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The pushup is a compound calisthenic exercise that works a wide range of major muscle groups. One of the many variations of this exercise is the knuckle pushup, in which your point of contact with the floor is the knuckles of your fist rather than the palm of your hand. This type of pushup is an effective exercise for building strength in your wrists, triceps and forearms.
The Knuckle Pushup
The knuckle pushup is a variation of the standard pushup in which you roll your hands into fists rather than placing your palms flat on the floor. This difference in hand position makes for a much more challenging exercise, as your wrist is now slightly more elevated off the floor, increasing the range of motion you must push your body weight through. Balling your hands into fists also contracts and holds the muscles of each forearm for the duration of the exercise, making the motion more difficult because those muscles tire quickly. Additionally, having your knuckles in contact with the floor rather than the padded, soft area of the palm makes the exercise more painful, requiring a higher pain threshold to complete the same number of reps.
When you ball your hand into a fist you are contracting the wrist flexors that run the length of your forearm from your elbow to your fingers. These muscles are important for gripping strength. When you perform a knuckle pushup, you contract these muscles, then hold them while they help lift your body weight off the floor. Additionally, as your fist has a smaller surface area than your palms, your wrist flexors, wrist extensors and other forearm muscles must stabilize the wrist and help maintain your balance. These factors combine to fatigue your forearm muscles quickly, resulting in muscle growth.
Other Muscles Worked
In addition to your forearms, you work several other muscle groups heavily in a knuckle pushup. These pushups require you to hold your wrists straight, rather than bent upward, which puts more tension on your triceps. Your triceps must also work harder to help maintain your body's balance on the smaller surface area of your fists. Additionally, knuckle pushups are done with your hands slightly closer together than in standard pushups. Placing them directly underneath your shoulders puts a heavier load on the deltoid muscles in your shoulders.
Pushing down into the floor on your knuckles can cause pain. Start with fewer reps and build up your tolerance gradually. The knuckle pushup is a favorite of martial arts trainers because it helps you develop the mental discipline needed to overcome pain.
When performing this exercise, make sure to keep your abdominals braced and your back straight. Letting your hips sag diminishes the exercise's range of motion because your pelvis contacts the floor before your chest does. Additionally, performing pushups with an arched or rounded back may lead to back pain.