Find ways to increase the difficulty of your push-ups and pull-ups.
If you should ever find yourself in a scenario where you're without a gym but still want to carry on training hard, fear not, for pull-ups and push-ups are a fine way to build strength. Even if you do have access to a full gym but fancy a break from pumping iron while still getting stronger, you can build serious strength with body-weight training.
Strength Training Basics
The main thing that differentiates training for strength from training for muscular size or endurance is the number of reps you perform and the amount of weight you use. Training with low reps -- even going as low as one, two or three reps per set -- builds strength and explosive power, but it doesn't build muscle size as well as training with moderate to higher reps with less weight, writes Arnold Schwarzenegger in an article for "Muscle & Fitness." Beginners often find low-rep sets of push-ups and pull-ups challenging, but as you get more advanced, basic push-ups and pull-ups become too easy to be classed as strength-building moves so you'll have to find ways to make them more challenging.
If you're a newbie at training, pull-ups can be a challenge on their own and you may need to start by performing assisted pull-ups with a resistance band looped round the bar,or with a partner giving you a boost. Then, once you can do eight pull-ups well, you can move on. Coach Greg Mihovich of Underground Gym suggests a multitude of pull-up variations, including pull-ups on a thick bar or gymnastic rings, fingertip pull-ups and L pull-ups with your feet held out in front. You can even try pull-ups weighted or with a clap at the top of each rep.
Perfect the Push-Ups
You'll probably find you progress from regular push-ups to more advanced versions even more quickly than you do on pull-ups. Along with building your chest, arms and shoulders, push-ups also build your torso and lower-back stabilizers, notes strength coach Jim Smith, who recommends performing push-ups using different hand and feet positions. This means attempting push-ups with one leg off the floor or both legs on a Swiss ball or weight bench. You can also opt for having your hands on a medicine ball or gymnastics rings or you can wear a weight vest.
Pull-Up and Push-Up Program
Train your pull-ups and push-ups three days per week, with a day of rest between each session. Alternate between the two exercises, performing a set of pull-ups, then a set of pushups and then resting before going back to pull-ups. In your first session, perform six sets of three reps on each. In the second session, increase to five sets of five, and in the third session, aim for four sets of eight. The lower the reps, the harder the variation you need, so the first workout of the week might be weighted vest pull-ups and weighted push-ups with your hands on dumbbells. The second workout could be wide-grip pull-ups with clap push-ups, and the third could be regular pull-ups and feet-elevated push-ups. Getting stronger with body weight is all about progressive overload, according to trainer Jeremy DuVall, so increase your reps or pick harder variations every workout.