One common fitness goal is wanting to complete a pull up variation. They look cool and are a great test of strength and fitness. So, it’s time to delve into issues in technique and answer some misconceptions.
Pull up variations
You want to do a pull up but you’re not sure which one to do. Let’s outline the 4 main pull up variations, what muscles they use and how easy or hard they might be.
- Wide grip. This is by far the hardest as it extends your hands past shoulder width which forces you to recruit more of the back muscles, primarily the latissimus dorsi (or lats), to pull with. This is hard for most people as activation of the back muscles over the arm muscles is not something that comes naturally. Chances are, if you can do this style of pull up, you’re already advanced.
- Pronated grip (hands over). This is one of the variations that gets referred to as a chin up. This still utilises most of the upper back muscles but as it is closer in grip than the wide grip, it utilises more of the biceps to help with the pull up. This helps, as mentioned above, because most people find this easier to coordinate.
- Supinated grip (hands under). This is the other pull up variation referred to as a chin up. This involves having the palms of the hand facing you and hands positioned on the other side of the bar. This involves even more of the biceps to help with the pull up and is easier again than the previously mentioned variations.
- Hammer grip (palms facing inwards). This involves the arms as much as the previous variations and also incorporates the brachioradialis and other muscles of the forearm. This one can be difficult if your arms are relatively weak as it involves a lot much effort from the arms.
Muscles to focus on
All of the pull up variations rely heavily on the back muscles operating through the frontal planes of motion (up and down). While this may sound obvious, this paints the picture of what exercises to utilise. All variations of the pull down help strengthen the lats and the other muscles of the upper back. Other exercises that can help with muscular activation include the face pull, “scap-ups” which involve hanging from the bar and depressing your shoulders down without bending your arms. Also, bicep and hammer curls and farmer’s carries to help strengthen your grip.
Doing the pull up
The most important exercises though are the ones involved with conditioning yourself to the pull up itself. Isometric holds (holding the “up” position of the pull up) are good to begin with, as are negatives, where you would jump to the “up” position and lower yourself as slowly as you can. After these, you can utilise the banded variations… where a resistance band will help you pull yourself up. You can also try the partner variation, where the partner will hold your legs as support while you do the pull up. If you do not have a training partner, feel free to ask a team member for assistance. After you can do 5-8 reps of these variations, it will be time to attempt a full pull up.
If you would like any further advice or tips on technique, please feel free to come see one the team for help.