Push ups and pull up, 2 bodyweight exercises that show you have great body control and strength. Mastering these 2 puts you ahead of most gym goers who butcher both.
First of all, let’s have a quick chat about technique.
Setting up with your hands below your shoulder line, too far back and you’ll find yourself bending at your waist to try to get into a good position. Too far forward, and your elbows will flare out wide and stress out your shoulders.
In the above image I use the example of an incline push up, but the same ideas apply to those done from the floor and other more complex options.
Keep your hips slightly tucked, head in a neutral positon, and as you lower yourself under control, your elbws should stack above your wrists as much as possible.
I’m going to lump together pull ups and chin ups and all the various grips options you can use into one group. The principle for each is the same – start in a dead hang position, engage your shoulder blades by pulling them down and pull your self up to the bar. Lower under control and repeat.
The dead hang bit is important, if your arms don’t go straight at the bottom position, it isn’t a rep. And let’s not get into that kipping nonsense…
In building up your pull up or push up prowess, volume is the key element. Not junk volume made up of shoddy reps and questionable technique, but good quality volume focussing on great technique and high quality reps.
Despite using bodyweight, these 2 exercises can still be considered higher intensity strength training for many people. If intensity is the measure of how close to your maximum load you are lifting or pushing, then these 2 exercises definitely come close to the top end of the scale for many.
Building substantial volume at lower intensities can certainly help “grooving” your technique. Using higher inclines for push ups, and bands for pull ups, can help achieve this. But in order to build strength, you need to be working closer to your max effort.
Cluster sets are usually used with barbell exercises, performing 2-3 heavy reps, resting for 10 seconds, then repeating the 2-3 reps for 6-9 reps with, say, your 5 RM load. You get more 6-9 reps done with a load that would normally limit you to 5 reps. Bigger exposure to heavy loading, potentially better response with improved strength levels.
The same principle can be used for both push ups and pull ups. For example, if your max is 3-5 reps on incline pushups at 20″, you could perform clusters of 2 reps, with 10s rest between them, to build up sets of 6-10 reps per “set”. This doubles or triples the volume you can do, and pushes you to respond by increasing strength levels accordingly.
As those 2 reps become easier, you can increase to 3 clusters of 3 or 4 reps. Gradually increasing the amount you can do in each cluster and your total volume per workout. After a few weeks, drop the height on your incline push ups, or retest your full reps to gauge progress.
Push up progression
Week 1 –
Session 1 – Incline 24″ 3x(3×2)
Session 2 – Incline 24″ 3x(3×2)
Week 2 –
Session 1 – Incline 24″ 3x(4×2)
Session 2 – Incline 24″ 3x(4×2)
Week 3 –
Session 1 – Incline 24″ 3x(3×3)
Session 2 – Incline 24″ 3x(3×3)
Week 4 –
Session 1 – Incline 24″ 3x(3×4)
Session 2 – Incline 24″ 3x(3×4)
Week 5 –
Test at 24″ and if you can get 10 good reps, try the 20″ incline and restart the routine.
Give this approach a try and let me know how you get on.