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 time) 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 of 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.

Directions

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.