pull ups vs push ups

Pull Ups vs Push Ups: Which is Better?

Push-ups and pull-ups are two of the best strength training exercises you can perform for a number of reasons. These two exercises can dramatically increase the effectiveness of your workouts and, in particular, build a robust, muscular upper body. 

The beauty of the pull-up and push-up is that they target entirely different areas of the body and, as such, help build upper body strength, well-rounded, and balanced. If you’re after an ideal body then these resistance body movement exercises are for you.

Pull Ups

The lats which are the long wide muscles that cover your back, shoulders, and even biceps and forearms get an invaluable workout when performing the humble pull-up.

How To Perform The Regular Pull Up

With an overhand grip that is roughly shoulder-width apart, grasp the pull-up bar. Your legs should hang down naturally. Now use your arms to pull yourself or your chin, to be more specific, up over the bar. A big no-no is to avoid your hips and core from swinging, as this can cause serious injury. Most people swing their hips because it makes the exercise easier, but remember, easier isn’t always better, and in this case, it’s most certainly not.

Push Ups

The humble push-up is the best bodyweight exercise known to man. It specifically targets your pectoral muscles, shoulders, tricep muscles, biceps, and even your abs muscles. 

How To Perform The Push-Up

via Gfycat

Get into a plank-like position with your knees and hands firmly on the ground and slightly shoulder-width apart. Ensure that your core is solid and tight and your back is level. Keeping your core tight is critical as it helps reduce injury. Now, slowly lower yourself to the ground until your nose touches the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat, being sure never fully to lock your elbows out.

Benefits of Pull Ups and Push Ups

Well, there are many benefits to performing pull-ups and push-ups; They are very low impact, meaning they can be performed pretty much every day, depending on the volume, of course. These bodyweight exercises allow for shorter rest periods between sets and mitigate overtraining or “overloading,” which is common when using traditional heavy-weight systems and practices. 

A huge benefit is that absolutely no equipment is required to perform the pull-up and push-up. A sturdy tree branch, a steel rail in the garage, or even some playground equipment will all suffice. No need for costly gym memberships, which can burn a big fat hole right in your wallet.

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The other advantage of performing these two movements is that they are effortless to modify. With a slight change of overhand grip position, a broader or narrower grasp, and even adding a weight belt to your waist for extra resistance, these are all excellent bodyweight exercises and make these exercises super flexible. Changing the grip, for example, will emphasize different muscle groups, meaning you can get a well-rounded and effective workout, not to mention better grip strength.

Push-ups are just as easily modified, by changing the incline, the width of your hand’s position, and even adding weight by way of a weighted vest. If you really want to challenge yourself, you can place your hands on a balance ball or “swiss ball,” which increases the level of difficulty challenging your balance and concentration and working the major muscle.

Total Upper Body Workout

Some other movements can help round out your workout, develop strength and muscularity throughout your upper body, and be incorporated into any serious athlete’s plan.

Incline Flyes are an excellent way to help develop strength and width in your chest muscle and can be performed in several different ways, such as flat, incline, and decline.

Bent-Over Rows are another excellent movement that develops thickness throughout the upper and lower back as well as the hamstrings and buttocks. But be sure to keep your core strong as injury can occur if your form is poor. Keep reps to a minimum with the bent-over row as although it’s an excellent exercise, it can overload the back reasonably quickly.

The old school Bench Press is an exercise nearly everyone on planet earth has performed at least once. Again here, the key is not to overload the bar with so much weight you can only perform a few reps but instead use a weight where you can comfortably complete three sets of 8-12 reps and 2-3 times a week.

Shoulder presses are another excellent resistance training movement that helps develop wide shoulders.

Addressing The Strength Imbalances of the Push Up and Pull Up

Can you answer the question of how many push-ups equates to one commando pull-up? What about Assisted pull-ups? or other important questions such as muscle imbalance when performing these two exercises solely. Well, the answer to the second question is relatively straightforward; let’s say you can complete ten pull-ups but only two push-ups, then that’s what we refer to as a “strength imbalance.” 

Unfortunately, if not rectified, a strength imbalance can cause your training and development to come to a halt or, even worse, can manifest as an injury that could prevent you from working out. OUCH!!

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Muscles Activated By Pull Ups And Push Ups

Simply put, a push-up is a “pushing movement,” in a plank position. As you probably guessed, the principal muscle worked in this exercise is the chest, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only muscle used. The push-up also emphasizes your shoulder blades, triceps, and delts and puts a fair amount of stress on the core muscles as you fight to keep your body balanced and stabilized, also helping with muscle endurance.

On the other hand, we have the pull-up, which, you guessed it, is a pulling movement. Here the bulk of the workload is put on the lats, which are the biggest muscles in your back. The pull-up also targets the bicep muscles and, as with push-ups puts a lot of emphasis on the core muscles, which helo with stabilization. 

Correcting Strength Imbalance

When your muscles work to move, they also put stress on your bones which is why strength imbalance can be a serious matter. An example would be the lats that pull your muscles back instead of the chest muscles, which pull your muscles forward. Now, if you are in tiptop condition and your balance is correct, then both sides of the body or opposing muscles will receive equal amounts of stress and force. 

The problem is when one muscle or side of the body is inherently weaker, then that’s when the trouble starts, and injury is almost inevitable, as the stronger side or muscle is forced to “pick up the slack” to complete the movement. 

Are The Same Muscles Used When Performing the Pull Up and Push Up

While some of the muscles used to perform these two bodyweight movements are the same, most of the muscles used are entirely different, which is why the pull-up and push-up work so well in combination. The core, for example, is used in both exercises and actually plays a critical role in mitigating injury. Remember, the pull up and push up are opposite movements, and their trajectory runs on entirely different planes of motion. The type of push does make a difference though in any resistance training, which is why it’s critical to implement in your training program.

The lats, biceps, triceps, and forearms also play a minor role in both exercises, and just like the core muscles, they all work in unison to keep form correct and help alleviate injury. However, performing the pull-up is a solely “upper body” exercise with absolutely no lower bodywork or targeting at all. Primarily the lats, biceps, and shoulders are targeted with a decent amount of stress on the core, as mentioned earlier.

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If performed over a long enough period and in the correct manner, pull-ups will develop a broad V-taper physique, while the push-up will build thickness and strength through the chest and arms. So it’s easy to see why they are so effective when combined.


It’s clear that by performing both of these exercises in conjunction with a healthy eating plan, cardio workouts, and a solid stretching routine, you will develop an upper body with size and strength without the help of all the fancy equipment. Be sure to take rest days as periods of rest are crucial.

Injury is best avoided by ensuring you have the correct technique and not overtraining the muscles groups like pectoralis major and especially while performing bicep curls.

Implement these two great bodyweight movements into your resistance training routine today, regardless of your fitness level, and start reaping their many benefits. 

Good luck!!!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Pull ups So Difficult?

First off, compound movements are effective exercises as you need to lift your entire body weight. The primary reason pull-ups are so difficult is that most people never perform it. When they try to perform pull-ups they realize they are much more challenging than expected. The ideal way is to start performing 3-5 pull-ups each day and slowly build your way up to 10 and even 20. 

How Many Push Ups In One Day Is Good?

Performing between 5-10 push-ups per day for beginners is a good starting point, while more advanced athletes may complete up to 50-100 push-ups each day without overtraining. But basically, you want to start with a number you feel comfortable with to avoid overtraining and injury and consult a strength and conditioning specialist.

How Can Increase The Number Of Pull Ups?

By simply performing 1 or 2 pull-ups each day, you will notice significant development, muscle strength, and size improvements. This foundation of strength then gives you the ability to perform more pull-ups, and over time, you will become a pullup beast. 

Brenton Barker

Brenton holds a Degree in Sports Coaching from the University of Delaware and was the former Head Advisor for the Japanese Government's Sports Science Institute. He has held Managerial and Head Coaching roles with Australia's National Governing Body, Tennis Australia, and served on the Dunlop International Sports Advisory Board for eight years. Brenton currently consults with several professional athletes and clients in the areas of Self-Accountability, Health, and Goal Orientation.

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