ARMY BASES, CITY parks, church gyms, and state prisons are full of guys with wide shoulders, thick backs, and big chests and arms. And if you asked them what they do to achieve this look, you’d always hear the same answer: pullups and pushups. These simple, timeless exercises work the entire upper body and can be performed virtually anywhere.
We’ll show you how to take full advantage of these moves, and some of their most effective variations, to build your back, arms, chest, and shoulders—no weights, or jail sentence, required.
How it works
When you do a pullup, you engage your lats, mid-back, rear delts, biceps, forearms, and core. Pushups train your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core. So between these two movements, you’ve got the whole upper body covered.
Another benefit of body-weight training is that it’s low-impact. As a result you can train more frequently than if you were using heavy weights, and the more often you work out, the greater your potential to build muscle.
The only caveat to high-frequency training is the risk of overuse injuries, but you can avoid those by changing up your exercises so you don’t recruit the same muscles the same way every time. That’s why each of the workouts on these pages pairs up a different variation of the pullup and pushup.
10 at-home workouts under 20 minutes
Get lean and strong—without leaving your house.
Perform each workout once a week, resting a day between sessions. Perform the exercises marked “A” and “B” in alternating fashion: You’ll do one set of A, rest 1–2 minutes, then one set of B. Rest and repeat until all sets are complete.
On days between workouts, you can perform lower-body training. Or squeeze some leg training in after the pullups and pushups on up to three of the workouts we’ve provided.Do not do any additional upper-body training.
Day I: 1A) Feet Elevated Pushup
Sets: 5 Reps: As many as possible
Place your feet on a bench or other elevated surface and get into pushup position with your hands shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and lower your body until your chest is just above the floor.
Day I: 1B) Chinup
Sets: 5 Reps: As many as possible
Hang from a chinup bar with hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing you. Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar.
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Switch things up with these strength-building moves.
DAY II: 1A) Neutral Grip Chinup
Sets: 4 Reps: 4 x 1.5
Use a chinup bar with parallel handles, or hook a V-grip bar over a straight chinup bar. Hang from the bar and pull yourself up until your chin is over it. Hold for a second, then lower yourself halfway. Come back up, then lower yourself to a full hang again. That’s one full “1.5” rep.
DAY II: 1B): Close-Grip Pushup
Sets: 4 Reps: 20–25
Get into pushup position and bring your hands inside shoulder width. Keep your core braced and perform a pushup.
Day III: Pushup
Sets: 3 Reps: Count down from 6
Perform six pushups, then lower your body into the bottom position so your chest is just above the floor. Hold for six seconds, then perform five more pushups followed by a five-second hold in the bottom position. Continue counting down, alternating reps and static holds, until you reach one rep and a one-second hold.
Day III: 1B): Sternum Chinup
Sets: 3 Reps: As many as possible
Hang from the chinup bar with hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing you. Lean back and pull yourself up, aiming to touch your lower chest to the bar.
Day IV: Pullup
Sets: 6 Reps: 5
Hang from the bar with hands outside shoulder width and palms facing away from you. Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar.
Day IV: 1B: One-Leg Pushup
Sets: 6 Reps: 10 (per leg)
Get into pushup position and raise one leg behind you. Keep it elevated while you perform 10 pushups. Lower the leg, then raise the other one and perform another 10 pushups.