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If Knee Push-Ups Hurt, Give Elevated Push-Ups a Try Instead

When It Comes to Push-Up Modifications, Elevated Push-Ups Reign Supreme

Doing pushups. Active fit woman wearing shorts and top doing pushups near sofa at home

I'm a push-up pessimist through and through. Wrist pain from an injury makes traditional push-ups, well, unpleasant — and don't even get me started about knee push-ups.

We've all heard it before: knee push-ups are great for people who struggle with regular push-ups due to either strength or injury limitations — these words came straight from ACE-certified personal trainer Margie Clegg herself.

"With a person's knees on the floor, the body lever is shortened, reducing the amount of resistance a person has to overcome."

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But, easier doesn't always equal pain-free.

During a regular push-up, Clegg says you're bracing your core, glutes, shoulders, and hips — but knee push-ups take the core and glutes out of the equation, which can encourage the hips to sag and cause lower-back pain.

According to Clegg, knee push-ups can also add stress to your elbows, wrists, and particularly the shoulders: "People tend to lead with their elbows, causing them to flare out."

While you may only feel mild pain in your front shoulder from this at first, Clegg notes that your discomfort could evolve into pain radiating from your shoulder and down your arm, or reduced range of motion. In all cases, we urge you to meet with a doctor for relief.

There is a silver lining to all the push-up frustration, though — and it's called incline push-ups, aka elevated push-ups.

"Starting with the hands elevated, you're allowing your body to be in the normal push-up position, and you can progress your hands lower and lower until you're on the ground," she says.

"It's easier than progressing from your knees to a regular push-up, as there's a pretty good gap of strength to get from your knees to your toes."

Before jumping in, squeeze in a dynamic warmup to get the blood flowing and help prevent injury — if you're feeling any pain at all, remember to stop and call your doctor.

Clegg suggests starting with arm swings by holding your arms straight out to the side, and then cross them in a swinging motion in front of your chest.

Proceed with shoulder rotations — Clegg says to hold your arms straight out to the side and move your arms in a circular motion, making bigger circles each time.

Finish off your warmup with snow angels by laying on the floor with your arms to your side. Move your arms up overhead and back like you're making a snow angel.

Now that you're feeling good, give Clegg's elevated push-ups a try — they could mend your relationship with push-ups altogether.

  • To start, put your hands on an elevated surface in the push-up position.
  • Make sure your chest is over the elevated surface and keep your body tight by bracing your abs, squeezing your glutes, and sending your shoulders back and down. It's important not to slump your shoulders, either.
  • Drive your heels back to help keep everything engaged.
  • Lower your chest to the elevated surface with your elbows at 45 degrees — keep your arms close to the body, not flared out. If you can't lower all the way to the surface, go as low as you can and work to get lower each time.
  • As the incline becomes easier, move your hands to a lower surface until you're able to do a push-up on the floor.

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Image Source: Getty / yacobchuk
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