Pushups and pullups work the muscles in the chest, arms, back and shoulders. Besides building strength, two 20-minute workout sessions a week that feature these exercises can help increase bone density, stamina, balance and posture. They can also help with managing back pain and arthritis. As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new fitness routine -- especially if you suffer from a chronic condition or injury.
For best results, do pushups slowly and with control. Get onto your hands and knees with your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Straighten your legs so you are supporting your body weight on your hands and toes in a plank position. Bend your elbows and slowly lower your body as far as you can, or until your chest touches the floor. Straighten your elbows and return your body to the starting position. Repeat for a total of 12 or more repetitions. Be sure to keep your back rigid while you do pushups; never sag or hike your hips upward, which can trigger back pain and discomfort.
Pullups can be difficult, so start with just a few. Modify as needed to make the exercise easier by standing on a sturdy chair, or using pullup bands or weight-lifting straps. Grasp the chin-up bar with your palms facing away from you. Bend your elbows and pull yourself up until your chin is level with the bar. Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position. Progressively work your way up to performing 12 or more pullups at a time. For optimal results, hold onto the handles tightly with your thumbs wrapped completely around the bar.
Keep your elbows close to your sides to work your triceps while doing pushups. You can also do pushups from your knees, at an incline by placing your hands on an elevated surface, or at a decline by positioning your feet on an elevated platform. Vary your pullup workout by switching up your grip. Grasp the bar with your palms facing toward you to work your muscles a little differently. You can also narrow your grip so your hands are directly in front of your face to engage your biceps. You can vary the intensity of both exercises by wearing a weight belt or doing knee twists at the top of each move.
Perform the pushup and pullup workout every other day as part of a circuit routine, giving your muscles time to recover and grow between each session. For best results, structure your workout so that you are cycling between a pushup or pullup, lower body exercise, medium-intensity compound exercise and high-intensity cardiovascular exercise. For example, perform pushups for one minute, squats for one minute, mountain climbers for one minute and speed running for one minute. After you rest for one minute, do the entire sequence again, but do pullups instead of pushups. Repeat the circuit for at least 30 minutes, cycling between pushups and pullups. For best results, vary your workout. For example, do triceps pushups one round and traditional pushups the next.
Keep your abdominal muscles tight throughout both exercises to help stabilize your spine and protect your back. To prevent injury, always practice proper form when doing pushups and pullups. Pull your shoulders back and keep your spine and head in line. Never swing or jerk your body while you exercise. Not only does this rely on momentum to complete the move, it can lead to injuries like muscle pulls and sprains.
- The American Council on Exercise: Push-up
- The American Council on Exercise: Pull-ups
- Philadelphia Magazine: 20 Push-up Variations: Beginner to Advanced
- Men's Fitness: 10 Pull-up Variations
- Fitness For Dummies; Edition Suzanne Schlosberg and Liz Neporent
- Shape: How to Build the Perfect Circuit Workout