Push-ups are a staple exercise in calisthenics. But let’s be honest, no matter how many push-ups one can do, pull-ups will always be more awe-inspiring.
There is something about pull-ups that makes them so good, and everyone wants to be able to do more of them.
Years ago, when I first started doing bodyweight exercises, I was able to do a lot of push-ups, but my pull-ups were nowhere near impressive. And I was wondering why is that. Aren’t push-up making me stronger?
And if you are reading this, you probably have the same question yourself.
Why are push ups easier than pull ups? Push-ups are easier than pull-ups because of the distribution of weight that the person needs to lift. During a push up less weight is lifted compared to pull-ups, which makes pull-ups harder. The body mechanics and the muscles used in the push-ups are also different compared to pull-ups, making push-ups easier.
It took me a lot of trial and error to find out what works best in calisthenics. Here I share my experience and some valuable tips and trick so that hopefully you don’t make the same mistakes I did.
What Makes Push-Ups Easier Than Pull-Ups?
There are a few different aspects that make push-ups easier compared to pull-ups.
In order to get the whole picture, we need to attack the topic from a few different angles.
How Much Weight Do You Lift in a Push-Up?
The first thing that may spring to your mind is the actual weight you are lifting during a push-up.
During a push-up, you are lifting, on average, about 64% of your body weight. If you are a beginner, you may be starting off with an even easier variation – the knee push-up. During a knee push-up, you will be lifting 49% of your own body weight (hence why they are easier).
As you can see, depending on your fitness level, this may or may not seem like a significant percentage. In any case, these numbers are something that many, both men and women, will be able to deal with.
This is why some people may be able to do a lot of dips but no pull-ups.
But let’s compare it to the pull-ups now.
How Much Weight Do You Lift in a Pull-Up?
Now let’s move on to the pull-ups. I am sure you already do suspect that the numbers will be different. But how much is the question?
Pull-ups are one of the harder exercises you can do in calisthenics. Of course, we are talking about the basic exercises and not the advanced ones (like the muscle-up, for example).
When performing a pull-up, you will be lifting between 85% to 95% of your own body weight.
You can see that with a pull-up, there is a significant jump in the weight you have to lift during each repetition. This is already a considerable jump in the weight resistance you need to overcome. But things don’t stop here.
Your Body Weight
Now that you have a better understanding of how much weight you may have to lift during a pull-up, you know that your overall body weight is going to affect your pull-ups.
Back then, when I was continually doing pull-up work, I was noticing how my reps would go up even after dropping as much as one pound of body weight.
Your Grip Strength
It was all going to be much better if it weren’t for the grip strength. When you compare the pull-ups to push-ups, you will see that while you are doing push-ups, you don’t really hold on to anything with your hands. They are just there. More acting as a stabilizer than anything else.
But things are much different during a pull-up.
Pull-ups are going to be a lot harder than push-ups because of the required grip strength. Frequently you will be hanging from the bar for 10-20 and even more seconds. This is going to be very taxing on your grip.
I remember when I first started doing pull-ups, I hit a plateau, which was as a result of my grip strength being too weak. I was not able to do pull-ups not because of weak back muscles but because of my weak grip. And it took me several weeks to adequately address that issue.
The Range of Motion
Yet another aspect is going to be the range of motion. The range of motion is considered the potential movement of a joint from one point to another (from flexion to extension).
Now imagine the movement of your shoulder joints during a push-up and a pull-up. Or try imitating the movement with your arms in the air. During which movement you will have your joints move a lot more?
Of course, during the pull-up.
The Pull-Up Bar You Are Using
This is something that many do underestimate or frequently do not even think about.
Not all pull-up bars are created equal. And I am talking about all pull-up bars; outdoors, home pull-up bars, gym pull-up bars, etc.
For more information, check out my article about how effective are doorframe pull-up bars.
Anyways, the design of the pull-up bar and its quality are going to be very important. If the bar is slippery and you cannot get a good grip on it, this is going to make pull-ups even more difficult for you.
If this is the case, you can do a few things.
- Find and train on a different pull-up bar. (Part of the reason why I have trained on almost every single pull bar in a few cities.);
- Use chalk;
- Place tape on the bar, which can provide a better grip.
The next thing is going to be the diameter of the pull-up bar. The wider the diameter, the harder it will be for you to hold on to it, and the more grip strength you will need to do so.
Pull-up bars that are not sturdy tend to sway or move as you pull-up are going to make the exercise more difficult as you will be losing your balance. There is also a higher risk of falling and slipping from the bar. So these should be avoided.
Pushing vs. Pulling Movements
Now let’s take a more in-depth look at some basics of how the different exercises work.
Movements in physical training can be categorized as follow:
- Pushing movements;
- Pulling movements; and
- Leg movements;
Leg movements are self-explanatory, and we are not going to be focusing on them in this article. However, what interests us are the pushing movements and pulling movements.
And I am sure you can guess why.
- Push-ups are a pushing movement – you push something away from you (or yourself away from something).
- Pull-ups are a pulling movement – you pull something towards you (or pulling yourself to something).
Both exercises are essentially the complete opposite of each other. This is why it is hard to compare them, as some may argue it is like comparing apples to oranges.
Many people are even wondering which one is better. However, neither one is better than the other. You need all your muscles in your body to be equally developed in order to avoid any muscle imbalances, injuries and have an overall well-proportioned body.
From a practical standpoint, one could argue that pull-ups are more useful and beneficial. Many people do have weak back muscles, mostly as a result of the way we live in this day and age.
Push-ups are significantly easier compared to push-ups, so they will not stimulate and require your body to adapt as much both in terms of muscle mass and strength.
Nonetheless, both your pushing and pulling muscles should be trained as they frequently compliment each other.
Both exercises are compound movements.
This means that you will be using multiple muscle groups while performing them as opposed to isolating movements where you will be focusing on one muscle. This inherently makes them overall harder exercises.
How to Make Pull-Ups Easier?
Pull-ups are a tough exercise. There is no denying that. But there are some things that you can do to make them easier.
Easier Variations to Pull-Ups
First, I suggest moving on to an easier variation of the standard pull-ups. This can be achieved in more than one way. For example:
- Negative pull-ups (overall one of the best methods in my opinion);
- Assisted pull-ups (this can be achieved by using a calisthenics resistance band, or a rock, chair. or even a training buddy that will help you on your upwards movement) ;
- Chin-ups (although if you want to get good at pull-ups, I suggest doing pull-ups and not chin-ups);
Remember that you can also do different exercises that can strengthen the muscles you will be using during a pull-up.
- Inverted body rows (which is a very good supplementary exercise);
- Doorframe rows;
- Dumbbell rows;
If you are struggling to do pull-ups, although you are good at push-up, you can find more information in this article where I have gone into more detail about everything you need to know in order to start doing pull-ups.
Do not forget to do some core strengthening exercises. Do not focus too much on them, but if your core is too weak, this may be just another tiny aspect that can be holding you back.
Shedding Some of the Extra Fat (If You Have Any)
The third way you can make pull-ups easier is to shed off some of the extra fat, granted if you have any. Your weight affects your performance more than you might expect. For more information, make sure to check out my article on: are pull-ups harder if you weigh more?
With this being said, this means that our diet can have a significant impact on our pull-up or push-up progress.
Diet can be a whole other topic on itself. But generally speaking, you want to be eating nutrient-dense high-quality food. Avoid the highly processed foods, sweets, sodas, and energy drinks.
All of these will not really help you on your calisthenics journey.
You need good food.
Even protein shakes, weight gainers, creating, and all the endless supplements out there are not completely necessary.
If you want to find out more, check my article on do you need to take protein powder for calisthenics.
Train Your Grip Strength
Let us not forget that one of the important things that may be limiting you from reaching your potential is your grip strength. So naturally, we need to address that.
I did experience the same thing as well as many others that I have trained with. Call it a fact of life if you will, but many of us do not need to have a strong grip in our day to day activities, so we need to train it.
If this is the case with you, start doing some grip strengthening exercises, and forearm exercises.
- You can use hand grips, grip rings, or finger stretchers. I recommend this grip strengthener pack, which is found on Amazon and incorporates everything one may need.
- Dead hangs;
- Holding heavy weight;
- Reverse dumbbell or barbell curls;
- Wrist curls;
- Wrist roller;
Greasing the Groove (GTG)
Another training technique which I really like is known as greasing the groove. This is a tried and tested method that is going to up your pull-up count without necessary placing a lot of strain and stress on your body.
Greasing the groove is a type of ladder training designed by Pavel Tsatsouline, which he discusses in-depth in his books.
Further reading: The best calisthenics books
How to Make Push-Ups Harder?
Of course, if you are here, you may also be interested in making push-ups harder. That way, you can continue your progress and gains in both the strength and the muscle mass category.
There are a few time-tested methods to make push-ups harder.
Add More Weight
The first is by adding extra weight to the exercise.
This can be accomplished by using a backpack filled with anything that can provide you with more weight like books, canned food, weights, and so much more.
Use Different Pull-Up Variations
The second method is by moving on to a different (and harder) push-up variations or pushing movements. This can be incline push-ups, diamond push-ups (my all-time favorite), explosive push-ups, handstand push-ups, planche push-ups.
Even knuckle push-ups may be a viable way to increase the difficulty of your push-ups slightly. For more information, check out my article about why are knuckle push-ups harder than regular push-ups?