Don't Call Them 'Girl Pushups' — But Do Take This Amazing Full-Body Workout Seriously


When done correctly, knee pushups are an effective way of working out your arms, core, and back. (Photo: Corbis/Rick Gomez)

When done correctly, knee pushups (a.k.a. modified pushups) are not an easy exercise. Perhaps that’s why personal trainer Holly Perkins, CSCS, founder of Women’s Strength Nation and author of Lift to Get Lean, loves them so much.

Just don’t let her catch you calling them “girl pushups.”

There’s a reason pushups have been around forever: They require no equipment other than your body, they are easy to modify for your fitness level and man, oh man, are they effective. When performed correctly, pushups will work not only your arms, but also the core, chest, and back.

But for the pushup to be as effective as possible, you have to do it with good form. And that goes for modified pushups as well as the full version.

Your body is smart — and it is also lazy, Perkins tells Yahoo Health. It doesn’t want to change, and it doesn’t want to do any more work than it absolutely has to, so it will pull every trick in the book to avoid discomfort. What that means: Your body will pull in other muscle groups to help handle the load, making the exercise feel easier.

The way you ensure this does not happen, and your exercises hit the muscles you are looking to target, is through proper exercise form, Perkins says. In fact, it’s so important that “technique trumps all” is the first rule in her book Lift to get Lean. Proper technique when performing exercises not only ensures you do not injure yourself, but also ensures the efficacy of each exercise as well, she explains.

Related: 5 Advanced Push-Up Exercises To Try Now

It’s also important to choose the right pushup for your ability level. There’s no shame in needing to take a step or two back, perfect your technique, and build strength from there. Your workout routine should grow with you. You can’t skip steps and take shortcuts and expect the results to be the same.

Pushups are tough to do, and even tougher to do properly. Knee pushups are not “girl pushups” — they are just the exercise progression before a full pushup. Since your lever is shorter (that is, your head to your knees instead of your head to your toes), it lessens the amount of body weight placed on your exercising muscles.

“You should be able to do 15 perfect knee pushups with full depth before attempting full length pushups,” advises Holly.

Related: Master These 4 Moves For A Full-Body Workout

Perkins shared with Yahoo Health her tips for a perfectly performed knee pushup, from head to toe.

Fitness expert Holly Perkins demonstrates a knee pushup with perfect form. (Gif by Amy Rushlow for Yahoo Health)

Starting position:
Place your hands in line with the middle of your chest, thumbs’ distance apart. When you bring your chest to the ground, your hands should hit your armpits. Rotate your elbows so that the back of your elbow faces the back of the room.

The movement:

  1. Begin with your chest on the ground. Pull your feet toward your butt. Keep a straight line from your knees to your head throughout the entire exercise. Your upper arm should form a 45-degree angle with your torso.

  2. Brace your core. Pull your belly button into your spine, like someone is about to punch you in the tummy. Brace your shoulders by pulling them back and down (toward your hips).

  3. Press slowly and evenly through your hands to fully extend the elbows. 

  4. Slowly flex the elbows to lower your body back toward the ground to starting position; pause when your upper arms are parallel to the floor.

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Bending at the hips. “Be sure to keep the hips straight and locked off,” Perkins advises.

  • Sagging in the upper body where the chest drops towards the floor. 

  • Not going low enough. 

  • Thinking your upper arms need to be perpendicular to your body. The elbows go back, not out.

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