Push-ups. I bet you love them or love to hate them. Either way, this weight-bearing exercise is fantastic at sculpting your shoulders and arms, making your back look just incredible, and building up your pecs (or for us ladies, giving us a little lift).
But, they’re not easy! And, after a few sets, perhaps you’ve wondered: Can I do these on my knees instead? And, if I need to do them on my knees, should I bother doing them at all?
Articles published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research revealed that men lifted about 66.4% of their body weight with each rep when they did a push-up on their toes. On their knees, they lifted about 52.9% of their body weight. For example, a 180-pound man will lift 119.5 pounds per rep doing a regular push-up and 95.2 pounds doing a push-up on his knees. Women lift just slightly less of their body weight per rep. So, yes, if you can’t do a push-up on your toes yet, don’t give up! You’re still getting a great workout.
If you really want to get a sense of how much you’re lifting, put your scale on level ground, place your hands on it, and do a push-up on your toes. Have a friend read the number on the scale if you cannot. Then, repeat the exercise, but this time, do the push-up on your knees.
How to do the perfect push-up:
Whether you’re on your toes or on your knees, it’s important to have the proper form. To do a perfect push-up:
1. Get into plank position and make sure your hands are aligned with your shoulders but just wider than them. Tighten your core.
2. Lower your body until your chest almost touches the floor, tucking your elbows in as you do. When you’re at the bottom, your arms should be at 45-degree angle. Keep your back flat and do not let your back or hips sag.
Here’s a GIF showing how to do a regular push-up
And, here’s how to do a perfect modified push up. As you go down to the ground, make sure to keep your core tight and your butt tucked in. It may help to watch yourself in the mirror (or in the reflection of your TV!) a few times to get your posture right.
For the few of you who want to make your push-up harder and lift more of your body weight, here are some tips. We’ve ranked them from easiest to hardest.
1. Slow it down. By taking more time to do each repetition, you increase the time that each muscle must stay contracted.
2. Bring your hands and feet closer together to move your center of gravity forward and make your shoulders, pecs, back, and triceps do more work. Tighten your core to protect your lower back.
3. Change the angle. Place your feet on a stable surface–such as a plyo box or weight bench–and keep your hands on the ground. This puts more of your weight onto your shoulders.
4. Move away from a stable surface and do your push-ups on a medicine ball or balance ball as demonstrated in P90X2. These exercises will not only challenge those muscle groups but also force you to tighten your core to stay balanced.
5. Forget push-ups. Do handstands instead.