Workouts That Build Power With Just Push-Ups, Pull-Ups and Dips

Strong tattooed in white unlabeled tank t-shirt male athlete shows calisthenic moves Holding dip position on parallel bars

Power can mean different things in different situations, but if you're working out to develop power, you're most likely looking for a quality of fitness that combines strength and speed in equal parts. The ability to generate force quickly -- that is, a high rate of force development (RFD) -- is increasingly being recognized as the quick path to improved performance.

You can certainly adapt push-ups, pull-ups and dips into a workout that will enhance your overall power. Just keep in mind that you're only as strong as your weakest link, and unless you put an equal amount of work into your legs and glutes, you might just wind up being easily toppled.


Push-ups, pull-ups and dips are body-weight exercises that lend themselves to short bursts of intense activity, which is the best way to gain power. They can be adapted as plyometrics, which are sometimes described as "explosive exercises."

Plyometric training differs from resistance training, which involves moderate to heavy loads for a specified number of repetitions. Instead, it focuses on challenging the body by working muscles from different directions with lighter loads and often involves jumping or rebounding. Pairing speed of movement with an eccentric exercise also enhances the protein synthesis that builds muscle.

The goal of power training is to push your muscles to the limits in a functional way that mimics actual sports performance, or for that matter, every day activities.

Muscular man doing a pushups at gym.

Dips are powerful for building upper body strength.

A Note About Reps and Sets

Power training is less about the number of reps as it is about training hard for specific time intervals. According to the American Council on Exercise, the more explosive the movement, the shorter the duration of work should be, with longer periods of rest in between. ACE suggests that the work phase can be as short as 10 seconds or three reps while recovery can last from 20 seconds to two minutes.

Plyometric Push-Ups

For an extra challenge, lift your feet off the ground along with your upper body.

How to: Begin in a high-plank position with your arms fully extended and hands at shoulder width. Lower your body to the floor as you would with a normal push-up, but on the way up, thrust your arms straight and bolt upward. As you straighten your arms, lift your hands off the floor and clap rapidly. Land back on your palms with bent elbows.

Power Pull-Ups

Avoid kicking your thighs up to create momentum; it steals the load from your upper back.

How to: Start with a normal pull-up position with your fingers draped over the bar and your palms facing out from you. Hands are shoulder-width apart. Pulling your body upward and as you reach the top of the exercise, push your body upward and release your grip on the bar for just a split second. Catch the bar on your way down and lower yourself until your arms are fully extended from the bar. Repeat.

Plyometric Dips

While dips mimic a lot of every day functional movements, many trainers regard them as risky because they may stress the front portion of the shoulder joint. Doing explosive dips should therefore be approached with great caution and avoided if you have any shoulder issues.

How to: Grasp the wide dip bar with an overhand grip. Begin with your arms straight and your hands directly below your shoulders. Bend your knees and hips slightly. Bend your arms to lower your body, letting your elbows fan out to the sides. When you feel a stretch in the shoulders or chest, thrust your arms straight, raising your body in an explosive movement.

Warming Up

Warming up is crucial for doing power workouts because the rapid movement involved increases the risk of injury or muscle strain. Target the muscles that will be focused on in the workout. For explosive movement, dynamic stretches, such as jacks and lunges, are recommended.

Explore In Depth

Scapular muscle activity in a variety of plyometric exercises April 01, 2016
  • Annelies Maenhout
  • Maya Benzoor
  • Maria Werin
  • Ann Cools
Effect of heavy dynamic resistive exercise on acute upper body power November 01, 2001
  • Con Hrysomallis
  • Dawson J Kidgell
Bench Press and Push-up at Comparable Levels of Muscle Activity Results in Similar Strength Gains January 01, 2015
  • Joaquin Calatayud
  • Sebastien Borreani
  • Juan C. Colado
  • Fernando Martin
  • Victor Tella
Muscle metabolic responses to exercise above and below the "critical power" assessed using 31P-MRS. February 01, 2008
  • Andrew M. Jones
  • Daryl P. Wilkerson
  • Fred DiMenna
  • Jonathan Fulford
  • David C. Poole