In the constellation of body-weight exercises, pushups are true all-stars: They're a rigorous chest, arm, shoulder and core workout that you can do anywhere with no special equipment. If the typical palms-down pushup position hurts your wrists, you can do pushups on your fists instead. These are sometimes called knuckle pushups. In addition to offering a pain-free wrist position, they also strengthen the muscles and connective tissue in your hands and forearms.
How to Do Knuckle Pushups
You do knuckle pushups from the same basic position you'd use for regular pushups: face down on the floor, balancing on your hands and toes, with your body straight from head to heels. Instead of placing your palms flat on the floor, you make a fist and place the front of your fist flat on the floor. This positions your wrist in a neutral position, which is the biggest benefit of the knuckle pushup for most people. Once in this position simply bend your arms, lowering your chest toward the floor as far as is comfortable, then straighten your arms to complete the repetition.
You can position your hands with your thumbs facing in, palms facing back; or with your thumbs facing forward and palms facing in. Placing a yoga mat or other workout mat beneath you will help protect your knuckles.
Regardless of which hand position you choose, your forearms should be in a straight line from wrist to elbow throughout the exercise. Generally the thumbs-forward variation will necessitate placing your hands closer together to retain that straight, wrist-neutral alignment.
Basic Workout Planning
Warm up with five to 10 minutes of moderate cardio such as a brisk walk or, better yet, shadow boxing or using the moving handlebars on an elliptical trainer. The warm-up reduces your risk of injury and gives your body a chance to adjust to the demands you're placing on it.
Aim for eight to 12 repetitions of knuckle pushups -- the same target amount as for regular pushups. Once you can do at least 12 pushups with good form, it's time to make the pushups more difficult by varying your speed or wearing a weight vest.
The Risks of Knuckle Pushups
Knuckle pushups are generally considered to be safe, if sometimes uncomfortable -- but there are a few documented cases of injuries. NBA power forward Kevin Love is one example; the Minneapolis-St. Paul television station KMSP-TV reports that in 2012 Love broke two bones in his hand doing knuckle pushups. That was a highly unusual case, but it emphasizes the importance of stopping this or any exercise immediately if it causes you any unusual discomfort.
A Painless Alternative
If you're uncomfortable doing knuckle pushups, try pushup handles instead. These handles are elevated a few inches off the floor and, when gripped, position you in the name wrist-neutral position that you'd achieve while doing knuckle pushups. If you don't have pushup handles, you can use hex-shaped hand weights as a stand-in. Don't use round weights unless you want the extra challenge of keeping them from rolling out from under you.
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