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push & pull exercise

by Michael Stefano

An upper body workout can be done with two simple moves.

The secret to upper body fitness in two moves

You'll find that with fitness, as in life, you need to strike the perfect balance.


You can't spend all day performing the same motions, or types of motions, and expect stellar results. This is especially true as it applies to training the upper body–because of the unique way the arms generate force.

Our legs, on the other hand, just push off the ground to move us around. All force is exerted in a pushing fashion. Whether it's walking, jumping or whatever—our feet push against the earth, and the result is locomotion.

We also have the ability to push with our upper bodies. Every day you push a shopping cart, slam a door shut, and hopefully push the plate away when you've had enough. But via the miraculous ability of our hands to hold and grip, our upper bodies can exert a tremendous amount of pull force, as well.

Getting into the car, you pull open the door—lifting heavy packages or a small child, you pull the package or child towards your body.

It's hard to cover all the bases when you only limited time and equipment. Well, right here and now, I can help you take the guess work out of your upper body workout, and get you in and out of the gym in 15 minutes.

The Push & Pull routine is based on balance. The goal is to achieve equal strength and toning benefits over the entire upper body, in all fields of motion. In order to accomplish this, we'll perform two multi-purpose exercises that represent the yin and yang of upper body strength training.

Adhere to the following exercise basics:

  • WARM-UP - Before beginning spend 3 to 5 minutes warming up. This can either be short walk, ride on a stationary bike, or even marching or jogging in place.

  • SETS - Do three sets of each exercise. The first set should be done with a weight or resistance light enough so as to allow you to complete 20 repetitions.

  • RESISTANCE - If possible, add resistance on sets 2 and 3, so as to hit muscle fatigue at about 10 to 15 reps, but more importantly work to fatigue. Muscle fatigue is defined as the point in the set where you feel some local discomfort or burn in the muscles being worked. That's your signal to get ready to halt the set.

  • REST - Rest about one minute between sets. Shorter rest (less than one minute), and lighter weight with many reps (greater than 12), will promote more toning and endurance, while longer rests (up to 3 minutes), and a heavier weight with fewer reps (less than 10) will tend to build more muscle mass. Adjust accordingly.

  • EQUIPMENT - Dumbbells (adjustable set saves space) and resistance tubing (comes in various resistance levels) are required. Both items can purchased inexpensively at your local sporting goods store or online. These two simple items can serve your fitness needs for a lifetime.

Push Phase: Bench Press with Dumbbells
(chest/shoulders/triceps) Bench Press

Lie supine (flat on your back) on your bench holding dumbbells at your shoulders (elbows bent), feet planted firmly on the floor. Exhale and press both dumbbells straight up and towards the ceiling. Inhale and slowly lower weights to the starting position. Repeat to muscle fatigue.

Pull Phase: Cable Row with Resistance Tubing

  • Cable RowSit on the floor legs straight out in front of you, upper body upright and resistance tubing wrapped around your feet.
  • Grab onto the ends of the tubing with both hands (all slack removed) exhale and pull into your abdomen.
  • Inhale as you slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat to muscle fatigue.

All exercises and illustrations were taken from The Firefighter's Workout Book, which features over 50 illustrated exercises and routines for every level of fitness. To get you copy today, click on one of the links below.

Michael Stefano is author of The Firefighter's Workout Book, as well as a twenty year veteran of the New York City Fire Department. His simple, yet highly effective training programs are used by firefighters across the country, and the general population alike.

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Posted September 2003
Last Updated: November 2010


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