Here is a common question that has multiple answers and methods to reach the ability to do pullups and pushups. You have to start somewhere. Check out the request:
Dear Mr. Smith: I have begun to follow your 90 day wkout. I am a young woman in my 20’s, and I am in EMT/Paramedic school, and I have never been able to do a real push up. Do you have any pointers on how I would be able to progress to accomplishing this goal? Also do you have any pointers on doing pullups? Any help would be a godsend and greatly appreciated.
Yes — there are many ways to build up your strength to do pullups and pushups and to be honest the common denominator between men and women who can do these exercises is that they practice pullups and pushups. But how to you get to the level where you can actually practice these calisthenics?
Overweight? First, it helps not to be overweight. The more weight you have to pull over the bar or push off the floor the harder it is on a beginner. The good news is that you can do both weight loss and strength building at the same time, but it requires exercise AND eating right.
You can still practice both exercises through the use of weight machines, dumbbells, and assisted versions of these exercises.
Some of the assisted versions of the pullup and the pushup are the following:
Negative or Assisted Pullups - Get your chin over the bar and let yourself down slowly to perform a negative repetition. Do 2–3 negatives but stop doing them if you cannot slowly control yourself to the down position (arms straight). Slowly is defined as 3–5 seconds slow pullup DOWN motion.
Assisted Pullups means someone helps you up and over the bar but you do MOST of the work. Having a partner push up about 25% of the lift will allow for you to feel 75% of a pullup weight in motion. Eventually you will see a pullups doing these exercises every other day for a few weeks. Once again if 20–30 lbs overweight, you may have to be more patient with your pullup progress until you drop to a normal weight zone for your height.
Knee pushups — This is an assisted pushup. This is a great way to get to a true failure point in a set of pushups. Once you fail at regular pushups, drop to your knees and do as many knee / assisted pushups as you can. You will see this version is just as tough. The goal is to try as many regular pushups as you can then resort to knee pushups when you fail. Do this every other day as well.
Bench Dips — Another version of a shoulder / tricep exercise is the bench dip. Sit on a bench or chair and slide to the edge. Grab the edge of the seat and lower your hips off the seat so your shoulders lower to about your elbow height. This will work the triceps / shoulder muscles.
Dumbbell Version — The muscles that work when you do pullups are your grip / forearm, biceps, shoulders, and back muscles. You can work these muscle groups by doing the following exercises:
Bicep Curls - Bring the weight from your waist to your shoulder simply by bending your elbow and flexing your grip and bicep muscles.
Rows - Bend over at the waist and with both arms or just one holding a dumbbell bringing the weight from the ground to your torso.
For pushups you need to work the chest, front shoulders, and triceps. To do this add the exercises of chest press, shoulder press, and tricep extensions.
Chest press is the pushup but with weight and you are on your back on a bench pushing the weight from your chest by extending your arms vertical.
Shoulder Press (military press) works the shoulder / tricep muscles. Simply push the dumbbells from your shoulders to over head extended arm position to work these muscle groups.
Tricep extensions — you can top off your dumbbell workout with tricep extensions by isolating your elbow over your head and take the weight behind your head to over your head. Just bend your elbow to do this movement to isolate the tricep.
Machine Version — There are machines that mimic the pullup and the pushup and you can adjust the weight to under your body weight or above your body weight as you gain strength.
Pulldown Machine — this is the $1000 pullup machine. It mimics the pullup by you selecting a weight that you can do 10–15 reps and pulling a bar attached to a cable / leverage machine to your collar bones.
Gravitron - This machine is specifically designed to assist with pullups and dips. Position yourself on a padded lever that is attached to a weight stack. The more weight you apply to the lever the easier it is to perform either the dip or pullup. This is basically the $1000 spotter. When you do not have a partner to assist you over the bar and you have a gym, the Gravitron works well.
Chest or Bench Press — Once again the $1000 version of the pushup. But you can add / subtract weight you push by simply pulling a pin. You may fail at pushups but by decreasing the weight so you can do 15–20 reps you will build the muscle stamina and initial strength needed to do pushups.
Hope that helps — even though there are several options and many more that I did not touch on (free weights, rubber bands, TRX, etc) the only thing that will get you better at pullups and pushups is YOU doing some version of these exercises every other day for several weeks. Good luck