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How Knuckle Push-Ups Can Boost Your Upper Body Strength

Push ups are incredibly popular and effective when it comes to enhancing body strength and endurance. They target muscle groups including the chest, shoulders, triceps and core without requiring any equipment or advanced skills. However, have you ever considered taking push ups to the level? Enter knuckle push ups. A variation that can offer greater benefits.

Knuckle push ups aren't for the light hearted; they're embraced by martial artists, boxers and other combat practitioners seeking an intense workout. Engaging in this exercise can lead to sturdier wrists, tougher knuckles and increased power and explosiveness in the body. In this article we'll provide you with instructions on how to perform knuckle push ups, highlight the muscles they target, outline their benefits and advise on mistakes to avoid. Additionally we'll introduce some variations of knuckle push ups to add spice to your workout routine.

How to Do Knuckle Push-Ups

To do knuckle push-ups, follow these steps:

  1. Begin by forming fists, with both of your hands. Ensure that your thumbs are encircling your fingers, not protruding or tucked away. Align the knuckles, with your wrists and forearms. 
  2. Assume a plank position, by placing your feet hip width and positioning your fists on the floor beneath your shoulders. Maintain a line, from your head to your heels ensuring that your body remains aligned. Activate your core muscles. Tighten your glutes.
  3. Flex your elbows. Bring your chest down, towards the ground stopping an inches, above it. Make sure to keep your elbows near your body and avoid letting them spread out.
  4. Push against the ground with your knuckles. Straighten your arms to return to the position. That counts as completing one repetition.
  5. Perform the exercise, for repetitions as you are capable of while maintaining proper form.

Knuckle Push-Up Muscles Worked

Knuckle push ups engage the muscle groups, as push ups while also activating supplementary muscles that help stabilize your wrists and fists. The primary muscles targeted during knuckle push ups include;

  • Pectoralis major: These muscles, known as the pectoralis major, play a role in bringing your arms up, rotating them inward and raising them upwards.
  • Anterior deltoid: These muscles located in the front of your shoulders assist in lifting your arms either in front of you, above your head or out, to the sides.
  • Triceps brachii: These muscles located at the back of your arms play a role in straightening your elbows and extending your arms behind your body.
  • Core: The core muscles, located in your abdomen, back hips and pelvis play a role in maintaining stability and alignment when performing knuckle push ups.
  • Forearm flexors: These muscles located on the side of your forearms are responsible for flexing your wrists and providing a grip when you make a fist. 
  • Forearm extensors: These are the muscles located on the part of your forearms. They play a role in straightening your wrists and providing stability to your fists.

Benefits of Knuckle Push-Ups

Knuckle push-ups have several benefits that make them worth adding to your upper body routine. Here are some of them:

  • Reduced wrist pain and strain: Performing push ups on your knuckles can help alleviate wrist discomfort and strain by maintaining alignment and a neutral grip. This helps prevent bending or twisting of the wrist, which may lead to inflammation, irritation or injuries. Additionally knuckle push ups help strengthen the muscles and ligaments surrounding the wrist joint enhancing its stability and range of motion.
  • Increased range of motion: Performing push ups on your knuckles can enhance the range of motion during the exercise. By elevating your hands on your knuckles you can bring your chest closer to the ground thereby intensifying the stretch on your chest and shoulder muscles. This in turn facilitates increased muscle activation. Promotes muscle growth.
  • Improved balance and core stability: Performing push ups on your knuckles can have an impact on your balance and core stability as it requires effort to stabilize your body on a smaller surface area. This not only challenges your sense of body position in space (proprioception)but also intensifies the engagement of your core muscles leading to improved strength and endurance.
  • Tougher knuckles and skin: Regularly performing knuckle push ups can strengthen your knuckles, toughen your skin providing benefits for sports involving punching. Consistent practice of knuckle push ups can lead to the development of calluses on your knuckles offering protection against cuts and bruises. Additionally this exercise can enhance the bone density in your hands making them more resilient to fractures.

Knuckle Push-Up Drawbacks

Like any exercise there are a downsides to consider when it comes to doing knuckle push ups;

  • Increased risk of injury: Doing knuckle push ups incorrectly or excessively can lead to an increased risk of injury. It's important to be cautious, as using weight, doing too many repetitions or having poor form can potentially hurt your knuckles, wrists, elbows or shoulders. Additionally if you perform knuckle push ups on a rough surface you may also risk damaging the floor or the skin, on your fists.
  • Limited benefits for general exercisers: Knuckle push ups have long been incorporated into martial arts training. It's understandable why. They offer benefits like developing calluses on the knuckles and strengthening the wrists, which can enhance your punches. However for individuals engaging in exercise routines the advantages of knuckle push ups compared to push ups are quite minimal. Achieving superior results can be accomplished by performing regular push ups, with correct form and intensity.

Knuckle Push-Up Alternatives

If you're looking for variations of push ups that don't involve using your knuckles here are an alternatives you can try out;

  • Push-ups with handles: Doing push ups with handles is comparable to doing knuckle push ups except that you utilize a pair of handles or bars instead of your fists. This approach helps alleviate the strain on your knuckles and wrists while simultaneously intensifying the range of motion and difficulty level of your push ups.
  • Atlas push-ups: Atlas push ups are a type of push up that involves using handles or bars positioned wider than your shoulders. This modification helps to increase the stretch and engagement of your chest muscles while also targeting your shoulders and triceps.
  • Parallel bar dips: Parallel bar dips are a workout where you lower and lift your body between two bars. This exercise specifically targets your chest, shoulders, triceps and core muscles. However performing bar dips requires an amount of strength and stability. If you're seeking to elevate your body workout to the level they can serve as an excellent progression option, beyond knuckle push ups enabling you to intensify the difficulty and effectiveness of your routine.


Knuckle push ups present a challenge that can enhance your body strength and stamina. They also contribute to developing wrists, tougher knuckles and greater power and explosiveness, in your body. However it's essential to recognize that they are not suitable for everyone and come with drawbacks. It is crucial to perform them safely without overexertion. If you're looking for variety in your workouts, exploring exercises like knuckle push ups can be worth considering.

James Freeman


Meet James Freeman, a California native whose passion for fitness emerged during challenging times, reshaping his life. With over two decades of coaching experience, he's not just a coach; he's a real-life example, shedding over 100 pounds in a journey to a healthier lifestyle. Beyond his coaching career, James is passionate about inspiring at-risk youth and promoting wellness in schools. In his downtime, he enjoys swimming and cycling, connecting with nature. Join him on his Instagram and LinkedIn profiles for insights into his empowering fitness journey.