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How Good Are Pushups & Pullups for You?

author image Denton Dean
Denton Dean has written about current events and lifestyle issues since 2005. He is a former reporter for "Politicker," a "New York Observer" publication. Dean earned his Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Texas at Austin and his Master of Public Policy from the University of Chicago, where he studied health care policy.
How Good Are Pushups & Pullups for You?
Pushups and pullups provide a total upper-body workout. Photo Credit: Daniel Martinez/Fuse/Fuse/Getty Images

Pushups and pullups look easy. You don’t use barbells or fancy equipment. The guy benching 200 lbs. seems like he’s working harder. Then you try a wide-grip pullup or pushup, and you realize: lifting your own body requires great strength. Pushups and pullups challenge your torso muscles. You do them anytime, anywhere. These synergistic, compound exercises offer convenient, complete body conditioning and customizable workouts.

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Say goodbye to the gym -- if you want. You don’t need weights, and you perform pushups and pullups wherever. Purchase a pullup bar that fits inside a door; most are inexpensive and double as pushup grips. Pushups and pullups cut workout time, says Dr. Len Lopez, a fitness commentator. They work your entire upper body, so you don’t have to train each isolated muscle separately.

Upper Body Workout

Pushups and pullups condition all major upper body muscles. These include your latissimus dorsi, pectorals, deltoids, triceps, biceps and core. “The New York Times” describes pushups as “the ultimate barometer of fitness” because they train so many areas. calls pullups the best way to gain upper-body strength.


Pushup and pullup muscles overlap. The primary pullup muscles -- lats -- play secondary roles during pushups; the primary pushup muscles -- pecs and triceps -- play secondary roles during pullups. A workout including push and pull exercises trains both sides of your torso.

Customized Workouts

Change pullup and pushup styles to match your fitness level and goals. If you can’t lift your body, try assisted pullups or wall pushups. On the other hand, if you can lift your weight easily, add a weight belt for pullups. Altering your grip develops muscles differently. Wide-grip pullups challenge your lats more, just as wide-grip pushups challenge your outer pecs. Narrow-grip pullups work your lower lats and arms, while narrow-grip pushups work your triceps. The various pushup and pullup options not only meet fitness needs, they keep you from getting bored.


You may not see huge muscle gains from bodyweight exercises alone. For larger gains, you’ll want some weight training. Not everyone should perform pushups or pullups. If you have back, shoulder, joint or other injuries, you may have to modify them. Consult your physician to make sure you can perform these exercises.

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