Exercise of the Week: Pull-ups



I am going to start a new series, exercise of the week, where I will discuss the benefits of a specific exercise as well as provide detailed instructions on how to perform the exercise. This week’s exercise is the pull-up!


Muscles Worked and Benefits: The pull up is a posterior chain exercise, meaning it primarily works your backside, more specifically your upper back. The largest muscle targeted by this exercise is the latissimus dorsi. Other muscles that are used to perform this exercise include the trapezius, deltoids, teres major and minor, rhomboids, thoracic erector spinae and biceps brachii. In addition to working your upper back, pull ups work your arms (biceps), core and are great for developing grip strength. Pull-ups are a great exercise to include in your repertoire for a well rounded program!


Common Variations: Chin ups, neutral grip pull ups

While there are different variations of pull-ups, a pull-up specifically refers to performing the exercise with a pronated, or overhand, grip. A chin-up refers to a supinated, or underhand, grip and a neutral grip pull up refers to a neutral grip, which is where both palms would be facing each other - you would need a specific bar that allows for this grip.


How To: To perform a pull-up you want to start by gripping a bar with an overhand grip. Start in a dead hang position. Initiate the movement with your scapulae by pulling your shoulders down and back. Next you’ll pull yourself up until your chin goes over the bar. During this phase of the exercise you want to think about driving your elbows towards your hips, make sure they don’t wing out. Keep your core braced and do not let your shoulders round at the top of the exercise. You will then lower back down in a controlled manner, making sure you straighten your arms all of the way at the bottom before repeating. A cue I like to think of when performing this exercise is that I am trying to pull the bar to my chest!


Exercises To Build Pull-up Strength: Pull-ups are a very challenging exercise! If you cannot perform a pull-up here are some exercises you can do that work similar muscles and will help you build up the strength to perform a pull-up.


  1. Inverted rows - can be done with a suspension trainer or a barbell on a squat rack

  2. Bent over rows - both barbell and single arm dumbbell variations are great

  3. Lat pull downs - Use the same grip you would for whichever pull-up variation you want to perform

  4. Assisted pull-ups - these can be done on an assisted pull-up machine or with bands

  5. Negatives - Jump up to the top of a pull-up position and slowly lower yourself back down counting for about 3-5 seconds until you reach a dead hang

For examples of how to perform exercises that assist with pull-ups check out my instagram post here.


Remember, pull-ups are a difficult exercise so don't be discouraged if it takes you a while to be able to do one. Consistency and frequency are going to be key when training to get a pull-up!


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