Yes, you can get fit by just doing push-ups, pull-ups, and squats. These three bodyweight exercises will work for every muscle group in your body without the need for expensive equipment or gym fees. However, you will not be able to build a bodybuilder-type physique with these exercises because they don’t provide enough resistance.
What’s So Good About Push Ups, Pull Ups & Squats?
Push-Ups, pull-ups, and air squats are calisthenic or bodyweight exercises. They can be done with nothing more than your body weight, though you will need a pull-up bar to perform pull-ups. That makes a workout that just uses these three moves extremely convenient, not to mention cost-effective.
The resistance that your body is working against when you do these three moves comes from gravity. You can increase the resistance by doing variations of each of the exercises to make them more intense. For example, changing your hand spacing will make the push-up either easier or harder.
Let’s check out each exercise, with a focus on form and variations to make it harder.
Push-Ups are the number one bodyweight exercise to work the front of your upper body. The main muscle worked is the chest, though it also activates the shoulders, triceps, and core muscles.
Here is how to perform the push up:
- Get down on all fours in the traditional pushup position. Your hands should be a little wider than shoulder distance apart, legs straight and feet together. Keep a neutral back position.
- Straighten your arms to assume the top pushup position. Now bend at the elbows to lower your torso to the floor. Stop when your chest is about and inch from the floor.
- Push through the chest and triceps tp return to the start position.
To make your push-up workouts harder, there are a whole lot of types of pushups you can do. Incline push-ups, with your feet elevated, will make your pecs work harder. You can also wear a weighted vest to add more resistance. As you get stronger, you can advance to one-arm push-ups. Always be sure to use the correct form.
You can adjust your hand spacing to change the emphasis of muscle activation on the classic push-up. A variation of the classic pushup is the diamond pushup, where your thumbs and first finger are touching. This puts the focus on the triceps.
Pull-Ups are the king of compound exercises for the back of your upper body. This challenging move will make you a whole lot stronger while also directly working your latissimus dorsi (lats), your biceps, and deltoids. Here is how to do it:
- Hang from a pull up bar with an overhand grip and with your hands slightly wider than hip width apart.
- Keep your core tight and your legs straight but slightly angled forward. Depress your shoulder blades and activate your lats.
- Pull through the lats, keeping your elbows down as you pull your chest up to the bar.
- Reverse the motion under control to return to the start position. Keep your body tight through the entire movement.
The pull-up is a very hard exercise so you will probably not need to look for ways to make it harder. If you do want to make pull-ups harder, you can wear a weighted vest. Spacing your hands further apart will also make your lats work harder. A final way to increase the intensity of pull-ups is to do the one-arm pull-up.
The squat is a bread and butter exercise for the lower body. Air squats have you performing this exercise without any added resistance. This avoids the compressive spinal pressure that comes with doing barbell squats. Here is how to do this classic exercise:
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointed slightly outward. Clasp your hands together in front of your body and look straight ahead.
- Hinge from the hips as you drop down into a parallel squat position (thighs parallel to the floor).
- Push your heels into the ground as you push back to the start position.
To make air squats harder, you can hold a weight in your hands. Another advance is to perform Sumo squats with your feet as wide as possible and pistol squats where you are doing squats on one leg.
Putting the Workout Together
The push-up, pull-up, squat workout can be done as a circuit as follows:
- Air Squats – 15 reps
- Push Ups – 10 reps
- Pull Ups – 5 reps
Do this circuit as a timed workout. Set your timer to 15 minutes and try to complete as many rounds of the circuit as you can. It is up to you to take rest periods as needed.
Another way to structure your workout is to set a rep goal for each of the three exercises. For example, you could set the goal of doing 100 squats, 50 push-ups, and 25 pull-ups. Do your first set of air squats, in which you get about 40 reps. Then go directly to your first set of push-ups and get as many as you can (maybe 25). Then move straight to pull-ups and pump out your max (let’s say 8 reps). Now have a rest for 60 seconds.
You have now got 60 squats to complete, 25 push-ups, and 17 pull-ups to achieve your rep goals. Do as many as you can on the second round and then rest for another 60 seconds. Try to hit your targets in the third round.
Can You Build Muscle With Just Push Ups, Pull Ups and Squats?
If you are a beginner to resistance exercise, you will be able to build muscle in the first year by just doing push-ups, pull-ups, and squats. After that, however, your muscle-building ability will diminish. That’s because you will be unable to progressively increase the resistance, which is a key to muscle growth.
A push-up, pull-up, squat workout will allow you to build muscle and strength through your entire body. If your goal is to develop a lean, fit physique then this fitness routine will serve you well. However, if you are after maximum muscle growth then you will need to start adding some weight resistance exercises like the dumbbell bench press, lat pull in, and leg extension.
Frequently Asked Questions
What other bodyweight exercises should be added to a push-up, pull-up, squat workout?
To more fully work your entire body, I recommend adding reverse lunges to more fully work the glutes and hamstrings, along with chin-ups (palms facing your body) to hit the biceps and handstand push-ups to directly stimulate the front deltoids.