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Pull Ups Vs. Push Ups

author image Tina Hunt
Tina Hunt works in the health and fitness field and has been writing articles for her fitness center's newsletter, as well as teaching strength training classes, designing training programs, and coaching athletes in all realms of sports. She also has experience presenting seminars on several health- and fitness-related topics.
Pull Ups Vs. Push Ups
woman doing pushups in gym Photo Credit Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images

For a refreshing new challenge, add some pull-ups and push-ups to your fitness routine. Proper completion of these exercises will greatly enhance the strength of your core and upper body musculature, and improve your strength for daily and sporting activities. While both pull-ups and push-ups work the muscles of the core and upper body, they work them in different planes of motion. A pull-up involves the use of a bar, while a push-up does not require the use of any equipment.


Pull-ups are classified as a vertical pulling movement and are performed to improve upper body and core muscle strength. In the case of a pull-up, you are going to be moving your body vertically upward by means of a pulling motion. To do that, grip a bar at a height that is higher than your head, and pull yourself up until your chin is at a level with the bar; slowly lower yourself back to the starting position, with no bend in your arms at the elbow. You have completed one repetition.

Push-ups are classified as a horizontal pushing movement, and like pull-ups are also performed to improve upper body and core muscle strength. Laying flat on your stomach, place your palms on the ground just outside of your shoulders. Keeping your elbows tight to your sides, push through the ground and raise yourself up so that your arms are now straight; slowly lower yourself back to back down so that your elbows are bent at a 90 degree angle. You have completed one repetition.

Muscles Involved

The primary muscles used for a pull-up and push-up are:

Pull-up: latissimus dorsi, biceps, deltoids, pectorals, and abdominals

Push-up: triceps, pectorals, abdominals, deltoids, and latissimus dorsi


If you have difficulty completing a pull-up or push-up as described above, here are some suggestions for what you can do instead.

For a pull-up, you can use the pull-up assist machine at the gym, or the lat pull-down machine, where instead of pulling yourself up, you pull a weight down, simulating the action of the pull-up, but without having to use your body-weight. Studies have shown that these two exercises are analogous to each other, and that performing the lat pull-down can actually lead to improvements in your ability to perform a pull-up.

To modify a push-up, keep your knees on the ground, and perform the exercise as you would a non-modified push-up.

Adding Pull-ups and Push-ups to a Workout

Incorporating pull-ups and push-ups in to your workout is simple. For pull-ups, start with 3 sets of 6 repetitions. These repetitions should be difficult, as you will be building your strength. For push-ups, start with 3 sets of 8 repetitions. These too, should be difficult. If you opt to do the lat-pull down exercise, start with 3 sets of 12 repetitions, as this will begin building your endurance and strength to be able to perform a pull-up on your own.


Many sports require that the core and upper body be strong, and the strength gained from performing pull-ups and push-ups can have a direct result on performance. Swimming, basketball, baseball, and soccer are just a few of the sports that demand superior upper body and core strength. Incorporating pull-ups and push-ups in to your training routine for any sport will greatly aid your performance. If you do not participate in sports, pull-ups and push-ups are also great exercises to do to enhance upper body and core muscle definition, as well as strengthen those muscles for postural support. Either way, both pull-ups and push-ups are excellent exercises to perform, and can be incorporated in to any fitness routine.

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