Are modified push-ups effective?

How to pick the best push-up modification for you

I get a lot of questions about if modified push-ups are effective or if it’s okay to do push-ups on your knees. As always, there is no one size fits all answer, so let’s discuss!

To pick the right push-up progression, you first need to consider the equipment that you have available. If you are in a group fitness class, you might only have 3 options – the floor (hardest), your knees (middle ground), the wall (easiest).

Perhaps a wall push-up is a cakewalk for you and in this class you want to train for strength, not stability. You can maintain good alignment in your shoulders and spine when you are at the wall and on your knees, but when you are on your toes your shoulders and back collapse. In this case, the knee push up will probably offer you the most benefit and challenge with a lesser chance of joint compression or pain.

Let’s say you have more equipment though – for example benches at different heights or a sturdy countertop in your house.

In this case, I would opt for the incline or elevated push-up (pictured below) where the incline is high enough that you can move at a full range of motion while being on your toes, but low enough that you feel some challenge and can’t do more than 10 repetitions without needing to stop.

The reason why I prefer the incline elevated push-up is that it has greater transference to being able to do one on the floor on your toes. This is because it most closely matches that version of the exercise.

As you get stronger, you want to pick a lower and lower incline, until you can do it on the ground.

However, this doesn’t make push-ups on your knees bad. They still will help you get stronger and can help you progress to the more challenging version.

My final thought is that a whole body strength training program will help you get to full push-ups faster than just practicing push-ups alone. This is because push-ups are a full body exercise, so the stronger than you are in all directions, the easier body weight movements like push-ups become and the less likely you are to have pain.

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There are 5 comments on this post

  1. Alisson
    3 hours ago

    I need to leave a comment because I’ve seen a bunch of articles that claim to tell the truth about knee push ups, and how they don’t help you improve your push up game and got really unmotivated. I can’t, I really can’t do a full push up, and I tried so much I kinda gave up exercising a while ago because of it. It sounds silly but I almost feel like I wasn’t born to be fit (as if I was born without the proper muscles or something) and this article inspired and for that I truly thank you.

    1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      5 hours ago

      Hi Alisson. Thanks for your comment. The internet has a lot of opinions and it can get pretty confusing, so I’m glad you found this post uplifting 🙂 As far as mastering the push up goes, just remember that it’s a harder exercise than we often give it credit. Keep practicing consistently at a level that is manageable for you and progress will come. If you ever have any questions, feel free to send them my way. I’m always happy to help. ~ Nikki

  2. Megan
    6 hours ago

    Over the last month I have started exercising again. I started doing knee push ups. Let me state that I’m exercising to gain strength and muscles. Very skinny but no muscles. Anyways I started reading a gee articles that basically said the same thing: they don’t work. Lol well I beg disagree. When I first started doing them I could barely get myself off the ground. Now I can fully lift myself off the ground but I can’t do it on my toes. I can only lift myself just a small amount. I’m glad to have read this article. Makes me feel better. Thank you 🙂

    1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      6 hours ago

      Hi Megan,

      I’m so glad! Thanks for taking the time to reach out and congrats on your progress. Way to stick with it! Yes, this whole demonizing ways of doing things drives me nuts. As always, it depends and if you find what works for you run with it. The last thing fitness professionals need to do is give people more reasons not to try something. Exercise is hard enough LOL.

      xo Nikki

  3. Edmond
    14 hours ago

    To the people who says knee push ups are worthless, I can only say that you’re full of sh*t. A month ago, I wasn’t able to do A SINGLE push up in proper form so i decided to do it on my knees instead. Then after a month of doing knee push ups, I was incredibly surprised that I was able to do 11 push ups (in proper form) in a row! Knee push ups are really helpful especially if you’re a beginner like me.


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