Push-ups are difficult for a lot of people. Many of us have to modify the push-up by performing knee push-ups or “girl push-ups.” Unfortunately far too many people believe that this modification will actually make them better at regular push-ups.
But if you only do knee push-ups, you’ll only get better at doing knee push-ups. You are training your body to execute one exercise that varies significantly in position and muscular recruitment from a full push-up.
A full push-up engages the whole body. It works in sync by engaging the muscles in your back, stabilizing your core (especially the lumbar spine) and contracting your glute muscles. Your shoulders are engaged, stable and directly above your wrists. When you descend, your entire body should move together like a plank of wood (with no back sagging), and your elbows will begin to make a 45-degree angle. As you come to the bottom of the movement, your forearms should ideally be vertical to the floor.
A knee push-up is different. You aren’t contracting your glutes or getting any assistance from your legs. And you don’t have to focus as much on stabilizing your spine, because it’s quite difficult to do in this position. Knee push-ups also put undue stress on joints such as the elbows and wrists and aren’t optimally effective at building your chest muscles, which you’ll need to strengthen for full push-ups. And most people don’t have the core strength to perform this move effectively in the first place.
As a personal trainer, I’d recommend performing full push-ups with modifications such as incline or bench pushups instead of opting for knee push-ups. Teach your body to perform in the actual position and engage the correct muscles you’ll need once you eventually build the strength to do a full push-up. As you get stronger you can gradually lower the incline toward the floor.