Forget Knee Push-Ups
Right now I'm in the middle of a push-up challenge. The goal is 7000 in the month of April. Besides dropping and giving myself 20 throughout the day, It's inspired me to think a little more about the progression of this great exercise and why people don't transition well from the knees to the toes.
Most people are taught if you can't do push-ups on your toes, do them on your knees. I can't imagine why. To be honest, it's lazy coaching. And it's even more disturbing that these were called "girl push-ups." I have 2 little girls who are 7 and 9 years old. They don't even know these knee push-ups exist because I refuse to give them that option.
That being said, not everyone can do a push-up on their toes. But if it's a goal of yours you need to stop doing knee push-ups because, in my experience, I've never seen a knee push-up person transition well into a real push-up person.
So here are some quick ways to strengthen your push-ups without ever dropping to the knees:
1. Planks: Full, Elbow, Elbows bent: Push-ups are basically a moving plank. Besides the movement at your arms, shoulders and ankles, the goal is to hold a strong neutral spine position. Using both full (arms fully extended), elbows (standard plank), and eventually elbows bent (chest below elbows), you train different intensities of maintaining this static posture.
2. Elevated Push-Ups: By elevating the hands you decrease the intensity of the push-up by decreasing body weight resistance. However, you still get the benefit of engaging the entire body. Knee push-ups do not challenge the entire body and create stiffness like elevated push-ups do. You will have a much better chance at transitioning to the toes by starting with elevated.
3. Bottoms Up Push-Ups: These are my favorite because you really get to teach how to engage the core at the toughest part of the movement. You start all the way on the ground, hands at your side, toes locked in, core engaged and knees extended. From there you push up attempting to maintain a straight line from ear to ankle. No pushing up into a cobra position first, shoulders and butt must come up together. A cue I use here is "lead with your butt." This helps with engaging the core and not leaving their butt behind as they extend their elbows.
4. Top Down Push-Ups: This is basically the eccentric side of the bottom up. At the top of the movement you slowly lower yourself to the ground. I usually cue them to "lead with the chest." This makes sure that their butt isn't sagging down and helps them maintain a strong and stable core position.
5. Assisted Push-Ups: Once you are able to maintain good posture through the push-up cycle and can do 1-5 solid reps, you can start practicing in more volume using a superband around your waist. The anchor point can be someone above you holding the band or attaching it around a pull-up bar or anything else that will hold your weight. The band will help you get out of the bottom position and assist in maintaining good dynamic posture. As you get better, use smaller bands and decrease resistance by lowering the anchor point.