Push vs. Pull: Why Doing Sets of Both Exercises Is the Best Way to Make Gains

The push vs. pull exercise debate usually comes down to which you enjoy more: do you like bench presses or deadlifts? Does a push-up bring you unadulterated joy, or are pull-ups your thing?

In all honesty, your body doesn’t care which you prefer—both types of exercise are important for developing and maintaining a healthy musculoskeletal system. Here’s everything you need to know about push and pull exercises, including tips on how to get the best results from your workout.

Breaking down push and pull exercises

No major shocks here. Push exercises entail any movement that forces your body to push weight away from your body, mainly targeting the chest, shoulders, triceps, quads and glutes. Pull exercises are the opposite, with movements focused on bringing weight towards you. This targets the biceps, forearm and back muscles.

Is it possible to forgo one in favor of the other? According to London-based personal trainer Lewis Paris, it doesn’t quite work that way. “It depends on what you are looking to achieve,” says Paris. “They are the yin and yang of fitness—doing both provides symmetry. One can’t work without the other. You need both for balance.”

“Neither is inherently better than the other,” says Sergii Putsov, Head of Sports Science at Torokhtiy Weightlifting. “They complement each other, and both must be included in a comprehensive workout routine to achieve better results.”

Benefits of push exercises

Any self-respecting training plan should incorporate push exercises, as the list of muscles targeted is significant. From pectorals, deltoids and triceps up top, to quads and glutes further down, push exercises provide great all-round development.

It’s not just looks that are improved by push exercises, with posture and functional movement benefitting immensely from getting your push on. “Their functionality helps us to lift heavy objects from the floor and raise them above our heads,” says Jason Smith, founder of Fit in Midlife, who likes to link all exercise to everyday movement. “Imagine fixing a bicycle to a car’s roof rack.”

One issue with push exercises is that it’s easy to overdo it in the name of aesthetics—after all, everyone wants big shoulders and a broad chest, right? “While push certainly has its place, if we only focus on push exercises, we’re overworking certain muscles (often for vanity!) with exercises such as bench presses,” says Paris. “That said, push provides good quad, tricep and shoulder strength. Working on chest muscles will open up tightness in that area, whereas quad work can support ankle and knee strength—which is vital for runners to minimize injury with strengthening tendons.”

Benefits of pull exercises

One major benefit to remembering your pull exercises is the effect they have on strengthening the muscles hindered by our modern lifestyles. “I always consider real-life scenarios when working with my clients,” says Paris. “Many are hunched over laptops all day, with weak or overstretched back muscles, so I encourage people to work on those muscle groups that aren’t always visible or front of mind.

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