Last updated on January 13th, 2023 at 11:18 am
I personally love push ups and pull ups, and typically peform both exercises multiple times on a weekly basis.
However, I’m not sure about you, but I often find myself comparing the movements to each other, i.e. how many pull ups should I be able to do compared to push ups?
Is there a specific ratio I should be aiming for?
Is one exercise weak in relative comparison to the other?
During a standard push up you push approximately 64% of your body weight, whereas you pull 100% of your body weight during pull ups. Therefore, your push up to pull up ratio should be approximately 3 push ups to every 2 pull ups. However, a better comparison in terms of equal bodyweight exercise ratios would be push up to inverted rows and pull ups to dips.
Push Up to Pull Ups Don’t Have an Equal Bodyweight Ratio
Push ups and pull ups are two of the main upper-body bodyweight exercises.
However, in truth, it’s difficult to provide an accurate comparison of push ups to pull ups.
The main reason for this is the amount of body weight that you use during each exercise.
You’ll generally be pushing approximately 64% of your body weight during a conventional push up.
But, as you’ve probably guessed, you’ll be using 100% of your body weight during pull ups.
So, in effect, you’re using a third less of your body weight during push ups.
Therefore, you could calculate this as for every three push ups you do you should be able to do two pull ups.
With that being said, this is very rarely the case, and you’ll typically find that you can perform many more push ups.
And it would be unusual if someone can perform more pull ups than push ups, although still feasible.
In fact, for most of us our push up to pull up ratio is probably nearer to 3:1 or 4:1.
This simply comes down to the difference in body position, which makes push ups that much easier.
So, a better comparison would be push ups to inverted rows and pull ups to dips.
In essence, you are comparing on a more like-for-like basis, as you are using an equal amount of body weight for both sets of exercises.
Plus your torso remains horizontal for push ups/inverted rows and vertical for pull ups/dips.
Therefore, you should be able to perform one push up to every one inverted row and one pull up to every single dip.
That being said, I would guess that many of us still fall short of this standard too.
The Official Push Ups to Pull Ups Ratio Study
The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy actually conducted a study on this very subject in April 2013.
The study took 180 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 45, which consisted of 69 males and 111 females.
Now, to make the study more comparable, participants tested push ups and modified pull ups.
The modified pull ups were performed so that an equal amount of body weight would be used as when performing push ups.
The test consisted of 3 sets of 15 seconds work with 45 seconds of rest between sets.
So, the first test involved 3 sets of standard push ups, and a later test involved 3 sets of modified pull ups.
The results showed that the push up to modified pull up ratio for men was 1.57:1.
However, the results of push ups to modified pull ups for women was 2.72:1.
The study concluded that the pushing muscles were 1.5-2.7 times stronger than the pulling muscles.
Personally, I wouldn’t say that the study gives an exact like-for-like comparison, even though modified pull ups were used.
As I mentioned earlier, the alternative body positions, i.e. push ups with horizontal body and pull ups with vertical body, can also cause a slight discrepancy.
So, once more, I reiterate that a better comparison would be push ups/inverted rows and pull ups/dips.
Aim to Pull Twice as Much as You Push
Okay, I can almost guess what you’re thinking now.
My push ups still don’t compare exactly to my inverted rows, plus the same can be said when comparing pull ups and dips.
Personally, I know for a fact that I can perform more push ups than inverted rows, as well as more dips than pull ups.
In effect, once more, my pushing muscles are stronger than my pulling muscles.
And I also know that I am definitely not alone in this.
In fact, the vast majority of people, including those who train on a regular basis, will have a similar muscle imbalance.
Basically, we tend to push far more than we pull whenever we exercise.
This is usually because the main pushing muscles are far easier to see than the main pulling muscles.
If you think about it, you can see your pecs and anterior delts in a mirror, whereas you can’t see your lats and rear delts.
And unfortunately, most gym-goers spend far too much time training their “show muscles” or the ones they can see in the mirror.
In fact, bench press and bicep curls are probably the two most popular exercises in the gym environment.
Why? Because they are the two “show muscles” that everyone can see.
However, in truth, it is far more important to train your pulling muscles.
Plus, you would actually probably produce a far more aesthetically-pleasing physique if you concentrate more on pulling exercises.
There is an age-old saying about performing twice as many pulling exercises than pushing, and I tend to agree with this.
So, realistically when looking at the different bodyweight exercises mentioned you would be better off performing both inverted rows and pull ups and just one of either push ups or dips during a workout.
You can then obviously swap the other push exercise into your next workout.
How to Achieve a 2:1 Pulling to Pushing Volume Ratio
Key Takeaway Points
- Regular push ups involve “pushing” 64% of your body weight, whereas this increases to 100% of body weight for regular pull ups. Therefore, you should be able to perform 3 push ups for every 2 pull ups.
- Most trainees are able to perform 3-4 push ups per one pull up.
- A better like-for-like comparison would be push ups vs. inverted rows and pull ups vs. bar dips.
- The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy conducted a study which found that pushing musculature is approximately 1.5-2.7 stronger than pulling musculature.
- In order to even out potential muscle imbalances you should be training your pulling muscles twice as much as your pushing muscles.
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.