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What Muscles Do Pull Ups Work? The Definite Pull Up Guide

what muscles do pull ups work

What muscles do pull ups work? 

One of the most common question newbies ask when they start at the gym…

A question that advanced lifters know to answer, even if they  don’t really comprehend the insane effectiveness of pull ups!

Come on, how awesome are these guys (and girls..!!) who effortlessly bang pull ups?

Aren’t they great?

Yes! And if you carefully observe them, most of them are pretty strong and jacked!

Have you ever wondered why?

Pull ups are the king exercise for developing a strong and wide back. Many say that the deadlift is the best exercise, but I would have to disagree.

While deadlifts also target your lower body, pull ups hit your upper body, exclusively.

So to answer the question: ” What Muscles Do Pull Ups Work?”

Pull ups are a compound exercise that works your upper body.

The target muscle is the “latissimus dorsi” or the well-known lats.

Your lats are the muscle group which determines how wide your back is.

If you want to achieve a V-shaped back, then pull ups must belong in your workout routine.

Lats or Latissimus Dorsi is the muscle that adds width to the back and gives your upper body the V shape look that all men want.

It also creates the illusion of wide shoulders.

what muscles do pull ups work

Many people think that you have to work out your shoulders hard to develop wide shoulders.

The truth is that having a big, wide back is what makes your shoulders look wider!

Pull ups target your lats better than any other exercise. They also work your biceps, upper back and forearms.

They also work other muscles like your traps, rhomboid, teres major, infraspinatus, pecs, erector spinae and external oblique.

I told you.

They can build your whole upper body!

But their most significant impact is on your lats and biceps.

Were You Avoiding Pull Ups Because They Are “Difficult”?

If the answer is yes then now is time to stop being a chicken and start doing them.

As time passes you will continuously become stronger so it doesn’t matter if you can’t do a single one yet.

How do I know? 

I couldn’t do one pull up some months ago.

Now I do pull-ups with 40 pounds on me for 5-6 reps. And, you know what?

Five months ago I was struggling to do 4-5 reps just with my bodyweight!

what muscles do pull ups work

I am continually building my way up to 100 pounds.

Imagine how wide, strong and sexy your back will look if you are able to do pull ups with 100 pounds.

The benefits of pull ups for your back are insane!

On top of that, did you know that many bulky guys in the gym can’t do even 4 pull ups?

That’s because they are very difficult in the beginning.

It doesn’t matter if you are skinny or bulky, there is nothing to be ashamed for.

Doing pull-ups is a skill that can be developed.

Learn How To Do Pull Ups From The Beginning & Enjoy All The Benefits Of Pull Ups

First of all let’s clear a common misconception. Many people confuse pull ups with chin ups.

Pull Ups and Chin Ups  are two different exercises! Pull ups are not chin-ups and chin-ups are not pull-ups.

However they both work your back incredibly well.

For pull ups your palms are facing away from you and grip is wider than your shoulders width.

Check out this video to see how to do pull ups properly:

For chin-ups palms are facing toward your body and grip’s width is maximum at shoulder level or closer. Chin ups are also called reverse grip pull ups.

Chin ups seem to be easier than pull-ups.

There are three reasons for that:

  1. The relative ease of chin ups is due to the biceps different positioning compared to pull-ups. You could say that in chin-ups your biceps “look at each other” while in pull-ups they are facing whatever your eyes are looking at.
  2. The width of the grip. The smaller the width is, the easier the movement becomes.
  3. In chin-ups the upper back area is asked to do less work while the middle area is worked more.

Moreover, most people would agree that pull ups work more the outer back while chin-ups involve more the biceps and middle area of the back.

Check out this video to see how to do chin ups properly:

Which Is Better? A Chin Ups Workout Or a Pull Ups Workout?

A study conducted by the Journal Of Strength & Conditioning compared the effect of pull ups, chin ups and a rotational exercise on different muscles.

The participants were 21 men and 4 women. The researchers examined the muscle activation patterns and found that all three exercises activated the same muscle groups but in different intensities.

The average muscle activation was:

  • Latissimus dorsi: 117-130%
  • Biceps brachii: 78-96%
  • Infraspinatus: 71-79%
  • Lower trapezius: 45-56%
  • Pectoralis major: 44-57%
  • Erector spinae: 39-41%
  • External oblique: 31-35%

As you can see the muscles that are worked the most are the lats and biceps. However, chin ups were found to activate the biceps and pecs more than pull ups.

On the other side pull ups activated the lower trapezious more than chin ups.

The results suggested that there is a sequence of activated muscles during these exercises.

Both pull ups and chin ups are initiated by the lower trapezius and pectoralis major and completed with biceps and lats recruitment.

Many people believe that chin ups don’t follow the same activation pattern as pull ups, thus they don’t recruit the lats in the same degree as pull ups.

However, this study found that chin ups work the lats in the same way as pull ups.

Five Mistakes That You Need To Avoid When Doing Pull Ups Or Chin Ups

1. Using Momentum

Most people do pull ups the wrong way. They grab the bar and then use momentum to go up, swinging their bodies back and forth.

2. Not Controlling the Downwards Motion

Or they lower themselves too fast.

This is wrong. The most important thing is to control the movement.

3. Doing Kipping Pull Ups

Kipping pull-ups are a pull ups “variation” that is commonly used in crossfit.

In order to perform them, you swing your body up and down. But they can be harmful for your joints.

You should better stay with the classic pull ups and chin ups and do them in a controlled motion.

4. Behind The Neck Pull Ups

Another thing I see a lot of people do is pull ups behind the neck. This practice involves a big danger for your shoulder’s health. The same applies for lat-pull downs.

Obviously, many people get away with years of doing pull ups or lat pull-downs behind the neck.

But many people will have problems over time. I would suggest you to avoid this behind the neck variation.

5. Using a Very Wide Grip To Achieve Wider Lats

Wider grip doesn’t equal wider lats.

Moreover, a very wide grip can cause shoulder injuries. An extremely wide grip reduces the range of motion while involving a risk for shoulder injury.

People usually think that a wider grip will lead to wider lats but this is not so true.

I would suggest a grip slightly outside of your shoulder width.

The fact that a wider grip doesn’t result to wider lats has also been tested by a study from The Journal of Strength and Conditioning.

This study found that a medium grip elicited the highest amount of muscle activation.

A medium grip also allows you to load more weight.

Benefits of Pull Ups For Your Body, Mind and Pocket

For Your Pocket

A pull-up bar is inexpensive and can be bought for 20$.

If you are the kind of guy/girl who can’t afford a gym membership or doesn’t have time to go to the gym you can work out easily and effectively at home using only a pull-up bar.

Even if you are completely broke and can’t buy a pull up bar you can still do pull ups at home or at a park.

Check out this video to see 4 ways to do pull ups at home without a bar:

Pull-ups are so fucking amazing because they can be done almost anywhere you can find something to hang up from. They are really handy.

You can also go to your local park and bang some pull ups there. When you will have developed an amazing body you will be a chick magnet.

Every time you go to the park you will see girls staring at you. Some might even come and talk to you and complement your muscles.

For Your Mind

Pull ups are not only a body challenging task.

They are also challenging for your mind. It’s not easy to overcome plateaus in pull ups, especially when you have reached an advanced level.

That’s why they require a lot of self-belief, determination and visualization.

If you step under the pull up bar and you are relaxed you are done.

If you step under the pull up bar without an urge to smash the bar you are done.

If you step under the pull up bar without believing that you can do one more rep than the last time you are done.

If you step under the pull up bar without wanting to break the handles with your grip’s strength then you are done.

When you do pull ups you must be ready for battle. You must be ready for war. It’s no different like entering the war zone.

Your biggest enemy is yourself and you don’t want to quit before you finish the last rep. You don’t want to quit before you do one more rep than the last time.

Constant progression in pull ups will challenge your mental limits.

what muscles do pull ups work

For Your Body

What’s the secret to achieving a sexy, impressive, V-shaped back?

Being able to lift your bodyweight plus 80 pounds with your back.

There is no secret exercise or routine except hard work.

Why are pull ups better than other exercises?

Because they are a compound movement. They involve many muscles and offer a huge potential for improvement.

At first you will be struggling to lift your bodyweight. But as you become stronger, it will be pretty easy and then you will be challenged to lift external weight.

No other exercise can do that for your back.

How to Do Pull Ups & Achieve Constant Progress

Every man should be able to do at least 10 chin ups. If you are not able to do them, then you aren’t strong enough. If you can’t lift your bodyweight 10 times it means that you are very skinny and weak for your bodyweight.

Or that you have some muscle,you have bulked up, but you lack relative strength.

There are tons of big guys out there. What matters is to be big, but be strong enough to support your size.

Either way you should strive to improve your pull ups – chin ups number.

Let’s see how you can do that:

1. Negative Pull Ups

Negative pull-ups are the most common and useful way to develop the strength needed to start doing normal pull-ups.

It’s also a great way to add some intensity to your pull ups workout even if you are already able to do a lot of them.

How are negative pull-ups done?

You start at the top and finish at the bottom almost fully stretched. You use your feet to jump over the bar and then you lower yourself down slowly.

The slower you go down the better. Your goal is to keep your back muscles under tension.

Negatives aren’t something special. Actually, they are just half pull ups. Going up can be difficult in the beginning. It’s also difficult if you have already done 12 reps and you need to do some more.

On the other side going down is easier because you only have to fight against the gravity while it drags you down.

Negatives will really help you to develop your strength and do more pull ups.

2. Use a Gym Rubber Band To Bang Some Extra Pull Ups

Your goal when doing pull ups should be to increase the number of reps you do in each workout. A great way to do that is by using a big big rubber band.

Tie the rubber band on your bar and then drag it down and wrap it around your knee.

Do as many pull ups or chin ups as you can without the rubber band.

Then use the rubber band to do some extra assisted pull ups.

Check out this video to see how to use a rubber band for extra assisted pull ups:

No matter if you are starting at 0 pull ups or 10 pull ups the rubber band will be really effective, just like negatives.

If you can’t do any pull ups at all it will help you develop some strength and you will soon start doing pull ups without it.

On the other hand, if you can already do 10-15 it’s a great way to push your body to its limits and bang some more reps.

3. Develop Your Grip’s Strength

A common cause of pull up failure is because of inadequate grip strength.

You can’t hold the bar for too much and this results in less pull ups.

Fortunately, you can develop your grip strength with the following exercises:

 A. Seated wrist curls & seated reverse wrist curls

 

what muscles do pull ups work

 

B. Reverse grip curlswhat muscles do pull ups work

 

4. Develop Your Back Through Similar Exercises

Another way to become stronger at pull ups is the obvious: become stronger at other back exercises.

In my opinion, doing negatives and assisted pull ups with the rubber band are enough to help you become stronger with pull ups.

But if you do other exercises as well, they will help you do more pull ups over the long haul. In a similar way, pull ups will help you become stronger in these exercises:

 Inverted Rows

what muscles do pull ups work
Try to pull the bar all the way to the chest and then lower your body. The most important in this exercise is to lower yourself in a controlled motion. There is no reason for being sloppy or having bad form.

You just want to get stronger. Focus on doing as many reps as you can with proper form. Loose your form only for 1-2 extra reps.It’s also important to keep your entire body in a pretty straight line from head to toes. Don’t sag or arch.

If you don’t have access to a smith machine in the gym or the necessary equipment you can also do them at home using ordinary stuff like a cylindrical tube and two chairs or two tables. Check this video here to see how.

Lat Pull Downs

what muscles do pull ups workThis is a very common exercise. The lat pull down machine can be found at most gyms and yours should have one.

They target your upper Back (Latissimus, Teres Major) and your Arm Flexors(Biceps Brachii, Brachialis) but the main muscle involved is the latissimus.

The most common mistake when using the lat pulldown machine is not keeping your head to hip body line straight.

You will notice bigger guys rocking their body to get the weight up and down. Don’t do that.

Leave your ego aside because you want to keep your body straight and in-line. Lat pulldowns can be done in front of or behind the head but I would recommend to avoid doing them behind the neck.

5. Wrist Straps/Gym gloves

If you are struggling with pull ups and chin ups, then these little equipment will really help in the beginning.

Eventually you could stop using them when you reach about 6-8 reps with proper form.

If you do that, you will probably notice that you it will be more difficult to do pull ups without them and you might drop to 3-6.

It doesn’t matter because you have managed to leave the zero zone and you will be soon back at 6-8 reps.

6. Hang from the bar.

Jump on the bar and hang on there as much as you can with a slight bend in the elbows. Try to stay on the bar a little more each time.

For instance, if today you were able to stay hanged on the bar for 30 seconds, the next time you should do it for 35 seconds and so on.

Four Extra Important Things To Keep In Mind If You Want To Progress With Pull Ups

  • Maintain proper form

This is really crucial. As Arnold says in his book “Education of a Bodybuilder” doing 5 perfect form reps is better than doing 50 sloppy ones.

You can go to failure sometimes and then you will need to do 1-2 reps with less strict form.

But generally you shouldn’t be using momentum to go up and down.

Form is very important.

  • Increase your overall reps every time 

Your goal when doing pull-ups must be to do at least one more pull-up every time.

If you did 20 pull ups today, you should do 21 in your next workout. Do this for all your exercises and you will see some interesting changes in your body.

  • Warm Up & Stretching.

It is significant to warm up before doing any exercise in order to avoid a lot of suffering.

Many people are tight in their back area.

This tightness could limit  the mobility of your back and results in less pull-ups.

PS: Are pull ups included in your workout routine?

Let me know in the comments and then SHARE this post with your friends on social media to help them build a strong and sexy upper body!

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