Why Can I Do Push Ups, but Not Pull Ups? [Here’s Why and How to Fix It]


Push-ups is one of the first exercises we learn. Even before we know what the word exercise means!

Push-ups are the easiest way for us to develop some muscle and strength. But what would be the next step?

For me, it was pull-ups.

One of the best bodyweight exercises that people want to learn besides push-ups is pull-ups. Even doing ten pull-ups can be really impressive!

So I didn’t want to be stuck with doing push-ups my whole life, and I am sure you don’t want that too. And if you just moved on to doing pull-ups, you most definitely found out that they are super tough.

I can do push ups but not pull ups is this normal? Push-ups are easier to do than pull-ups. The muscles used when doing push-ups are different than the muscles used in a pull-up, so there is not a significant carry over between the two. Pull-ups are significantly harder than push-ups and will be more difficult to perform even for well-trained people.

Now that you have some general idea as to why the mighty pull-ups still seem so hard let us take a more in-depth and detailed look. Soon you will know what you need to do to get them going.

athletes doing push-ups

Is It Normal to Do Push-Ups but No Pull-Ups?

Right off the bat, yes, it is normal to be able to do push-ups and no pull-ups. You may even be able to do 20, 30 or even 50 push-ups and pull-ups may seem as unattainable as when you weren’t able to do push-ups at all.

To give you a real-world example, I was able to do easily about 30-35 push-ups, and at the same time, my pull-ups number was about 0.5.

I really want to stress the importance of not getting discouraged. In a bit, you will see why this is perfectly normal and happens to many people.

But first, I want to ask you to stop focusing on whether or not you can do pull-ups. Otherwise, you are setting yourself for a failure from the get-go. You don’t want that!

There are three plateaus that everyone experiences:

  • The first plateau everyone hits is the mental plateau. Any successful lift or movement starts with a positive mindset. If you believe you can do only five push-ups, well, you will probably do just five push-ups on your next set.
  • The second plateau is skill-based. Certain movements just take time for your body to adapt to and your brain to develop the right neuron connections.
  • The third plateau is strength-based. Sometimes we just need to be patient and train regularly until we become strong enough.

Do push-ups help with pull-ups?

So far, you have learned that it is completely normal to be able to do push-ups and no pull-ups. Now, let’s take a look at something different. Are push-ups worth it if all you want to do is learn how to do a pull-up. First, let’s establish two things.

Push-Ups Vs. Pull-Ups

Push-ups are a great exercise to develop the upper body strength and build some muscles mass.

So what muscles will push-ups actually develop?

The muscles that are mainly used when doing push-ups are the chest muscles, triceps, front shoulders. To a lesser extent (as stabilizing muscles) you will use your biceps, obliques and abs, legs, and some of the finer muscles alongside your spine.

And pull-ups, on the other hand, are one of the best exercises for developing the upper body.

Pull-ups will develop mainly the Lattisimus Dorsi, back shoulders, biceps, brachialis, and abs and to a lesser extent the

Are Push-Ups Easy?

Push-ups are a tough exercise for everyone new to training and working out. Don’t get me wrong this applies to pretty much everyone. Both men and women. Even to the dude who’s benching the impressive 225 pounds.

And for a lot of us, the first steps are made with push-ups.

One of the best things about push-ups is that we can do them pretty much anywhere. Nothing beats an exercise that can be done anytime anywhere, and it doesn’t require any equipment.

Even I started with push-ups and later moved on to pull-ups, muscle-ups, and other types of movements and tricks.

But in order to better illustrate the situation and give you all the necessary knowledge you need to know why you can’t do pull-ups we need to take a more in-depth look at each of these exercises, how they affect your body and muscles, and what is the right approach to learning the pull-ups.

Are we ready? Alright, let’s start with the thing you have already conquered.

Is There a Carryover Between Push-Ups and Pull-Ups?

As you can see, both exercises are targeting the upper body. However, on a further, more in-depth, look we can see that we use different muscles in the execution of push up and pull-ups.

The push-ups are more demanding on the muscles that are at the front of our body, while the pull-ups are focusing on the muscles on the back of our body. (anterior vs. posterior chain).

Because of that, although push-ups will develop muscle strength and size the actual carryover will not be zero but minimal.

Pushing, Pulling and Leg Exercises

In the fitness community, exercises can frequently be separated into three categories:

  • Pushing movements;
  • Pulling movements; and
  • Leg movements.

What makes a certain exercise a pushing movement is that essentially what you do is push something away from you. An excellent example of pushing movements are the bench press and the push-up.

A pulling movement is quite the opposite. You are pulling something towards yourself. An excellent example of a pulling movement are the barbell rows and the pull-ups.

Leg movements are self-explanatory as these are going to be any movements that train your legs.

Will More Push-Ups Help You Do Pull-Ups?

First – let me get that out of the way – doing more push-ups beyond a certain point will not necessarily help you with the pull-ups.

If you are just starting out and you can barely do a few push-ups then learning to do more of them will definitely help you on your pull-up journey, simply because your strength is still growing and developing. You haven’t hit the ceiling so to speak of what push-ups can do for you.

For a beginner, it is worth investing some time into doing push-ups. You need to develop your overall strength, and push-ups will helps. But don’t expect just because you can pump out say 20-30 push-ups this will carry over to doing pull-ups. It will help, but not that much.

At a certain point, pull-ups will not benefit you in any way pull-up wise.

When I was working on my pull-ups, I was doing push-ups as well, and I personally didn’t feel any benefit from push-ups or carryover whatsoever after I was able to do 35-40 consecutive push-ups.

Keep in mind that push-ups focus on different muscles, and the overlap is not that big. So push-ups will help you with dips more than they will do with pull-ups.

How Many Push-Ups Do You Need to Do Before Being Able to Do a Pull-Up?

I need to mention a few things first. Even if I gave you some number, they will be all general recommendations and averages. The numbers will and definitely vary a lot from person to person.

This can all makes things even more confusing, and it can also make you focus on the wrong things.

Here is the thing.

Pull-ups are significantly harder. They require from you more power and strength than push-ups do. Let’s compare that to a staircase if push-ups are taking two steps at a time – maybe a little difficult but doable – then pull-ups are like taking five steps at a time – extremely hard without training specifically to do that particular thing.

With a push-up, you are lifting maybe about 60% of your body weight, while with a pull-up you are going to be lifting a 100% of your body weight. Although you will be using different muscle, this is still a significant percentage jump.

So just a very, very rough estimate I’d recommend that you should be able to do at least 30 to 50 consecutive push-ups. Given you follow a well-structured pull-up routine, you will probably be able to do your first pull-up way before reaching that many push-ups, but hey it doesn’t hurt to be able to pump out some push-ups.

And this is the secret sauce – in order to do more pull-ups you have to do more pull-ups. And there is no other way around it. Regardless if we like it or not. A fact is a fact.

How Long Does it Take to Do Your First Pull-Up?

The time you will need to do your first pull-up will vary depending on a couple of factors:

  • Your general physical strength and condition;
  • Your bodyweight;
  • Lifestyle

Following a good and consistent workout schedule will provide for quicker results.

When I first started with pull-ups, I was able to do about 30+ push-ups in a row. At that time, I was able almost to do one pull-up with relatively bad form and not a good range of motion. After some rigorous and consistent training, it took me about two weeks to do my first pull-up.

And judging by what I have seen from other people I have trained two weeks up to a month is a fairly good period of time in which you should be able to do your first pull-up. Of course, there is no way I or anybody else can guarantee that all things considered, it may take you more or less, depending on how well you train and other factors. We will get to that in a moment.

How to Combine Push-Ups and Pull-Ups?

Push-ups and pull-ups can be combined together for greater fitness results. They can actually synergize pretty well.

A lot of the golden era bodybuilders in fact preferred to train antagonistic muscle groups in the same day. Meaning they will train biceps and triceps together or chest and back.

So essentially, we have two main way to combine both exercises:

  • Either do them in the same day. Doing antagonist muscles training routine.
  • Do them in separate days. Doing a split workout routine.

Antagonist Muscle Training Routine

When training to do pull-ups, you shouldn’t train every day.

Doing pull-up three times a week is more than enough (Monday-Wednesday-Friday, for example). And since we are doing an antagonist muscle training routine, we will be doing push-ups the same days.

Usually, we can combine them as supersets. Which means one set of pull-ups will be followed by one set of push-ups (or the other way around).

Or the other alternative is to do all your pull-up sets followed by all the push-up sets, or vice versa.

Split Training Routine

When doing a split training routine, this means we will be training different muscle groups on different days. This usually will mean that we won’t be able to do three times a week only pull-ups because we will be left with four days each week for all of the rest muscle groups.

Usually, I would recommend doing pull-ups and push-ups twice a weak at most. That way, you should be able to combine the rest of your exercises more easily.

How to Do Your First Pull-Up?

Although push-ups will not affect your pull-up numbers directly, they can still be worth your while. Push-ups will build up your strength in different aspects while working on your pull-ups.

Slowly start incorporating more and more pull-up specific training into your routine. If your goal is to do pull-ups, then focus on them. Of course, you can still do your push-ups but if they are not that important to you. Prioritize.

The Workout Routine

In order to do your first pull-up, one of the first steps is to have an appropriately planned and structured workout routine.

There are several things that can aid you on your journey to the first pull-up:

Training up to 3 times a week is more than enough, and training pull-ups more often than that is frequently unnecessary and often counterproductive.

There is no need to overdo it, as this usually leads to less ROI.

  • Watch your form. Use the perfect form and full range of motion when doing your pull-ups;
  • Do not use swinging or excessive kipping when you do your pull-ups;
  • Three times a week 4 to 5 sets with 90 to 120 second breaks in-between the sets is more than plenty;
  • If you don’t follow any structured workout program, you may want to adjust the sets, reps, resting time to your liking in order to provide the best results. You need to apply progressive overload;
  • Do your pull-ups before doing any other exercise, including the push-ups, that way you will be fresh and still filled with energy to tackle the pull-ups.

The Supplementary Exercises

For some people, pull-ups may look very scary. You may be able to do a lot of push-ups, but even one regular pull-up may be still unattainable. And if you can’t do even one pull-up, then how do you start?

I’ve got you covered.

If you have a hard time doing your first pull-up, aim for easier variations of the exercise. Do negative pull-ups or assisted pull-ups. I personally don’t suggest doing chin-ups as the body mechanics are a bit different. And my personal experience working with several people shows that if you start doing chin-ups, your chin-ups number will increase, but pull-ups maybe still as tough for you as ever. You will find yourself in the position of being able to do chin-ups but no pull-ups.

Stay focused on the pull-ups. Use negative pull-ups, use assisted pull-ups. You can use a little rock or chair to push yourself off to. You can also use resistance bands which can be very good in building your strength during these first few weeks. In addition to that, inverted bodyweight, rows are a must for any beginner.

If you have access to a set of dumbbells, I would strongly suggest starting to do some dumbbell back rows, biceps curls, hammer curls, and shoulder exercises. These are all the muscle areas that you’d want to strengthen first.

Do all of these, and you will see great results in no time. There are a few more things I’d like to add.

The Resting Days

Don’t train every day. Doing pull-ups more than 2 or 3 times a week is unnecessary and should be avoided.

You need enough time to rest in order to recuperate fully. After every training sessions, given that it is with enough intensity, you are essentially creating a lot of small micro-tears in your muscles. Your muscles grow then the recover from these micro-tears. In other words, your muscles grow while you rest.

Preventing your body from recovering fully is going to lead to a lack of results and even potential injuries due to overtraining.

The Eating Habits

You can train as much as you want, but if your nutrition and diet are not up to par, your results will suffer.

There are several things that you need to make sure you have in your diet:

  • High protein amount that comes from quality nutrition-dense foods;
  • You need to be in a slight caloric surplus in order to guarantee that your body has enough calories to build muscle and recover from the training optimally;
  • Make sure to avoid any low quality, processed, and sugary foods;
  • Avoid any sugary drinks and beverages; and
  • Consume only complex carbohydrates and avoid any pastry, cakes, white bread, etc.

The Lifestyle Choices

Stress is one of the worst enemies of any athlete. Avoid exposure to stressful situations.

High amounts to stress have been connected with increased amounts of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress, and lower amounts of testosterone.

Also in this category falls you sleep quality and quantity. Sleepless nights can ruin your gains and strength progress. Both of which are very important in calisthenics and fitness in general.

Miro Ste

Hi fitness enthusiasts, my name is Miro, and I am the person behind everphysique.com. Here I share my tips and trick about how to achieve the best physique possible. I focus primarily on old school bodybuilding methods that have been tried and tested. With a huge focus on calisthenics and street workout.

Recent Content