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Is there any reason why women were ever told to do pushups from the knees? Is it really just a strength issue? My daughter, who is in JROTC, was told that if she did them from her feet, it would pop her ovaries. That cannot be correct. Any light you can shed on this would be great.

-- Quito, via e-mail

This might be an old wives' tale mutated into an old drill sergeant's tale. Knee pushups are advised for women because most (untrained or young) women can't sustain repeated standard pushups. They don't have the strength or endurance in their triceps and pectoralis major muscles, the principal weight-movers in a standard pushup. Simple as that. If you do a pushup the right way, you need to stabilize your back with your abs and back muscles, but the strength involved is minor compared to what you need in your upper body. Exercises that isolate and build your pecs and triceps will help with pushups; repeated attempts at standard pushups if you're not strong enough will only fatigue the muscles fast and won't have any training value.

Ovaries and all the other female reproductive organs are supported by a whole network of ligaments attached to the pelvic wall. These are weakened by repeated increases in pressure within the abdomen. It's a gradual process, and pushups won't do it, though squats and lunges are more problematical. But most of the weakening comes from menopause (loss of estrogen), childbirth, repeated heavy lifting, even constipation, coughing, laughing, and sneezing. But I'd think you'd have to be a professional sneezer for this to be the only cause.

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