Difficult to perform but worth every hard earned rep, pull-ups are often overlooked in back and bicep workouts. Read on to see why you should be incorporating them into your exercise routine and what you are missing out on if you don’t.
The Muscles Targeted
Most back and bicep workout splits will contain one or two sets of pull-ups in the beginning of a workout to be used as a warm-up. This is because the exercise involves nothing but your own body weight, so the chances of you hurting yourself are slim to none. Pull-ups also target more than just one muscle group, which makes them a fantastic full upper body warm-up.
While they primarily target the lats and other back muscles, pull-ups also work your biceps and forearms. As an added bonus, pull-ups can also help develop a better grip as well as can increase cardio benefits when done with increased speed and repetitions.
Use Assistance at First
Though pull-ups may be listed as the warm-up in your back and bicep workout they are not an easy exercise to perform. The pull-up provides far too many benefits to be left out of your back and bicep workout, so figuring out a way to complete them is essential.
One of the ways to make pull-ups easier is to do negatives, which means instead of pulling yourself up you are jumping up to the top of the pull-up position and then slowly lowering yourself down. Negative pull-ups may not be full pull-ups but they are still effective and can help you to progress to a full pull-up.
Another option is the assisted pull-up machine. This machine allows you to remove some of the weight you are pulling, so you end up pulling less than your entire body weight. Another variety of this assisted pull-up is to use a resistance band under your feet to support some of your weight. Resistance bands come in different colors depending on the level of resistance.
Overhand vs Underhand
There are two hand positions for pull-ups – overhand and underhand. Overhand pull-ups are the grip that is traditionally thought of when pull-ups come to mind, with palms facing away from the body. This grip paired with a slightly wider than shoulder width grasp on the bar puts the majority of the focus on the lats and takes away the supportive help of the biceps muscles.
The underhand grip, also known as a chin-up, is when your palms are facing towards you. This grip targets more of the supporting muscles such as the biceps, which is why chin-ups can be easier to accomplish than pull-ups. Many lifters find it difficult to engage the lats strictly during the chin-up because of the help from the supporting muscles, which is why pull-ups are preferred for lat engagement.
Just like with push-ups, pull-ups come in a variety of variations that can target different muscles in the back. Once you have perfected the pull-up, try adding different variations to keep making progress.
Parallel Grip – With your palms facing each other, this pull-up variation is one of the safest you can perform. Begin here if you are worried about proper form.
Close Grip – A close grip pull-up is done by placing your hands no further than a fist distance apart on the bar. This pull-up variation targets more of the muscles by your armpits, your forearms as well as the biceps. This version can also be done with palms facing towards you in a chin-up position.
Wide Grip – Wide grip pull-ups are the standard for developing a bigger and wider back. By placing your hands far apart you are targeting your back almost completely, with little to no stabilizer muscles getting worked.
For the Advanced
Once you can accomplish the pull-up with ease and with different variations, it’s time to add weight to the exercise. While being able to successfully complete 12 to 15 reps of standard pull-ups is impressive, this turns the exercise into a muscular endurance building exercise as opposed to a strength building one. Adding weight to the pull-up however, brings the focus of the exercise back to strength.
Adding weight to your pull-up can be done several ways. You can hold a weight between your feet, wear a weighted vest or wear a weight belt around your waist. The weight belt allows you to clip weight plates to it, which means you can keep increasing the weight of the belt as you progress with your weighted pull-ups.
Pull-ups may be difficult to perform but once you get them down, there is no exercise quite like them. Try a few versions of assisted pull-ups to help build up strength before taking on a full pull-up. Once you can achieve one full pull-up rep keep working at them until you can do them for repetitions.