Can We Stop Calling Them ‘Girl Push-Ups’ Already?

They’re CALLED ‘modified push-ups,’ and there’s nothing worse about them
girl push ups

I was taking one of my favorite workout classes recently when I heard the instructor use the phrase “girl push-up.” Come on, I thought. Seriously??

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You’ve heard the term. “Girl push-up.” It’s used to refer to a modified push-up where you’re propped up on your knees instead of your toes. As a certified fitness instructor, I was taught that this modification is offered to people who either a) struggle to hold a proper plank or b) struggle to lift the entirety of their body weight due to limitations of their upper body strength or mobility. In either case, the push-up should be done on the person’s knees instead of in the standard pose.

Calling a modified push-up a “girl push-up” is the worst for three important reasons.

For one, you’re implying that girls (or women) are somehow weaker or less capable than boys (or men). It's 2019, people. Secondly, you’re sending the entire class the message that modifications are somehow worse than the original move. (They’re not.) And finally, you’re introducing unnecessary shame into the minds of your participants when they’re just trying to move their bodies and exercise. (Ugh.)

Allow me to elaborate.

Firstly, there’s the obvious issue of implying that girls are always weaker than boys. Not true! Doesn’t that depend on the girl?

Yes, females are biologically different than males. But both sexes are fully capable of doing a regular push-up, so long as they have the strength and mobility required to do so. As an instructor, I’ve seen many men do “girl push-ups.” I’ve also seen many women do push-ups on their toes. And vice versa. The point is that biological sex doesn’t really limit a person either way. Fitness level and experience, however, might.

Which brings me to my next point. This phrase implies that “girl push-ups” are inferior. There is nothing wrong with taking a modification. Every person, at one point or another, could not do a push-up on their toes. And that’s OK!

Since every person’s body is different, every person uses different modifications. Additionally, since your body’s energy and mobility levels are different every day, you may consistently use different modifications. Some days I need to modify and some days I don’t, and I’ve been working out for years. That’s just the way bodies are.

When I teach class I always make sure to offer modifications as equal. There’s nothing inherently worse about taking out the portion of the move that doesn’t work for your body. Modified push-ups are just as good as other ones.

Modifications serve an important purpose. They keep everybody safe and ensure that the workout is effective. If you’re trying to do a “boy push-up” (notice how no one ever says that?) and keep falling and/or hurting yourself, you’re probably not getting as much out of it as you would just dropping to your knees and building from there.

Lastly, there’s the shame thing to consider. Imagine being a girl or a woman in a fitness class where you’re already feeling a bit insecure. The instructor offers you the option of a “girl push-up.” What might you think? I’m female, so I’m not strong enough to do it on my toes. Or: Girls aren’t as capable of succeeding in this class as boys.

The males aren’t off the hook though, either. Imagine being a boy or a man in this class. What might you think? If I take this option, it’s going to be embarrassing. Or: I can’t do this push-up, so that makes me less of a man.

This fitness trope is making people feel distressed about their gender roles and fitness capabilities — neither of which are necessary.

So let’s all agree to stop saying this. There are literally so many other ways to cue a push-up on your knees. How about: “Do a push-up on your knees”? But I’m just spitballing here. No matter which way you do a push-up, it’s one of the best equipment-free full-body exercises you can do.


Holly Van Hare is the healthy eating editor at The Daily Meal. Her interests include spending too much on brunch, reading good books, and dogs in cute costumes. You can follow her Instagram for more!