-level athletes should perform between 6-17 reps, for 4 sets, 2 times a week.
- Advanced level athletes should perform 18+ reps or more for 4 sets, 2 times a week.
You should move on to harder variations once you have achieved your reps and set goals.
What are the Benefits of Knuckle Push-Ups?
Improve Range Of Motion
As mentioned earlier, knuckle push-ups are more difficult because they have an extra range of motion. This will increase time under tension, therefore, demand your muscles to work harder with the extra 2-3 inches of the increased range. The larger the range of motion, the greater the gains in muscle size due to higher muscle activation.
Men’s Health emphasized that if you do push-ups correctly, you develop your scapular muscles along with your rotator cuff muscles to stabilize your shoulders. The bench press doesn’t work these muscles as much in comparison to push-ups
Reduce the Strain on Your Wrists
Regular push-ups may cause pain in your wrists which could be due to a lack of strength in wrist extensors or lack of mobility in joints. Therefore, knuckle push-ups are a great alternative for training your chest and triceps without straining your wrists. No more wrist pains!
Increased Forearms Activation
Making a fist will require you to contact your forearm muscles to keep your body in balance on a smaller surface area than your first. This will increase forearms fiber strength, which will help to define your forearms along with improving your grip strength. You will have that crushing grip strength, which will help you with day-to-to activities such as opening a jar, carrying groceries, or lifting a heavy object!
Condition Your Knuckles
If you practice martial arts such as boxing or MMA, knuckle push-ups can help reinforce your skin as it will get calloused. You should begin practicing this on padded surfaces such as a mat or a carpet and eventually move onto hard and rough surfaces as your skin gets tougher.
Knuckle Push-Ups Variations
Diamonds Knuckle Push-Ups
Diamond knuckle push-ups will require you to form a close grip at the center of your chest. This is great for targeting the triceps, pec minor, and anterior deltoids compared to regular knuckle push-ups. You will also have an even smaller balance base, which will recruit your core stabilizer muscles even further. To perform this, you will:
- Begin in a plank position with your fists in a narrow grip at the center of your chest. Your fists are at a neutral grip position. Your legs are straight, and your feet are together. Engage your glutes and core. This is your starting position.
- Inhale as you lower your chest to the ground by bending your elbows. Keep your elbows close to your body at a 45 degrees angle in relation to your torso. Keep lowering until your triceps are parallel to the ground. Squeeze your core to maintain alignment.
- Exhale as you push back up and return to the starting position. Squeeze your chest and triceps and the top position, and lock your arms out fully.
- Repeat this movement between 4-12 reps for 4 sets.
If you want more in-depth guidance on this variation, check out this diamond push-up tutorial where I show you the correct techniques and progressions for this exercise.
Wide Knuckle Push-Ups
Wide knuckle push-ups are great for targeting your outer chest. This variation will require you to use a wider than shoulder-width grip between your fists. Moreover, it’ll be easier to perform over regular knuckle push-ups due to the wider base. To perform this, you will:
- Begin in a plank position with your fists at a wider than shoulder-width position. Engage your glutes and core to ensure your body is in a straight line. This is your starting position.
- Inhale as you gradually lower your body down to the ground. Keep lowering until your triceps are parallel to the ground. Engage your core.
- Exhale as you push back up by extending your arms to return to starting position. Lock your arms out fully to ensure a full range of motion.
- Repeat this movement between 4-18 reps for 4 sets.
Check out this wide push-up tutorial to improve your knowledge and learn the ins and outs of this variation.
Staggered Knuckle Push-Ups
This variation is a fun variation that targets the chest, triceps, anterior deltoids, and abdominals. Your grip position will be in a staggered position where one arm would be further away from your body, whilst the other is closer to your body. To perform this, you will:
- Begin in a knuckle push-up position with arms at shoulder-width, and feet together. Engage your core. Bring your right arm further out in front, and the left arm staggered further back. This is your starting position.
- Inhale to lower your body to the ground by bending both elbows. Keep lowering until your triceps are parallel to the ground.
- Exhale as you push back up to the starting position. Reverse your grip so that your left arm is now in front, and your right arm is staggered back. Engage your core throughout this movement to maintain good form.
- Repeat this alternating movement between 4-16 reps for 4 sets.
This is a fun variation that primarily targets the chest, triceps, anterior deltoids, and core. The movement blends standard push-ups with wide grip push-ups because you will pivot your torso 45 degrees to one side with every rep you perform by extending your grip base, and alternate this movement between the left and right. To perform this, you will:
- Start in a diamond knuckle push-up position where your fists are in a close grip position at the center of your chest. Engage your glutes and core. This is your starting position.
- Inhale as you extend your right arm to the right-hand side to form a wide knuckle push-up position. This will pivot your body to the right at approximately 45 degrees. Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the ground. This is one rep
- Exhale as you push up and return to the starting position, followed by extending your left arm to the left to form a wide knuckle push-up position. This will pivot your body to the left at approximately 45 degrees. Bend the elbows to lower your chest to the ground.
- Repeat this movement between 4-16 reps for 4 sets.
The Takeaways: Fist Push Ups
The knuckle push-up, otherwise known as fist push-up is a must-do push-up variation if you experience wrist pains while doing traditional push-ups. This is a great way to take some pressure off your wrist extensor muscles and reduce the risk of injuries. Start out doing this variation on soft surfaces and focus on good form.
Our online coaching program offers a personalized plan that tailors each progression according to your strength and regularly applies progressive overload to ensure that you are advancing in your strict muscle-up journey. Register for online coaching here to crush your fitness goals.
All Push Exercises
I’m Pat Chadwick, a qualified Level 2 and Level 3 calisthenics coach and athlete from London, England, with six years of experience. I’ve competed in various UK competitions, including the Kalos Stenos Championships, where I achieved third place in the lightweight category. My passion is highlighting the beauty of calisthenics as an authentic and pure form of body expression. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a champion of their body and mind, and that calisthenics opens the door to personal empowerment.