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Maybe you’ve heard them called “girl push-ups” (*cringe*) or “modified push-ups.” Regardless of their title, knee push-ups often get a bad rap — they’re too easy, they’re “cheating,” they’re hard on your kneecaps. But science begs to differ.

Knee push-ups are a legit upper-body exercise. They’re the perfect intro to standard push-ups or other difficult arm or shoulder workouts.

Find out how to perfect your form and maximize the benefits of this simple at-home move.

Photo credit: Dima Bazak

This move is pretty straightforward. It’s like a push-up… but on your knees.

  1. Kneel on the floor.
  2. Extend arms and put hands shoulder-width apart on the floor in front of you.
  3. Tighten abs while you bend arms, lowering your torso until chest grazes the floor.
  4. Push torso back up by straightening arms. Slow and steady, baby.
  5. Rinse and repeat.

It’s critical to focus on form instead of speed or number of reps.

A few more pro tips:

  • Keep your back straight — never rounded! — throughout the move.
  • Focus on keeping your muscles active even when you’re lowering to the floor.
  • Tighten your abs and butt to work your core during push-ups.
  • Push your weight into your whole hand, fingers included, to avoid straining your wrist.
  • Remember to breathe!
  • If you notice your form is getting sloppy, take a break. You might hurt yourself if you do too much too soon. But you’ll build up strength over time!

If you want to work the backs of your arms (aka the triceps), you can modify the knee-push.

Photo credit: Dima Bazak
  1. Kneel on the floor.
  2. Place your arms straight in front of you.
  3. Tighten abs while you bend arms, lowering your torso until chest grazes the floor and your elbows scrape the sides of your ribs.
  4. Push torso back up by straightening arms. Slow and steady, baby.
  5. Rinse and repeat.

For one thing, they’re easier! By starting on your knees, you can work on your form and stability before advancing to toe push-ups.

A small 2011 study of 28 athletic males who did both traditional and modified push-ups suggested that knee push-ups are “an effective alternative” for peeps who can’t do a traditional push-up yet. It also indicated that knee push-ups might be more beneficial for folks recovering from upper back or shoulder issues.

Recent research indicates knee push-ups and traditional push-ups activate the same upper-body muscles: chest, shoulders, arms, and abs. The only real difference is that you’re reducing your load.

It’s like the difference between doing a squat with just your body weight and doing a squat while holding dumbbells. #BunsOfSteel

One of the researchers suggested that once you get comfortable with 16 knee push-ups in a row, it’s time to try a few push-ups on your toes.

A little prep before your workout can help you prevent feeling weak in the knees after your push-ups.

  • Always do push-ups on a mat or carpet instead of a bare floor.
  • Kneel on a folded towel or a throw pillow to cushion your knees during your push-ups.
  • Place your hands flat on the floor, with fingers slightly spread, so your front half can handle half the weight. You shouldn’t rely solely on your knees for support.
  • Check your form often. You want to evenly distribute your weight across your torso to avoid knee or wrist injury.

If your knees still feel beat-up after following these precautions, you might need to take a break from knee push-ups. Chat with your doctor or physical therapist about strengthening exercises or stretches for the muscles around your knees.

  • Knee push-ups are a gateway move to other upper-body workouts. Once you’ve mastered the knee push-up, try your hand at toe push-ups.
  • Knee push-ups strengthen your pecs (chest), shoulders, arms, and abs. You can even sneak in a glute workout if you tighten your butt during the push-ups.
  • Knee push-ups work the same muscles as toe push-ups — they just lessen the load.
  • To avoid injuring your knees, kneel on a folded towel or a pillow.
  • If you notice persistent knee pain after doing knee push-ups, stop doing them and talk to your doctor or physical therapist.