Yes, knuckle push-ups look pretty badass and scary. If that’s your metric of a successful exercise, then knuckle push-ups are indeed effective. That’s probably why you see them so much in Cobra Kai, particularly as a type of punishment/learning moment. But what about the other metrics, like, you know, strength-building or not breaking your hand? Whether knuckle push-ups are good for any of that will — surprise — depend on your goals and individual needs.
Some tout knuckle push-ups as a way for people in combat-related sports like karate, boxing or taekwondo to enhance the force of their punch, or even learn proper punching form. Whether that’s actually effective is debatable.
For the average person who maybe just does some push-ups as part of their regular workout, knuckle push-ups can be a way of engaging different muscles in the arms. The risks may not outweigh the benefits, though: In 2012, former Minnesota Timberwolves and current Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups. Considering Love likely has more hand and knuckle strength than the average person, the odds are probably even worse for a non-basketball player.
That said, knuckle push-ups can be a good alternative to regular push-ups for people with wrist issues. A regular push-up requires a bit of pressure on the wrists, which can be painful. If that’s the case, it might be worth cautiously giving knuckle push-ups a try. LiveStrong recommends only doing knuckle push-ups on a padded surface, like a yoga mat. Proper form calls for having your fists horizontal to each other, with your palms facing inward and your thumb angled downward, making contact on the mat. While you might be able to do a regular push-up just fine, you may want to try doing your knuckle push-ups on your knees first. This way, you’re reducing the amount of weight on your fists, making it less likely to break your hand if you screw up.
If targeting specific muscles or just switching up your push-ups is what you’re after, there are plenty of alternatives. Even just widening or lessening the width between your hands can make a difference. There’s also wall push-ups, or the option of incorporating a shoulder tap, arm raise or leg raise. Eighty-seven different push-up variations can be found here.
Whatever you do, start slow and be careful. Maybe it looks cool, but having a broken hand definitely won’t help you on your fitness journey.