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Pull-Ups: An Underrated Exercise for Building Muscle

When it comes to building a better upper body, you can't discount the pull-ups. Pull-ups may have been your worst nightmare in middle school gym class, but they can be your key to a shredded back.

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Adrian Drew

Adrian Drew

Self-help blogger and freelance writer. Personal development writer and founder and editor of Mind Cafe (https://medium.com/mind-cafe), a Medium publication.

There are plenty of exercises around, some difficult, some enjoyable, and some downright pointless.

Many are focused primarily on burning fat and others more on piling on lean muscle. But amongst all of them, one simple exercise can work wonders on many different muscle groups, all at the same time.


In their many variations, from wide grip to chin-ups, pull-ups are some of the most basic yet highly-effective and well-rounded exercises out there.

Pull-ups work on your lats, biceps, forearms, traps, pecs, triceps, abs rear delts - basically every muscle in your body from the chest up. Heck, there are even straps that you can throw onto pull-up bars to work your core and stabilization. They’re great.

So where do you start?

The Basics

If you’ve ever done pull-ups in the past, you’ll probably know that there are several different ways to execute the exercise. These are:


The wide-grip pull-up is perhaps the most common of all pull-up exercises. It’s a great one for hitting many different muscle groups, with a particular focus on the lats and upper back.

To perform a wide-grip pull-up, simply…

  1. Grab a pull-up bar with your palms facing away from your body, your hands approximately a shoulder’s width apart. Allow your lower body to hang in a fully-extended position with your arms slightly bent.
  2. Holding your shoulders down and away from your ears, pull yourself up using your arms until your chin reaches the bar and your elbows are in a right-angle position.
  3. Lower yourself back down to the starting position.
  4. Repeat.

body-brawny-crossfit-931323 (1)Chin-Ups

Next on the list are chin-ups. Chin-ups are a slightly easier variation of pull-up that targets different muscle groups.

With a closer grip and adjustment in position, chin-ups target the biceps more than wider grips do, also incorporating the abs and core into the exercise.

A chin-up can be performed in much the same way as a wide-grip pull-up. The only difference is that the hands should be brought in closer to the center of the pull-up bar and they should be facing towards you.

Neutral Grip/Commando Pull-Ups

Neutral grip pull-ups follow the same motions as regular pull-ups, but the palms are facing towards each other. These can only be performed on the two bars that are positioned parallel to one another.

Neutral grip pull-ups place more strain on the traps, rhomboids, levator scapulae and teres major muscles in the back and shoulders.

There’s also a variation in neutral pull-ups where both hands are placed onto the same bar and you alternate which side of the bar your head passes through on each repetition. These are called commando pull-ups.

Commando pull-ups target the biceps, as well as the lats, traps, and the core, which works to stabilize your upper body.

Behind the Neck Pull-Ups

For those with a little more experience in this exercise, and no former shoulder/rotator cuff issues, behind the neck pull-ups are a great way to incorporate more of your upper-back muscles into each exercise.

The trapezius muscles receive greater emphasis, helping to sculpt that sought-after ‘V’ shape whilst incorporating the rear deltoid muscles.

Simply perform a regular pull-up, only lifting your head in front of the pull-up bar rather than behind it.

Knee Raises

Pull-up bars can also be a great piece of equipment on which to execute a killer abdominal workout.

Using elbow straps, you can place yourself in a hanging position, raising the knees whilst keeping your core strong and placing a strong emphasis on the core muscles.

To perform a leg raise, follow these steps:

  1. Place one forearm and elbow from each arm into either strap, holding onto the parallel bars.
  2. Lift yourself up and hang your legs directly down below you.
  3. Engaging your core, lift your knees up to your waistline, keeping your body as still as possible.
  4. Lower down, keeping your abdominal muscles engaged the entire time.
  5. Repeat.

The Takeaway

Pull-ups are an excellent exercise that requires little-to-no experience.

By performing a variety of pull-up exercises every day, you’ll be giving your body a full, well-rounded workout without even having to visit the gym. Not bad.

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