Are Knuckle Push Ups Better? (4 “Benefits” Debunked)

Ever wondered, “Are Knuckle Push Ups Better?”

Knuckle push ups appear to be part and parcel of martial arts training.

So, even if you’re not donning your karate Gi or working out in a Dojo, should you be doing knuckle push ups?

And are they somehow more beneficial than flat-hand push ups?

Personally, I don’t think they are.

So, allow me to explain the perceived “benefits” of knuckle push ups, and some far better alternatives.

Are Knuckle Push Ups Better?

Knuckle push ups are typically heralded as better than regular push ups for a number of reasons. These include that they offer a greater range of motion, engage the forearms more, place less stress on the wrists, and will also help to toughen up the bones in your hands. However, I don’t believe that knuckle push ups are better, as you can train all these specific protocols by using better and safer push up variations.

1. Knuckle Push Ups Provide a Greater Range of Motion

A Group of Youngsters in a Karate Class Performing Knuckle Push Ups

You’ll typically hear that one of the main benefits of knuckle push ups is that they offer a greater range of motion.

Therefore, you’ll work the chest to far greater effect.

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At first glance this is actually true.

Due to the fact that your fists are in contact with the ground, as opposed to your flat hand, you have further to go before your chest touches the ground.

Granted, the difference is only about an inch, but that is still an inch’s worth of greater range of motion.

However, you can simply increase the range of motion with a flat-hand push up by having your hands closer together.

Obviously not too close together, as you need enough room to get your chest between your hands to actually touch the ground.

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If you think about it, the wider your hands are apart, the less distance you have to travel.

So, in effect, if your arms were spread out to your side, perpendicular to your torso, your chest would only be an inch or two away from the ground in the starting position.

Therefore, as I say, if you’re looking to increase your range of motion with push ups, simply bring your hands closer together.

2. Knuckle Push Ups Engage the Forearms More

A Muscular Flexed Forearm

Once again, I can’t say I disagree that knuckle push ups engage the forearms more.

You wouldn’t think of a push up being an exercise that works the forearms, but there are many variations which do.

Firstly, whenever you make your hand into a fist you will contract the wrist flexors.

Try it now, squeeze your hand into a tight fist.

You’ll notice that the wrist flexors, which run from your fingers to your elbows, are tensed up (contracted).

So, in effect, during a set of knuckle push ups your forearms are going through an isometric contraction.

And isometric contractions are a proven way to build muscle.

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You’ll also find that due to the smaller hand surface area that is contact with the floor during knuckle push ups the wrist extensors will need to stabilize your wrist so you can maintain balance.

So, rather than having the palm of your hand and your fingers on the floor to provide balance, you simply have a closed fist.

The same can be said for fingertip push ups.

Less hand surface area in contact with the floor equals more forearm stimulation.

With that being said, I know that if I want to bring my forearms into play during push ups I have a much better alternative.

The plyo push up.

This involves an explosive “jump” on the way back up from the bottom of the push up, which will see your hands leave the floor.

The force that you need to exert to do this will certainly work the wrist flexors and wrist extensors to great effect.

Plus, look at the added benefits of performing this power movement for the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core.

Plyo push ups will always win over knuckle push ups for the battle of forearm activation.

3. Knuckle Push Ups Place Less Stress on the Wrists

Once more, I can’t really disagree with this statement.

During standard flat-handed push ups the wrists are bent at an unnatural angle.

In effect, you are literally bending the wrist to incorporate hand placement on the floor.

When it comes to knuckle push ups your wrists remain in a far more neutral position.

In fact, your palms are facing each other, much the same as hammer grip exercises, e.g. hammer curls, hammer-grip pull ups.

And these exercises are also viewed as much better for the wrists.

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Basically, the wrists are allowed to remain in their natural position when your palms are facing each other.

However, if the wrists are an issue, the first thing I would want to do is to work on wrist flexibility and strength.

Knuckle push ups may be easier on the wrists, but you’re more likely to topple over and cause yourself an injury if you have weak wrists.

In fact, there is more chance of a fracture of the wrist (if they are incredibly weak) with knuckle push ups when compared to the flat-hand variety.

So, as I say, the first order of the day is to work on both the strength and the flexibility of your wrists.

And if you really want to perform push ups with your wrists in a neutral position, then I would suggest using push up parallettes, or gymnastic rings, or even a medicine ball.

All of these implements will be safer for the wrists, and they will actually help with increased range of motion and core activation too.

Increase Wrist Strength & Flexibility

4. Knuckle Push Ups Toughen the Bones in the Hand

The reason that martial arts training incorporates knuckle push ups is that it is seen as a way to toughen up the bones in the hand, especially the knuckles.

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This will make the knuckles better conditioned, plus it can make your punches feel heavier.

However, consistent use of knuckle push ups can cause calcium build up in the knuckles, as well as overdeveloping the bones in the knuckles.

Over time, this can actually restrict the range of motion in your fingers, which can lead to arthritis in the fingers.

Basically, you may have difficulty in the future to fully open your hands and use your fingers.

Is this really worth it?

Furthermore, the whole point in toughening up and conditioning the knuckles is to mimic the high levels of impact that your knuckles go through when you punch.

But, you’re not actually creating an impact with the ground during knuckle push ups.

You are simply placing your knuckles gently on the floor as you perform your reps.

For me, this is not sport specific enough.

If you want to toughen and condition your knuckles for improved punching power and strength then practice punching.

I can guarantee that the more you practice punching, the better you will become at it.

Plus, the more conditioned your knuckles will become to absorb the impact.

Final Thoughts

So, I hope this gives you a better insight into knuckle push ups.

It is often stated that knuckle push ups are better for:

  • Greater range of motion
  • Engaging the forearms
  • Creating less stress on the wrists
  • Toughening up the knuckles

However, you can clearly see that there are potentially better alternatives to all of these than knuckle push ups.

Now, I’m certainly not telling you not to perform knuckle push ups, but they definitely aren’t for me.

So, martial artist or not, I personally believe there are better ways to get conditioned and tough.

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