This is a call to action to all Personal Trainers, Coaches, and Fitness Professional working with clients. I think that it’s important that we all remove knee pushups from our vocabulary as a regression to RX Pushups (aka full range push up off the knees).
She had been doing CrossFit for 10 years. When she first started CrossFit a coach at her former gym let her do knee pushups because she wasn’t strong enough to do them off her knees. Unfortunately, he forgot to tell her how to progress from that. When she came to visit us to drop in while on vacation, instead of having her do them from her knees we gave her various options that were much more challenging. She didn’t like that. Ten years later she’s still doing knee pushups.
What is a modification?
By definition, a modification is a temporary substitute for something more difficult. In regards to exercise selection, we can regress to make them more manageable, or we can also progress a movement to make it more difficult. All movements can be made to be infinitely easier or infinitely more difficult.
A Ring Muscle Isn’t The End All Be All
One of the biggest milestones a CrossFitter can achieve is the day they get their first muscle up. For many, this is years in the making. When I got my first muscle up I thought I have finally arrived as a high-level competitor. That was until I watched the CrossFit Games on ESPN and saw a guy perform 30 muscle ups without stopping. The following year they added strict muscle ups with a vest. The year after that they made athletes perform a muscle up followed by ring handstand pushup.
Never Get Complacent
As I saw CrossFit evolving I had to keep pushing myself to get better at all movements if I wanted to evolve with the program. I had to go back to the drawing board and create a logical path for developing more consistent muscle-ups while simultaneously building even more strength so that I could eventually do muscle ups with a vest. In our gym, this is how we treat all movements. Without a logical progression that you can teach to your clients, their results will be inconsistent at best. Giving athletes something else to shoot for will encourage them to try harder.
After years of watching people do knee pushups with no improvement, we decided to eliminate the movement entirely as a modification for Rx pushups.
Here are the multiple reasons why:
1. The same people doing knee pushups are still doing knee pushups today. That means the modification isn’t working, by definition a modification is a temporary solution.
2. Knee pushups don’t feel like real pushups because the legs are just as important to the pushups as is the upper body. Knees drastically reduce the feeling of a plank position.
3. No real standard of progression. The leap from knee pushup to real pushup is so large that no amount of knee pushups will make up for the lack of standardization. Even going from knee pushups to bench or box pushups is a long shot.
4. It encourages rest. The demand of the pushups is lost when after every rep the modified individual fully rest on the floor with a full loss of tension.
5. Absolutely no transfer of exercise. There isn’t an exercise that I know of that we do from the knees.
What can we do instead?
1. RX Pushups (low reps)
I believe one full range pushup on your knees is better than 20 knees pushups. Body weight strength development is linear. One strict pushup eventually turns to 2, then 3, and so forth. Treat bodyweight strength training like barbell training. High-quality control sets of strict pushups are done 5×5 with ample rest between sets really works.
2. Bench Pushup
This is a quick option we give to athletes who have a baseline strength to be able to push up from that height. This variation is great because it allows incorporating their entire body into the pushup. It’s important to remind them that every rep must be performed at full range or another modification must be met.
3. Incline Pushups (using ONLY adjustable bars or barbell on J-hooks)
This is by far our favorite modification for the mere fact we can standardize the height from easiest to most difficult. The most difficult version is inches off the floor which is a great progression to the RX pushup. Besides that, the handles are easier to hold. We prefer adjustable pull-up bars for incline pushups but a barbell can be used also. The only drawback is that a takes more time to set up. Which were okay with.
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