Push ups, pull ups, and squats are probably the most basic bodyweight exercises.
However, performing all three exercises regularly can certainly make a difference to your physique.
That said, what would happen if you just performed these 3 bodyweight exercises and nothing else?
Let’s find out.
Just Doing Push Ups, Pull Ups & Squats
If you just do push ups, pull ups and squats you will increase your fitness, strength, and muscle. However, eventually these increases will stall as you become more efficient at doing the exercises. Therefore, you will need progress in some way with each exercise to continue making gains. Furthermore, just performing these 3 exercises can lead to joint issues and muscle imbalances.
Push Ups Pull Ups & Squats Infographic
The Initial Burst of Gains & Losses
As easy or as difficult as you find push ups, pull ups, and squats, there’s no doubt that they are 3 fantastic bodyweight exercises.
However, their effectiveness will mainly be down to how well you can perform each exercise and your current strength and fitness levels.
So, let’s look at this from a beginner/intermediate standpoint.
What I mean by this is people who are either new to exercise, or who regularly perform exercise, but perhaps don’t hit these three exercises with much regularity.
Basically, if you apply stress to the muscles in your body through exercise, and you perform exercises that your body’s not used to, you’re going to see fairly quick results.
If you are someone who trains regularly, think back to your first month in the gym.
You gained muscle and strength almost overnight, and you started losing body fat on what seemed like a daily basis.
This is often referred to as “newbie gains”.
Essentially, your body isn’t used to the exercises and workouts, therefore you make all these incredible gains in double-quick time.
If you’re fairly new to performing push ups, pull ups, and squats, or even if you don’t perform them that often, you can expect some great results in those first 3-4 weeks.
Muscle & Strength Gains Stall Without Progression
You know that in the gym environment that if you want to get bigger and stronger you simply add more weight to the bar.
In fact, if you’re specifically training for strength or for hypertrophy you’ll probably be adding more weight on a weekly basis.
However, when it comes to bodyweight exercises most people look to add more reps.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is still a form of progression, but potentially not the right type of progression.
Realistically, you’ll typically be performing exercises within a certain rep-range to achieve your body composition goals.
So, as an example, you’ll be hitting 1-5 reps to gain strength, and 8-12 reps in order to build muscle.
And these principles are exactly the same, whether you’re using weights or doing bodyweight exercises.
The main issue here is that for most of us it won’t be long before we’re regularly performing more than 12 reps of each exercise.
Bodyweight squats will be the easiest, then push ups, and finally pull ups.
From a personal perspective, I can perform much higher reps in one set for all three exercises.
And I’m sure there are many of you out there in the same boat.
So, unless you’re actually making each exercise harder somehow, the only way to progress is by adding more reps.
But, when do eventually stop adding extra reps?
Once again, I’m sure I could perform many hundreds of reps of each exercise within a workout.
However, this will mainly be focused on my fitness, conditioning, and muscular endurance.
Okay, I can still build a great body by doing more-and-more reps, but I won’t really be getting any stronger or bigger.
So, in order to continue making these gains I would need to perhaps perform more difficult variations, e.g. decline push ups, wide-grip pull ups, pistol squats.
Then again, I could also make the exercises harder by adding some weight, e.g. weighted vest.
The crux being, if you are constantly doing the same thing, your body will adapt.
Therefore, regardless of what type of exercise you do, you should always aim to progress in some way.
Potential Joint Issues
Now, something that many people will do, as I’ve mentioned above, is to simply add more-and-more reps to each exercise.
Okay, yes, this is still classed as progression.
But, as I’ve said, you won’t be doing much to increase your size or strength.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re doing hundreds or even thousands of reps each workout, it will definitely have an effect on your body.
However, it definitely won’t produce the bodybuilder-type physique.
Another issue to be wary of, especially if you are going all-out on increasing reps, is issues with your joints.
As someone who’s performed literally hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of reps of each exercise, I know all about “joint issues”.
The two upper body exercises will typically be felt first in your elbows.
However, you will also find that excessively high reps done very regularly can also impact your shoulders and wrists.
Plus, performing thousands and thousands or reps of bodyweight squats may eventually cause you problems with your hips, knees, or ankles.
Now, I’m not saying this is definitely going to happen, but it is something you need to be wary of.
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Potential Muscle Imbalance Issues
I know for a fact that a lot of people will say that push ups, pull ups, and squats will hit every muscle in the body.
And, in truth, they do pretty much hit all the major muscle groups.
However, some muscles will definitely not be getting stimulated as well as others.
So, as an example, push ups will target your shoulders and triceps, but perhaps not as well as your chest.
Pull ups will once more hit your biceps, traps, and forearms, by nowhere near as much as your upper back and lats.
And while bodyweight squats will hit the entire lower body, I wouldn’t expect to see much growth in my glutes, hamstrings, or calves.
So, if you’re thinking of permanently using just these three exercises, you won’t be hitting many of the muscles in the body as well as you could.
Eventually this can lead to certain muscle imbalances, which of course can cause injuries.
I will also say that even just doing these three exercises you could be better at performing one than the other two.
Therefore, you focus much more on that exercise than the other two, which again can lead to muscle imbalances.
So, while these are fantastic exercises, for most of us, you’re going to need more to produce an aesthetically-pleasing and injury-free physique.
A More Sensible Way to Do Push Ups, Pull Ups & Squats
Now, something I love to do is 30-day challenges.
Basically, I pick an exercise, or group of exercises, and do them consistently every day for 30 days.
However, it has to be tough!
Realistically, this is as much a mental challenge as it is physical.
Plus, although your body will undoubtedly change during these 30 days, it’s not the best way to build muscle and strength.
Essentially, you get stronger and bigger outside of the gym when you’re at rest.
So clearly, you won’t be getting much rest during these 30 days.
Furthermore, food will also play a massive role.
I will also say that doing 30-day challenges can be extremely tough on the body, but this is really only a “challenge” or a “test”.
In other words, it isn’t something you’ll be doing permanently.
You can actually see how David Forman got on doing 100 pull ups, 100 squats, and 100 push ups for 30 days straight.
However, if you’re looking to use these three exercises on a more permanent basis, it’s a better idea to split them up.
Plus, adding a few more exercises will allow you to get a more all-round workout.
Personally, I would prefer to have an upper-body day, which concentrates on just push ups and pull ups.
Then my lower-body day could include squats, lunges, and glute bridges.
I would also likely throw in a day of burpees and plank variations.
And let’s not forget that you can also perform chin ups on that pull up bar.
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So, in summary, you can definitely get fitter, stronger, and more muscular by just performing push ups, pull ups, and squats.
However, you’ll eventually reach a point where you are no longer working on muscle-building and strength increases.
That said, you can obviously make each exercise harder, whether this involves using a different variation or simply adding weight.
But, if you’re only looking to add more reps to these bodyweight exercises, you’ll merely become more efficient at performing them.
Furthermore, performing lots and lots of reps may lead to certain joint issues or muscle imbalances.
Next, I have previously discussed how many push ups you should be doing compared to pull ups. So, discover what I have to say about the ideal push up to pull up ratio.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.