39 responses

  1. Marelize
    April 9, 2008

    Oh, the push-up, pull-up and sit-up. After reading your first article about the push-up I was determined to start doing more…ok, so just to start doing some push-ups. My goal is Demi Moore in “G.I. Jane” where she does the one handed push-up. Maybe if I do some more pull-ups and sit-ups I’ll achieve this feat of strength. Thanks for the practical article!

  2. Bolshevik
    April 9, 2008

    Fantastic blog. These three exercises are great. Throw in air squats and you’ve got a simple, full-body workout that you can do without stepping into the gym.

  3. Cameron Schaefer
    April 10, 2008

    @ Marelize,
    Glad to motivate you, just don’t shave your head…I can’t have my wife looking like a Navy SEAL.

    @ Bolshevik,
    Thanks for the kind words, glad you liked the post. I admit that I struggled with what to say about legs since they are the obvious muscles neglected in the trinity…air squats would be a definite solution to that problem.

    Cameron

  4. Akshay Kapur
    April 10, 2008

    Definitely top 3 because the whole body is worked and the core is key in all. Do a lot of situps and then do pushups or pullup and you’ll feel just how much your stomach is involved.

    Even when I think of bench, lat pulldown or curls, I easily think your list beats ‘em out. I’ve tried it all, and nothing is as fast, easy and vigorous as this holy trinity.

    Btw, how come you didn’t pop up in twitter when i searched for “schaefer”?? I ended up finding your username through the the lijit search at top anyway though. I just signed up as agkapur.

  5. Ken
    April 25, 2008

    You should add squats to that list.

  6. Cameron Schaefer
    April 25, 2008

    @ Ken,

    Yes, that was my one big struggle with this post. I realized that the elephant in the room was the lack of legs…and squats are definitely the best overall leg exercise.

    If I were to list 4 exercises, squats would make the cut, but having to choose just 3 I stand by my picks. Would you have squats instead of one of the three I chose? Which would you replace?

    -Cameron

  7. Dennis Groves
    April 25, 2008

    Definately, change the sit-up to the crunch; add Squats and Lunges for a solid 5 exercises that give you a full body workout. I would say however, that since the squat is the most functional exercise that works the largest muscles in the body, you can not call your stuff the ‘holy trinity’ at all.

    The holy trinity would really be Squats, pushups (3 times a week) & walking (10000 steps a day). Think about that, those three give you a nearly full body workout and cardio program.

  8. Cameron Schaefer
    April 25, 2008

    @ Dennis,

    Ahh, I can tell this is one of those debates that could go on forever with valid points from both sides.

    First, you’re not going to find a bigger advocate of squats than me. They are THE leg exercise. However, I don’t know that they can replace sit-ups or crunches in the “holy trinity.” Especially if you’re going to put walking in there instead of pull-ups.

    The reason I left legs out is that I felt the average person works out their legs either by walking or running anyway. Now, obviously if someone did neither of these, then maybe squats, lunges or walking would be a better exercise for them than pull-ups.

    At the end of the day it comes down to the type of person. For the average joe that does some type of cardio/legs everyday whether it be walking to work and up the stairs, running, or riding bikes on the weekends I stand by my three picks. For the person that is completely sedentary you may be correct in replacing one of mine with a leg exercise.

    -Cameron

  9. Winner
    May 16, 2008

    i prefer crunches to sit-ups

  10. novocaine
    May 17, 2008

    limiting to three exercisers is… limiting.

    muscle up (pull up + dip)
    burpee (squat + push up)
    plank

  11. niteworks
    May 17, 2008

    Do you have any alternatives to the pull up?

    I find it hard to locate a cross bar or some location to perform the pull up.

  12. Bryan
    May 21, 2008

    Can anyone tell me the actual difference in the workout that one gets by choosing crunches or sit-ups? The Harvard Medical School Guide to Men’s Health advocates crunches over sit-ups, but aside from this I have no real reason to prefer one over the other.

  13. Keith
    May 26, 2008

    I do pull ups, push ups, and squats. My core gets plenty of work from just these three exercises.

    I have been following the routine at simplefit.org along with three half hour runs a week. I am in better shape now than at any point in my life. I can do more push ups and pull ups now than when I was in the Army. My two mile run time is probably better too.

  14. Israel
    July 21, 2008

    I would replace sit ups with squats. Squats work you out man! They help you build testosterone. They work out your whole body.

  15. Shariff
    July 29, 2008

    Try burpees. I know they sound funny but seriously, look up how to do them online. They blast your entire body and no equipment is required. Doing just ten is challenging.

  16. emmyalex
    August 22, 2008

    Try planks. You can do them anywhere and they are seriously good for your core and your upper body. I love squats too but sometimes i just need stuff i know i can do with proper form. and that means no pullups. SOrry. for the beginners out there i like fitness magazine. they give you a 4 week plan and some one page articles with great moves every mnth. september issue has a tank top workout that ‘s pretty great.

  17. Britt
    August 23, 2008

    This is not the same set of exercises used in the U.S. Army in 1989. In that time pushups, situps and the two mile run were Army standard, different units added stuff to that, but Army standard was just that. My Unit added the hundred yard buddy carry and chinups, but those were not part of the Army Manual.

  18. James
    September 2, 2008

    I work alsmost the same exercises in a Pyrimid

    - Set/Step 1: 1 pullups/2 pushups/3 situps/3 Squats
    - Set/Step 2: 2 pullups/4 pushups/6 situps/6 Squats
    - Set/Step 3: 3 pullups/6 pushups/9 situps/9 Squats (Your first few set are basically a warmup)
    - Set/Step 4: 4 pullups/8 pushups/12 situps/12 Squats
    - Set/Step 5: 5 pullups/10 pushups/15 situps/15 Squats
    - Set/Step 6: 6 pullups/12 pushups/18 situps/18 Squats
    Then Work backwards down from 6 to 1

  19. William Andersen
    April 11, 2009

    This is a great post but I was always taught that situps are really bad for your back. Maybe that is a myth?

  20. buh
    May 1, 2009

    if you haven’t tried ring dips yet, they accomplish everything the pushup does and more. i doubt the majority of 50 rep pushup enthusiasts would survive 5 reps of ring dips. for abdominals, i usually use hanging leg raises over situps, as they allow more weight to be lifted, require fewer reps to be effective, and keep strain off the lower back. the pullup is a nonnegotiable. everyone and their next of kin should do them. alternatively, rope climbing builds an impressive back and grip.

    lately, i’ve also tooled around with a workout comprised of 1 armed pushups, 1 armed bodyweight rows with straight legs (the opposite of a 1 armed pushup), and pistols. i hypothesize that this one limbed workout offers better results than simple pushups, pullups, squats, or situps alone. if you’re pushing or pulling just 60% of your bodyweight with one arm, you can potentially handle 120% with both. just watch form carefully on all three. if i might offer a more elite trinity of physical fitness, one armed pushups and rows followed by pistols might offer excellent results for those who grow tired of their usual pullup, pushup, situp, and squat routine.

  21. buh
    May 1, 2009

    oh, and work up to 1 armed pushups with dips on rings or parallel bars. work up to 1 armed hanging rows with uneven pullups, where one hand grasps a towel to assist the other.

  22. david
    May 12, 2009

    I could not agree more. I run 50 – 55 miles a week and I don’t have any extra time to go to the gym. These 3 exercises, along with some one legged squats, are all that I need to maintain a strong core. I avoid machines like the plague – they are completely unecessary. The only thing that I vary are sit-ups – my favorite is doing sit-ups while throwing a 12lb medicine ball against a wall, catching, going down, coming up, throwing, and repeat. 3 sets of 30 will have whip your core into shape in no time.

  23. Jamie
    May 28, 2009

    There is plenty of evidence to suggest that anchoring the feet during a sit-up is very bad for your back. The best thing to do is leave them un-anchored and try a more ‘crunch’ like sit-up.

    Also, like some of the guys above I’d really recommend including squats to get some lower body muscles working too :)

    PS. Burpee’s are evil but will get you super fit!

  24. Josh
    June 21, 2009

    When you guys say do max in terms of push ups, do I do one set of max push ups or do I do 3 sets of max push ups

  25. Cameron Schaefer
    June 22, 2009

    @Josh,

    Good question – 3 sets of max

  26. hillmatt
    June 25, 2009

    I’ve recently lost around 90 pounds in order to get into the army, that isn’t really related to what I wanted to post I just enjoy telling people. Anyway one of the recruiting Sgts. gave me a workout to knock out the last 3-4% off my BMI so I can get in
    run 1/4 mile
    21 pull-ups
    21 pus-hups
    21 sit-ups
    1/4 mile
    18 pull-ups
    18 sit-ups
    18 push-ups
    and on until you hit three, best workout I’ve ever done I highly recommend it.

  27. Buh
    August 19, 2009

    Those 3 exercises offer good results for the upper body in high enough repetitions, but neglect leg development.

    As bipedal organisms, our success in the natural environment depends on our legs. The legs contain the largest muscles in our bodies, and constitute 60% of our total muscle mass. The typical upper body contains only 40% of our musculature. To produce growth hormone, an exercise must tax the most possible muscles. Therefore, I would nominate the bodyweight squat as an apostle to the holy trinity. Squatting enough to release lactic acid will aid the development of upper and lower body development by eliciting more growth hormone than upper body exercise alone.

    I have used Tabata interval squats to great effect in leg development. When followed by Tabata pushups, pullups, and situps, the whole body gets worked to exhaustion. Under a Tabata protocol, this typically takes 16 minutes to achieve.

    For those who believe that running alone can develop legs, keep in mind that squats can help runners sprint faster, but running has never helped anyone squat better. The difference is in the full range of motion used by the bodyweight squat, which balances the anterior and posterior leg muscles while increasing flexibility in the hips.

  28. Nimbette2
    September 17, 2009

    I say the holy trinity should be:
    - Pull-ups
    -Push-ups
    -Squats

    Abs are worked when doing anything, really. Push-ups work abs already…

  29. MikaelL
    February 23, 2010

    I agree with Nimbette2. Maybe substituting the squat for a burpee seeing as a burpee includes a squat and works almost every major muscle group in the body.

  30. Joseph
    May 15, 2010

    I believe that we can be (and stay) in a great shape if we are doing only these three exercises in a daily basis. I am going to the gym but it is not necessary. These 3, combined with running, are the best!

  31. Stin
    May 26, 2010

    Just a note on sit-ups vs crunches; doing sit ups (feet anchored, back straight) mainly trains hip flexors, with the abdominal muscles simply stabilising the body as it is lifted off the floor. Doing crunches (try to pull the lower part of your chest towards your pubic bone) fully contracts your abdominal muscles, giving a better workout. To my knowledge, both are safe for the back if done correctly.

    push ups x 100
    crunches x 100
    squats x 100
    chin ups 4×25

    one arm push ups x 10 each side
    pistol squats x 10 each side
    I’m working on one armed chin ups
    Plus cardio, usually running

  32. Tom
    October 3, 2010

    Excellent advice and tutorial on these bodyweight exercises Cameron!

  33. Bob
    April 26, 2011

    I agree with Nimbette2. The Holy Trinity should be pushups, pullups, and squats.

  34. Michelle
    September 11, 2011

    I would go so far to say that the squat should be at the top of the exercise triangle. The squat hits multiple muscle groups when done using more than bodyweight, and can be altered to target specific muscles more effectively.

  35. NiCk N
    June 14, 2012

    Those all get to easy after a while, i think the holy trinity of fitness should be.

    Muscle Ups

    Bicycle Crunches

    Pistol Squats( Each Leg)

  36. shawn doherty
    August 13, 2012

    lol the problem with this world they cant fathom the importance of simplisity. your 3 are the best period. were not talking about athletes or hardcore lifters here, were talking 3 exersices for the every day man or women looking for the foundation of fitness., muscle ups arent for the average guy who has 10 minutes a day to squeeze in some exercises and squats no matter what they say dont do crap for your upper body which is what every one sees and that is needed for real life usefullness.pro boxers untill the 80s only did pushups and situps and they all looked great(maybe not jersey shore great) but who cares,id rather look good working out 5 minutes a day and spend the rest of my time with the ladies then spend 6 days in a gym with sweaty dudes

  37. A Koziol
    September 6, 2013

    The sit-up is bad for your spine. I would have put the squat as the third part (gotta get at least some kind of lower-body exercise in there).

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