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Can You Be Buff From Just Doing Pushups and Pullups?

author image Jason Jensen
Jason Jensen began his professional freelance writing career in 2010. He is an ACT-certified personal trainer and longtime vegetarian with an enthusiasm for fitness and nutrition. Jensen has also worked as a musician, freelance photographer, audio engineer and Web designer.
Can You Be Buff From Just Doing Pushups and Pullups?
Pushups and pullups are the only exercises you need to get buff. Photo Credit Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
Medically Reviewed by
Kenneth R. Hirsch

Long before weightlifting and bodybuilding became popular, people were getting buff with two basic exercises -- pushups and pullups. There's a common misconception that these exercises are better for toning and slimming down than for building strength and mass. However, you can look at any male gymnast or martial artist -- two athletes that seldom lift weights -- to know that this is not true.


Pushups work more than just your chest. Pushups mainly develop your pecs, triceps and deltoids, but they also strengthen the muscles of your core. Pushups should be performed to failure, three to five times, every other day. If you're trying to increase your endurance and put on mass, you should continuously try to increase the repetitions you can do until failure. If you're trying to increase your strength, you should work your way up to three sets of five repetitions and then increase the difficulty.


Pullups mainly develop your lats, traps, rhomboids and teres major. They also strengthen your forearms and abs. Just like pushups, pullups should be performed until failure for three to five sets, every other day. When you can easily perform three sets of five pullups, you need to increase the difficulty by adding weight to your body; or, you can increase the repetitions to develop more endurance.

Pushup Variations

You can do pushups a number of different ways to place more emphasis on certain muscle groups or make them more challenging. The closer your hands are together, the more you will work your triceps. The farther your hands are apart, the more you will work your pecs. You can increase the difficulty by positioning your hands close to your hips. You can also increase the difficulty by placing a weight plate on your back or by wearing a weight vest.

Pullup Variations

Pullups can also be done in a number of different ways to target certain muscle groups more than others. Changing your grip from overhand to underhand will place a stronger emphasis on your biceps. You can also alternate between wide, neutral and narrow grips to keep your muscles from getting used to the exercise. Sticking your chest out while you come up to the bar will place a greater emphasis on your pecs. Keeping your elbows close to your body throughout the movement will emphasize the external fibers of your lats more if you want to create a wide look to your back.

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