Muscles Targeted: Standard pull-ups, when performed properly, can hit up to six muscle groups on every repetition. Proper form when performing a pull-up requires no swinging or kipping, which is when you try to generate some momentum upwards by moving your legs. The obvious two muscle groups that pull-ups target are your biceps and lats (latissimus dorsi), which give you the broad look in your back. The biceps are not the only muscles in your arms that get a burn though. Your forearm muscles, depending on your grip, gets a great workout too. The shoulder muscles (deltoids) get a workout as well, with proper reps hitting your delts, traps and your rhomboids, which are the muscles by your scapula. The abdominal and pelvic floor muscles help stabilize your torso and legs during each rep. Lastly, your grip strength is improved when doing proper pull-ups by having to hold all your body weight during each rep.
Exercise Instructions: To perform a pullup, grab onto a secure bar (or a machine) using an overhand grip with your hands just beyond shoulder width apart. Slowly lift your entire body upward as high as you can. Lower your body back down to the starting position and repeat with a slow and controlled tempo at all times.
Why This Exercise is Important:
One main reason why this exercise is so important is that it targets so many muscle groups in your body with each repetition, allowing for a more complete workout while strengthening certain muscles you might not have hit doing other exercises. The torso is such an important part of your body. It’s your core area and you have to keep your core strong for functional exercises in normal life activities along with improving different exercises you use in the gym. When you perform a proper pull-up, you’ll hit your core muscle groups even if you aren’t training those muscles that day which makes it an excellent bodyweight workout to include in your fitness routine.
Things To Avoid: As stated earlier, the two things you want to avoid are swinging and kipping. With any exercise, it is in your best interest to use proper form during each rep to get the most out of the exercise and to avoid injury. You can help reduce any natural swinging motion by bending your knees and tightening your abs. You want to perform each rep in a steady and fluid motion without going too fast or being too jerky.
Reps and Sets: The amount of sets you do, as well as the amount of reps done for each set, varies with how strong you are at a specific exercise. A good way to determine how many reps and sets you should be doing is to max out your reps for one set, cut that number in half, and do four sets of that number. So if you can only do 10 reps in a row, you’re better off starting off with 4 sets of 5 reps, then working your way up from there. Once you are able to do 4 sets of 10 reps, you will need to change up your routine or keep increasing the amount of reps for each set. You can change things up in your routine by either performing your pull-ups with a different grip on the bar, or by attaching a weighted belt or weight vest to your body for added resistance.
Other Exercises To Use: Other exercises similar to pull-ups are the aforementioned weighted pull-ups (attaching weight to your body), one arm, behind the neck and many more. There’s also chin-ups, which involves an underhand grip, which means your palms face towards you. View our extensive database of exercise guides for a comprehensive list of exercises that target the back.