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Stop Calling Them Girl Push-Ups

Jan 04, 2023

We have all heard the “slang” for a push-up performed from the knees - the girl push-up. In all honesty, I have no clue where or when this term came about, but I believe it is time to put it to rest. As a coach, educator, healthcare worker, and leader, using this term can be degrading to males and females alike. 

Let’s begin by discussing the physical requirements of a bodyweight push-up. The push-up is a very physically demanding exercise, and if you have been taken through a Functional Movement Screen, then you know it is a measurement of readiness for the gym. Many people think of the push-up as an arm exercise, which is not an incorrect assumption, but what people often look past is the amount of core stability required to perform a great push-up. This movement challenges your core in an anti-extension position, meaning you are fighting gravity from pushing your back into a sway posture. In addition, to perform the push-up well a person needs good mobility from head to toe (shoulders, wrists, elbows, toes, ankles, etc.)

As mentioned above, the push-up is not an easy exercise, so often it needs to be modified as people gain the necessary core stability, strength, and mobility to perform the baseline version. Most frequently, you can expect a push-up to be modified through methods such as assistance with a band, changing the body position to an incline, and/or shortening the lever by performing it from the knees. All of these are excellent options for males and females, no matter their ages, so they can perform the movement well and without any unnecessary risk of injury. 

Why would we stop calling them girl push-ups, though? The main reason comes from a psychological and confidence aspect. For females, this can set them up to feel like they should be achieving less than the males and/or should be holding back. In the book Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, she discusses a conversation she had with Deborah Gruendfled, a professor at Stanford, about her tendencies to hide her accomplishments. Deborah talked about how women are perceived to be nurturing and nice above all else, and if they show competence they are less liked by peers.  As silly as it seems, it can be difficult to be the “strong girl” of the group, outperforming even your male and more experienced counterparts. Female athletes should be encouraged to modify the exercises if needed and pushed to excel beyond the baseline movement.  As a male, being told to regress to a “girl push-up” may feel embarrassing and tempt many to prioritize poor form over a modified movement simply due to an incorrect name and ego. 

As someone who may be working with athletes of any level, it should be your goal to empower and encourage them along the way. Train people based on their current work capacity and use terms that will change their perception of modified exercises. Oh, and stop calling them girl push-ups.


-Dr. Kylar


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