100 1 25 25 bodybuilding.com
Bodybuilding.com Information Motivation Supplementation
in:

This Week's Exercise :: Pull-ups

In this new section on Bodybuilding.com called Exercise Of The Week, we will pick one exercise and break it down into every possible way...

By: Charles Ridgely


Introduction

A pull-up is a compound, pull-type exercise which works a large number of muscles in your back, shoulders, and arms at the same time.

The following table lists information about Pull-ups and the muscles that you use when performing Pull-ups.

Basic Exercise Data For Pull-ups:

Resistance: Bodyweight
Mechanics Type: Compound
Force Type: Pull
Targeted Muscles: Latissimus Dorsi
Synergists: Brachialis
Brachioradialis
Teres Major
Deltoid (Posterior)
Rhomboids
Levator Scapulae
Trapezius (lower, middle)
Pectoralis Major (sternal)
Pectoralis Minor
Dynamic Stabilizers: Biceps Brachii
Triceps (long head)

Learn More About The Anatomy Of Muscles Here.

You can perform Pull-ups by grasping a sturdy bar with a firm overhand grip and your hands separated by a distance roughly equal to your shoulder width, as shown in Figure 1. With your arms straightened, allow your body to hang from the bar. This is the initial position shown in Figure 1. Next, pull yourself upward to the final position where your chest nearly touches the bar and your chin is over the bar, as shown in Figure 2.

While you're pulling, focus on keeping your body straight without arching or swinging. Once your chin is over the bar, you can lower yourself to the initial position shown in Figure 1. Note that while you perform pull-ups, you can either bend your knees and cross your feet or keep your legs straightened so long as your feet don't touch the floor.

It's also a good idea to avoid relaxing your muscles too much while in the initial position. Relaxing too much can place a great deal of stress on your shoulders joints.


Left (Figure 1): Initial Position
Right (Figure 2): Final Position

As you may have imagined, there is a wide variety of different ways to perform Pull-ups. Let's take a look at some of the more popular variations of Pull-ups that you may encounter in your gym.


Variations Of Pull-ups: Wide-Grip Pull-ups

Wide-Grip Pull-ups are used for emphasizing to your lats, instead of working primarily your biceps. The procedure for performing Wide-Grip Pull-ups is similar to the procedure for regular Pull-ups discussed above with reference to Figures 1-2. Grasp a sturdy bar with a firm overhand grip and your hands separated by a distance roughly twice the width of your shoulders, as shown in Figure 3.

Separating your hands in this way ensures that you emphasize working your lats. Allow your body to hang from the bar with your arms straightened, as shown in Figure 3, and then pull yourself upward so that your chest nearly touches the bar and your chin is over the bar, as shown in Figure 4. When you perform Wide-Grip Pull-ups, it's helpful to focus on using your lats to pull your elbows downward toward your ribcage.

Also, focus on keeping your body straight without arching or swinging throughout the pull. Once your lats are completely contracted and your chin is over the bar, you can lower yourself to the initial position shown in Figure 3. As with regular Pull-ups, you can either bend your knees and cross your feet or keep your legs straightened as shown in Figures 3-4.


Left (Figure 3): Initial Position
Right (Figure 4): Final Position


Variations Of Pull-ups: Close-Grip Pull-ups

Close-Grip Pull-ups is another great variation of pull-ups which emphasizes your lower lats. You can perform Close-Grip Pull-ups by grasping a sturdy bar with a firm overhand grip and your hands separated by about 6-8 inches. The narrow separation between your hands ensures that you emphasize your lower lats during the exercise.

As shown in Figure 5, the initial position for Close-Grip Pull-ups is hanging from the bar with your arms straightened. To perform a Close-Grip Pull-up, pull yourself upward so that your chin is over the bar and your hands nearly touch your chest, as shown in Figure 6, and then lower yourself back to the initial position shown in Figure 5.

During your ascent, focus on contracting your lats and be careful not to swing your body or lean too far backwards.


Left (Figure 5): Initial Position
Right (Figure 6): Final Position


Variations Of Pull-ups: Underhand-Grip Pull-ups/Chins

Just as you can emphasize your lats by varying your grip separation during Wide-Grip and Close-Grip Pull-ups, you can alternatively emphasize your biceps by using Underhand-Grip Pull-ups, also referred to as "Chin-ups or just "Chins." Chins are performed with an underhand, reverse grip where the palms of your hands are facing you during the exercise.

To perform a chin-up, grasp the bar with a reverse grip and about 6-8 inches of separation between your hands. Allow yourself to hang in the initial position with your arms straightened, as shown in Figure 7. It's a good idea to avoid relaxing your muscles too much while in the initial position. Relaxing too much can place a great deal of stress on your shoulders joints.

While focusing your attention on your biceps, lats, and back muscles, pull yourself up and try to touch either your chin or upper chest to the bar, as shown in Figure 8. Once your reach the final position shown in Figure 8, you can slowly return to the initial position. As with all forms of Pull-ups, you can keep your legs straight or bent and crossed throughout the exercise, and you should avoid swinging back and forth.


Left (Figure 7): Initial Position
Right (Figure 8): Final Position


Variations Of Pull-ups: Gorilla Chin/Crunch

Another interesting variation of Pull-ups is the Gorilla Chin/Crunch; it emphasizes your biceps and your abdominals! As shown in Figure 9, the initial position of the Gorilla Chin/Crunch is just like a regular Chin, but with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your hands positioned about 12 inches apart. Performing a Gorilla Chin/Crunch is like doing a Chin-up and a Crunch at the same time.

You begin by simultaneously pulling yourself up with your arms, Chin-up style, and bringing your knees up toward your chest. When you reach the final position shown in Figure 10, you will have finished the Chin and the Crunch at the same time.

In the final position, your nose will be close to the bar and your knees will be pulled up to your chest. Next, you can simultaneously lower yourself and let you knees move away from your chest to return to the initial position shown in Figure 9.


Left (Figure 9): Initial Position
Right (Figure 10): Final Position


When Bodyweight Is Not Enough

As you may have noticed, the resistance you use during Pull-ups is provided by your bodyweight. As you gain strength, however, you'll likely need more resistance than bodyweight alone. A solution to this problem is to suspend weight plates from your waist by using a Dipping Belt. A typical Dipping Belt is shown in Figure 11.


Figure 11: Dipping Belt

Get Your Own Dipping Belt! Click Here.

The Dipping Belt shown in Figure 11 has a support ring on one end and a chain and clasp attached to a similar ring on the other end. These components enable you to hang weight plates from your waist. You can use the Dipping Belt by placing it around your waist and then passing the clasp and chain through the ring on the opposite end of the belt. Pulling the chain tightens the belt around your waist.

Next, pass the clasp and chain through one or more weight plates and then fasten the clasp onto the ring that the other end of the chain is attached to, as shown in Figure 12.


Figure 12: Ready to Perform Weighted Chins

You'll notice that the weight of the plates keeps the belt tightened around your waist, as shown in Figure 12. You can now carefully walk over to the chinning bar and perform some weighted Chins or Pull-ups.


When Bodyweight Is Too Much

Some trainees may not yet have enough strength to support their bodyweight from the chinning bar, or cannot perform the desired number of repetitions. In this case, performing Pulldowns are a great way to gain the benefits of performing Pull-ups until the trainee is strong enough to perform regular Pull-ups.

Performing Pulldowns is very similar to performing Pull-ups, with the exception that with Pulldowns you use a Lat Pulldown Machine or a high pulley with a Pulldown bar attached to the cable. You can perform Pulldowns by positioning your knees snugly under the kneepads of the Pulldown Machine, grasping the Pulldown bar with a roughly shoulder-width grip, and allowing your arms to straighten.

This is the initial position shown in Figure 13. Next, pull the bar downward to the final position where the bar nearly touches your chest, as shown in Figure 14. While you're pulling, focus on keeping your body straight without arching your back, swinging back and forth, or leaning too far backward. Once the bar is nearly toughing your chest, you can allow the bar to slowly rise upward until you're in the initial position shown in Figure 13.


Left (Figure 13): Initial Position
Right (Figure 14): Final Position

As with Pull-ups, there are similar variations of Pulldowns that you can perform to bring greater emphasis to particular muscles. The variations of Pulldowns are similar to the variations of Pull-ups discussed above, with the primary exception being that you generally begin by positioning your legs snugly under the kneepads of a Pulldown Machine and you use a Pulldown bar.

For example, Figures 15-16 illustrate performing Wide-Grip Pulldowns, which emphasize working your lats. As you can see, the trainee begins with her legs positioned snugly under the kneepads of the Pulldown machine and her feet flat on the floor. The trainee grasps the Pulldown bar with a wide, overhand grip and her hands positioned roughly twice her shoulder width apart.

As shown in Figure 16, the trainee pulls the bar down to the top of her collarbone while arching her back slightly. When you perform Wide-Grip Pulldowns, focus on keeping your elbows directly below the bar and using your lats to pull your elbows toward your ribcage. Also, avoid leaning back too far because doing so causes you to pull with your bodyweight.


Left (Figure 15): Initial Position
Right (Figure 16): Final Position

Figures 17-18 show a trainee performing Close-Grip Pulldowns, which emphasize working your lower lats. As you can see in Figure 17, the trainee is sitting on the bench of a Pulldown Machine and holding the Pulldown bar with his hands separated by a distance of between 6-8 inches. Starting with his arms extended overhead, he pulls the Pulldown bar straight down until the bar is even with his upper chest, as shown in Figure 18.

The trainee then allows the bar to rise back up to the initial position shown in Figure 17 and then repeats the exercise for the desired number of repetitions. As with all forms of Pull-ups and Pulldowns, you should avoid swinging your body or leaning too far backwards during the exercise.\


Left (Figure 17): Initial Position
Right (Figure 18): Final Position

If you really want to work your lats, then you might consider performing Full Range-of-Motion Pulldowns, as shown in Figures 19-20. You can perform this variation of Pulldowns by sitting on a high bench or standing and grasping a pair of stirrup cables that are attached to two high pulleys. Be certain to grasp the stirrup cables with opposite hands so that your arms are crossed in front of you and your palms are facing forward, as shown in Figure 19.

While keeping your chest up and maintaining a slight arch in your lower back, use your lats to pull your elbows toward your ribcage, as shown in Figure 20. While you're pulling your elbows downward, rotate your hands so that the palms of your hands are facing each other when you reach the final position shown in Figure 20.

Note that with Full Range-of-Motion Pulldowns, your range of motion will be along an arc, unlike regular Pulldowns where your range of motion is generally straight up and down.


Left (Figure 19): Initial Position
Right (Figure 20): Final Position


Incorporating Pull-ups And Pulldowns Into Your Training

Now that you know how to perform various forms of Pull-ups and Pulldowns, let's take a look at some ways to incorporate them into your training.

Since Pull-ups generally work the muscles in your back, rear shoulders, and arms, it's a good idea to combine Pull-ups with pushing exercises that train muscles that work in opposition to the back, rear shoulders, and biceps. For example, one choice is to combine Pull-ups with Dips because they generally train the chest, triceps, and front shoulders.

Another option is to combine Pull-ups with different types of Bench Presses, which also work the chest, triceps, and front shoulders. Following is one example of a full-body routine which nests Wide-Grip Pulldowns between Inclined Bench Press and Dips.

Note that the back, rear shoulders, and biceps are trained by the One-Arm Rows, too. Because of this, the Wide-Grip Pulldowns are followed by the Dips, which work the chest, triceps, and front shoulders. Arranging the exercises in this way ensures that the back, biceps, and rear shoulders get a break before being worked again with One-Arm Rows.

Now let's take a look at a couple of abbreviated routine that includes variations of Pull-ups. The following routine includes Wide-Grip Pull-ups to emphasize the lats.

This is a highly abbreviated routine that affords more time for greater training volume. Note that the Close-Grip Bench Press is used to train the triceps. Following is another, similar routine that also allows more time for greater training volume.

As you can see, this routine has no direct arm work. Rather, the arms are trained through the use of heavy compound exercises. Notice that Chins are used in this routine because they work the biceps as well as the lats.

Another popular approach is to select alternating exercises that are performed every other workout day. For example, you might choose the following alternatives for a full-body workout.

  1. Squat
    Leg Curl
    Inc. Bench Press
    Chins
    Rear Delts
    Shrugs
    Curls
    Triceps Extensions
    Calf Raise
  1. Leg Press
    Leg Curl
    Dips
    Rows
    Rear Delts
    Shrugs
    Curls
    Triceps Extensions
    Calf Raise

In this routine, exercises A are performed on one workout day, exercises B are performed on the next workout day, and so on. As you can see, Chins are alternated with Rows, and Inclined Bench Presses are alternated with Dips.

Still, another popular idea is to split your training into push exercises and pull exercises. With this approach, muscles that push (i.e., chest, triceps, and front shoulders) and muscles that pull (i.e., back, biceps, and rear shoulders) are trained on different workout days. Following is a group of upper-body exercises that alternate push and pull exercises.

  1. Bench Press
    Dips
    Triceps Extensions
  1. Chins
    Rows
    Bicep Curls

Workout A includes Bench Press and Dips, both of which are compound pushing exercises, and Workout B includes Chins and Rows, both of which are compound pulling exercises. Triceps Extensions and Bicep Curls are isolation exercises that are thrown in for a little extra arm work.

All of the above routines are essentially full-body routines. Many lifters prefer, however, to split up their training so that different body parts can be trained on different workout days. Splitting up your training enables you to more thoroughly concentrate on specific muscle groups with more exercises and/or more training volume, as well as giving those muscle groups more recovery time than would be otherwise possible.

Following is one example of 3-way split, wherein different body parts are trained on three different workout day each week.

Monday Wednesday Friday
Chest
Inclined Bench Press Dips
Pec Deck

Shoulders
Shoulder Press
Lateral Raise
Rear Delt Raise

Triceps
Pushdowns
Extensions

Back
Wide-Grip Pull-ups
Rows

Biceps
Dumbbell Curls
Preacher Curls

Abdominals
Crunches

Legs
Squats
Leg Press
Stiff-Leg Deadlifts

Traps
Shrugs

Calves
Calf Raise

As you can see, chest, shoulders, and triceps are trained on Mondays; back, biceps, and abdominals are trained on Wednesdays; and legs, traps, and calves are trained on Fridays. Notice that on Wednesdays, Wide-Grip Pull-ups are used to emphasize the lats and Dumbbell Curls are used for the biceps.

Now let's take a look at a 4-way split routine. The following split utilizes all of the same exercises as the above 3-way split, but the exercises are arranged on four different training days.

Monday
(Legs)
Tuesday
(Chest/Triceps)
Thursday
(Back/Biceps)
Friday
(Shoulders/Traps)
Squats
Leg Press
Stiff-Leg Deadlifts
Leg Curls
Calf Raise
Inclined Bench Press
Dips
Pec Deck
Triceps Pushdowns
Triceps Extensions
Wide-Grip Pull-ups
Rows
Dumbbell Curls
Preacher Curls
Abdominal Crunches
Shoulder Press
Lateral Raise
Rear Delt Raise
Shrugs

As you can see, with this 4-way split the legs and shoulders have their own training days, and Wide-Grip Pulldowns are trained on Back/Biceps day. This routine could be used when you want to perform more training volume for each muscle group. Following along these lines, you might want to split things up even more. For instance, you might want to use a 5-way split routine to train more often, but spend less time during each workout.

On the other hand, you might want to add more training volume for each muscle group. Following is one example of a 5-way split routine which uses the same exercises as the above routines, but arranged into five training days.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Squats
Leg Press
Stiff-Leg Deadlifts
Leg Curls
Inclined Bench Press
Dips
Pec Deck
Abdominal Crunches
Wide-Grip Pull-ups
Rows
Shrugs
Shoulder Press
Lateral Raise
Rear Delt Raise
Calf Raise
Triceps Pushdowns
Triceps Extensions
Dumbbell Curls
Preacher Curls

The primary difference in this example is that the arms now are trained on their own workday day. You'll also notice that the calves have been placed after the shoulder exercises, and the Shrugs are placed after the Wide-Grip Pull-ups and Rows.


Alternatives To Performing Pull-ups

Of course, Pull-ups aren't for everyone. Trainees having existing shoulder pathology may find that some variations of Pull-ups are painful. As a rule, any exercise which causes pain beyond normal muscle soreness should be discontinued, and a qualified health care professional should be consulted.

If you cannot, or just don't want to perform Pull-ups, or any of the variations of Pull-ups, any of the following exercises can be used to train the lats, biceps, and rear shoulders.

Lats Exercises Biceps Exercises Rear Shoulder Exercises
Bent Over Rows
Low Pulley Rows
Seated Rows
One-Arm Rows
Pullovers
Barbell Curls
Preacher Curls
Dumbbell Curls
Inclined DB Curls
Concentration Curls
Bent Over Rows
Low Pulley Rows
Seated Rows
One-Arm Rows
Rear Deltoid Raises

Be sure to also check out:
Exercise Of The Week: Dips!

Exercise Of The Week:  Pull-ups.
charles@ridgely.ws

Visitor Reviews Of This Article!
Read Visitor Reviews - Write Your Own Review

Back To Charles Ridgely's Main Page

Back To The Articles Main Page.

Related Articles
Scrawny To Brawny: 5 Steps To Big Gains
Train With Dana Linn Bailey Contest: Winning Back Workout
Arnold Schwarzenegger Blueprint Trainer: Main Page



RATE THIS ARTICLE
POOR
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
EXCELLENT
OVERALL RATING
N/A

Out of 10

2 Ratings

2

Comments

Showing 1 - 2 of 2 Comments

(5 characters minimum)

      • notify me when users reply to my comment
hardyboyz

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
hardyboyz

How many sets and reps r needed to do each exercise?

Aug 13, 2013 11:58am | report
adamroach87

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
adamroach87

Push it to the limit man. I bought a pull up bar the goes in a door way. Try doing three sets of failures and to work up to more start doing 3 sets of 5 and move your way up. Makes sure to push outside your comfort zone. That's where the gains begin!

Apr 12, 2014 5:29pm | report
Showing 1 - 2 of 2 Comments

Featured Product

Give Us Feedback:
Report A Problem
Site Feedback
Follow Us:
Twitter
Facebook
RSS Feeds
Bodybuilding.com Newsletter

Receive exciting features,
news & special offers from Bodybuilding.com