why can't I do a push up or pull up??I am not a fat guy but I can't do a single push up or pull up,I can lift pair of dumbbell of 20 kg and do 3 sets of 20 but I can't do more than 5 push up or pull ups why??It has been a month now but still I can't do it

  • 2
    I'm not going to write this up as an answer because its bro science, but when doing a exercise for the first time you have to get your nervous system firing to this new motion. And are you curling these dumbbells? More info needed
    – EricSSH
    Aug 26, 2014 at 17:42
  • How often do you perform the push ups? And when do you do them? You shouldn't perform those exercises after bicep curls or exercises that have weakened your arms. Aug 26, 2014 at 19:13
  • Thanks to anyone on here who ACTUALLY responded with suggestions for people who cant even do one. So many talked about reps, etc.. but that is so unhelpful for people who can barely hang. I know how this feels. Its hard to even tense my shoulders to hang up more.. but I can do 60 pound rows (total long bar), Lat Pulldowns at 80, etc. There's more to it than just 'do reps this way'. Mar 31, 2017 at 2:27

4 Answers 4


The first question I would have to ask you is are you 40 kg or less? The reason you have a hard time with these body weight exercises is because the resistance of your body is more than you are currently used to.

As you get stronger, you will be able to do more. Before I started losing weight, I could barely get 5 push ups at 138 kg body weight, but now I can do 20 at 130 kg body weight. I've been working at both losing weight and the pushups since the spring (it's late summer now).

Some exercises are just very difficult to do, but even more so if you are a woman. Pull ups are very difficult for me, but I do know a number of guys who can do them well. The number of women I know who can do pull ups I can count on one hand. It takes a lot of dedicated work to build up the strength needed to do them.

Here's some tips that will help you:

  • Work on a progression. You can start with an easier variation until you can do 4 sets of 8 with that variation. Then change to a more strict variation and work back up.
  • Add more sets in the beginning. You might only be able to do a couple repetitions at a time. However, you get stronger by doing more, so do multiple sets of the reps when you can.
  • Try to increase the total repetitions over time. When you add up all the repetitions you've done on any given day, try to add at least one rep every week.

There's several approaches that can help you, but one that I've seen help a number of people is called "ladders". The idea is that you are working with a partner, and you only rest for the time it takes your partner to finish their set. If you are by yourself, try to rest about the same time that you were working. With that in mind:

  • The first set is just one rep.
  • Each set you try to add a rep.
  • When you can't add any more reps, start subtracting a rep each set

In the beginning you might only be able to work up to a set of 3. But you've done 1+2+3+3+2+1 = 12 reps total that day.

If you practice it at least once or twice a week, you'll be surprised at how soon you'll be able to perform the push ups and pull ups at a level you want.

  • Awesome answer. I also wouldn't advise performing pushups/pullups once or twice a week, especially if you want to get better. If you can't do it everyday, do it every other day. If possible, work it into your daily routine. This helped me develop the concept of progressive increment in both pushups and pullups. Aug 26, 2014 at 21:41
  • Notice, I said at least once or twice a week. Obviously, if push ups and pull ups are all you are doing then frequency is king. If it's part of a more comprehensive strength building plan, once or twice a week is sufficient. Aug 27, 2014 at 12:12

Bodyweight exercises depend on, well, your body weight--specifically, how much strength you have relative to the weight you are moving.

If it makes you feel better, when I started out I couldn't do more than five push-ups nor more than one pull-up. Now I can do at least 20 push-ups in a set (I have not actually tried doing them until exhaustion) and about 10 pull-ups.

How did I make this change? Simple: I didn't do those exercises. Instead, I did exercises that worked similar muscle groups but at less weight than what my body weight would require. So for example, I did bench presses, both with dumbbells and the barbell. Started out real light, somewhere around 60 lbs, and worked my way up. I also did lat pulldowns with the cable machine, again starting somewhere around 60 lbs.

Bicep curls are fun but they don't hit all the required muscle groups for push-ups or pull-ups, which are primarily chest and back exercises with arm involvement in the shoulder, biceps, and triceps.

A more general point is that bodyweight exercises are great because you don't necessarily need a lot of equipment to do them, but the downside is that their difficulty level is not easily quantified as in the case with barbell, dumbbell, or cable weight exercises. I'd encourage you to focus on compound lifts like the bench press, squats, deadlifts, and rows, rather than isolating exercises like curls. Progression of difficulty is also an important factor. If you are not increasing weight steadily, you won't continue to adapt and gain strength.

  • Great answer, but I'd like to know why you encourage to do compound lifts rather than bodyweight exercises? You seem to imply that the number one reason to do bodyweight exercises if because you don't need any equipment.
    – MJB
    Mar 31, 2017 at 9:18
  • He's saying, that you can't do half a pull up, but you can take half the weight in barbells. There are some ways around it, but with weights it's easier.
    – Christian
    Mar 31, 2017 at 9:22

A really interressing book about bodyweight exercice for strength is Naked Warrior by Pavel Tsatsouline.

In quick, if you want to be good with pullup and pushup, do lot of pullup and pushup, increase the volume for train your nervous system. Nerver train for failure, do 1 to 5 reps range of a challenging variation but do it many time by day, for more information look around about Grease the Groove.

My point of view if you want to be good with bodyweight exercices train with bodyweight forget about free weight or machine, if you can't do pushup or pullup begin with a variation you can do but challenging enougth for build strength.


I think the others have this fairly well covered (and I have my doubts as to whether you'll ever see this), but also consider making the exercise easier at first. I do not recommend doing "girl pushups" on the knees, as I feel like that's harmful to the knees, but one easy way to make pushups easier is to raise your hands higher. Put them on a chair. Or, if you have trouble with even that, push them on a wall. It may sound silly at first, but you can get exercise just pushing yourself from a bit off-vertical to vertical and it will get your body used to the proper movement. As you get better, you move closer and closer to the floor.

As regards pull-ups, the classic advice for people who can't even do one unassisted pull-up is to either do assisted pull-ups or negatives. For the former, you simply don't take your feet off of the ground. If the bar is low enough, just stand. If not, stand on a chair. Put as much of the weight on your arms as you can, but use your legs to give yourself that extra bit of lift. For negatives, it's even easier. Jump (or step off of a chair) into the position of having completed a pull-up and then lower yourself as slowly as you can. It's much the same exercise as an actual pull-up, but you're only using a fraction of the force since you're only slowing yourself, not countering gravity completely.

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