How To Go From On-knee to Full Pushups, and Reap The Benefits

You’ll be doing 20 and feeling strong

Walter Adamson
5 min readFeb 22, 2020


Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

We’ve all seen it. The instructor announces “20 push-ups everyone”, and a groan rolls through the class.

If you can’t do 20 then start properly and then go to your knees!”, she yells in vain-Eighty-percent of the class to straight to their knees.

Frustrated, the instructor yells “if you always start in the easiest position you’ll never get to the hard position”. Everyone pretends that they didn’t hear.

That’s the point. If you always start in the easiest position, you WILL never get to the hard position.

And you’ll never get the full benefits of the exercise.

I’ll show you how to get from knees to full push-ups, and it will be worth your while.

Push-ups activate your entire body, and every major muscle group takes part.

People always think of the benefits for the upper body, and core, but there are also significant benefits for your ankle and feet strength and stability. (I’m focusing on over 50s, here.)

Doing push-ups through the full range of movement, which is what we are talking about here, strengthens and stretches your back muscles and biceps, and the complex muscles supporting your shoulders.

Push-ups also give your cardiovascular system a good push along because the exercise activates so many different sets of muscles.

This causes an increased need for oxygen, so the body compensates by improving blood circulation to meet this need. Improved circulation brings many benefits.

How about knee-pushups?

Yes, you’ll get some of the benefits, about 30–40% of them and none related to the ankles and feet.

As you age, the strength, flexibility, muscularity, and neuromuscular activation of your feet and ankles become more critical (than when you were younger).

An article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research identified the percent of bodyweight you lift with varieties of the push-up. In a regular push-up, you lift 64 percent of body weight, whereas, with a knee push-up, you lift 49 per cent.

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Research by M. Dulfrey, V.M. Zatslorsky (2002).

That’s a bigger difference than you might suspect at first sight.

The difference is (64–49) / 64 ~ nearly 25% less. If you are weight lifting and vary your load by 25% you’d feel an enormous difference.

The loss of the full range of benefits, and the significance of the lighter resistance, are good reasons to want to learn how to progress to a full push-up.

You are better off to be able to complete one proper push-up with good form than ten from your knees. By better off, I mean you’ll get more a lot more benefit for your time and effort.

Learn the 4–4–2 method

Here’s the plan.

The fundamental technique applying to this scheme of progression is what I call the 4–4–2 method.

From whatever push-up position you are in do this “routine”.

  1. Hold at the top for 4 seconds — arms locked; then,
  2. Lower for a count of 4 seconds — the full range of movement with your back straight;
  3. Push back up over a 2-second count, arms locked at the top.

I’ll refer to the above sequence as “the routine”.

If you can already do knee push-ups, with a full range of movement, shoulders back, straight back, head in a straight line with your back, then do the routine. If you can’t, I’ll address that later.

Being able to do one proper 4–4–2 routine is the beginning of being able to do 20 push-ups, in time. It might take you 20 weeks, but you will get there.

  • Do ten reps of the routine, and then take a break. Repeat once.
  • Do this three or four times each week.

You will feel yourself getting stronger and more stable.

  • When you are ready, do one full push-up straight down and up, not the 4–4–2 routine. Take a 30-second break. Do one more.
  • When you can do 4 full push-ups, with the 30-second break, do 2 in a row next time you exercise. Then 3, then 4.
  • When you can do 4 straight up and down, apply the 4–4–2 routine from now on to your full pushups, and start from just one at your next session.

Now and then, do a regular set instead of the 4–4–2 routine to see how many you can do.

If on-knees is too hard try raised, on-knees

Alternative — Raised 4–4–2 Routine.

If you are struggling to do push-ups on your knees, you can use the side of your bed or something of similar height.

  • Push from there — on your knees. That will cut the bodyweight you are pushing by about 30% compared to being on your knees on the ground.
  • Apply the 4–4–2 routine to those, and follow the same pattern as above.​
  • When you are feeling strong enough, do a full, straight-leg raised push-up from the side of your bed. Take a 30-second break, and do one more.

This may take you a couple of months — exercising 3 or 4 times a week.

As above, when you can do 4 this way, with the 30-second break each time, you are ready to progress.

You progress by doing knee push-ups on the floor (following the method I described in the beginning).

You’ll eventually be doing full push-ups and reaping the benefits.

Good luck.

I’m Walter Adamson. I write about life, health, exercise, life and cognitive fitness to help men and women over 50 live longer better. Get my free, weekly newsletter here. (Relevant to this article — I have a Professional Diploma in Sports Nutrition).

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Originally published at



Walter Adamson

Optimistically curious, 70+ trail runner; 2X cancer; diabetic; Click “FOLLOW” for living longer better tips | My Newsletter 👉

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