Stop Doing Push-ups From Your Knees

I’m not one to write off exercises unless there’s good reason to do so.

“What’s wrong with knee push-ups?”, you may be asking.

Well, there’s nothing inherently wrong with them.

For the most part, people who choose to do them can still get an adequate upper body training effect, if that’s all they’re after.

But, and this is a big but, if you’d like to eventually be able to do push-ups from your toes – as the movement is intended to be performed – you are wasting your time.

Knee push-ups can be challenging on your arms, but they fail to recruit the stabilizing muscles of the spine, they do not engage the glutes as effectively and put undue stress on the wrists and elbows to get the job done.

Taking a Step Back

Like many other compound moves, the push-up is a full-body move; think of it as a moving plank.

Where most lifters tend to go wrong is in thinking that upper body strength alone is needed to perform a proper push-up.

It certainly plays a huge role, but if you ain’t got the core strength to sustain a neutral spine alignment – without letting your hips and lower back sag – then pressing strength alone won’t get you very far.

A push-up is a dynamic plank. That means proficiency in the static plank is the very basic requirement for doing it correctly.

What does that look like?

Let me be clear, when I say plank, this is not what I mean:

Note the excessive neck cranking and lumbar extension (butt in the air and low back sagging).

This is a much better alternative: core musculature is engaged (this includes the glutes), legs are tensed and spine is in a relatively neutral position.

The RKC Plank

This plank variation will teach anyone to brace and engage the needed musculature to truly “feel” the challenge of holding a plank position.

  1. Set yourself on your elbows and toes, with your feet together and elbows beneath your shoulder blades.
  2. Keep your legs straight, with the knees locked out, and really squeeze the bejeezus out of your quads. You should also be squeezing your legs together (hip adduction).
  3. Tuck your tailbone in (posterior-pelvic tilt), squeeze your glutes and brace your core. You should feel your glutes light up.
  4. Screw your forearms into the floor to create tension at the upper back.
  5. “Pull” your toes towards your elbows, and your elbows towards your toes. You should feel tension throughout your entire body, especially through the trunk and the legs.
  6. Hold for multiple sets of 10-20 secs. You can increase the difficulty by loading weights onto your mid back.

Something as simple as shifting your pelvic position can dramatically affect your planks, and in turn, your push-up technique.


If you’ve nailed the RKC plank but are still struggling to do push-ups off the floor, don’t worry. That’s where incline push-ups come in.

An elevated, dynamic plank.

By elevating your hands, you decrease the amount of resistance you must fight to push yourself up.

The lower the bench (or box), the more challenging it gets.

A great way to keep improving on incline push-ups is to incrementally lower the height as you progress.

Start with a height that will allow you to get anywhere from 5 to 8 clean reps, and aim to either increase the number of reps or do them on a lower box.


About The Author

Barbara M.

Since 2013, Barbara has been helping women of all fitness backgrounds get stronger, leaner and more confident, both inside and outside the gym.

Her passion lies in educating, empowering and encouraging women to find out what they’re capable of, and more.

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