How Many Sets for Pushups & Pullups?

Young man doing push ups at a gym
A man is doing pushups. (Image: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images)

Basic pushups and pullups can be a compliment to any workout routine or practiced on their own. Their benefits may be due in large part to their requirement for you to use your own body weight as resistance in strengthening your muscles. Practicing proper form and repeating pushups or pullups are what helps you to strengthen your muscles.

Individual Baseline

The number of pushups or pullups you perform can vary greatly based on your fitness needs and capabilities as well as your weight. What is ideal for you may be different for others. Start with an individual baseline. Use a stopwatch to time yourself and do as many pushup as you can for one minute. Use this number as the minimum number per set and complete at least three sets.

Proper Form for a Pushup

The pushup comes in several forms, mainly to accommodate various physical capabilities. Modifications are helpful if you are new to pushup or are working to increase your physical fitness. However, your ultimate goal should be reaching a level of comfort to perform pushups in the traditional way. To do this, lay on the floor on your stomach, keeping your legs and feet together. Place your hands next to your shoulders with your palms on the floor. Push your palms down on the floor to lift your body up, keeping your torso, hips and legs aligned. If you have problems with your knees or feel an uncomfortable strain in your arms, place your knees on the floor while you are performing the pushup.

Proper Form for a Pullup

A standard pullup is performed on a pullup bar. Use one that has been professionally installed so that it can hold your weight. Kneel or stand on a chair and reach up to grab the bar, with your palms facing you. Hold the bar at all times and engage your bicep muscles to pull your body up until your chin rises over the bar. Some gyms have a pullup machine where you can add weight to provide additional resistance. Try the standard bar first to gain familiarity with the movement. You can use the machine as a challenge once you have mastered the pullup bar.

Target Numbers

Aiming for 12 to 15 repetitions will lead to increased muscle strength over time. One set of 12 to 15 is appropriate, yet completing three sets of 12 to 15 will yield long-term results. If you are not able to complete between 12 and 15 repetitions initially, perform as many as you can and establish this number as a goal. Once you are able to complete 15 easily, increase the number to 20 or 25 and continue to increase it over time.

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