Advice

Why the sissy push-up is the ideal exercise to build upper body strength

And to achieve the same benefits as a regular push-up, you just do more of them

The push-up has long been an essential exercise for any workout. It’s a move to boast about, too. Just look at our favourite sports stars claiming their parents made them do 100 push-ups before dinner if they wanted dessert or similar. It’s long been a measure of strength, with people engaging in push-up competitions at school or incorporating it with bodyweight workouts.

The push-up is essentially a full body workout. With most of the primary muscles worked including chest (Pec Major), arms (Triceps Brachii), and shoulders (Anterior Deltoids). The push-up also utilises a number of stabilising muscles again in the arms (Biceps Brachii), abs (Rectus Abdominus and Obliques), legs (Quadriceps) and back (Erector Spinae).

The push-up is an incredible all-round exercise, but many do not attempt it because it can be difficult and it can also be embarrassing if we’re not able to do enough of them.

Usually, if we find push-ups too difficult, people tell us to do the ‘sissy’ variation which is the same as a push-up but on your knees. The sissy push-up is usually seen as an inferior version and the name ‘sissy’ suggests it’s either not beneficial or blokey enough to be seen to be doing in front of your mates at the gym.

Recent research by the Journal of Applied Biomechanics has recently dispelled this notion, making the sissy push-up something you should seriously add to your workout, especially if you’re starting out.


While performing a push-up on your knees make the exercise easier to perform, it doesn’t mean that they do not have the same benefit as a regular push-up. In fact, they are just as beneficial as normal ‘on toe’ push-ups, so long as you do enough of the ‘sissy’ push-ups to leave you feeling exhausted.

A study of 12 healthy males by Gottschall et. al (2018) at Penn State University found the ratio of upper-body muscle activation to be the same for ‘sissy’ variations as for normal push-ups. The study also suggests that the sissy variation is a great way to build up towards performing full push-ups. They concluded that if you can perform 16 sissy push-ups it is suggested you can start testing out regular push ups from your toes.

When performing a regular toe push-up, you lift between 60-70% of your body weight, compared to 40-50% for a sissy push-up from your knees – so you simply need to perform more of them to obtain the same benefit.

So, now there’s no excuse not to add a push-up to your workout routine, knowing it’s the ideal way to build your upper body, irrespective of what your mates might think. Just show them this article!

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About Author

Alex is the co-founder of Short Motivation and currently resides in Texas, heading up the US part of the website. He's busy with his PT qualifications and in the planning stages of Short Motivation events across the US later this year.