When it comes to finding exercises that are convenient and can be done from almost anywhere, pull ups definitely make the list. All one needs to complete this rewarding exercise is your body and a bar. A bar found at a local playground or a structural bar of a building will work perfectly most times. You can obviously always find a pull up bar at your local gym or health club, or you can even purchase your own fitness pull up bar that can easily be adjusted into a door frame of your home, or taken with you when you travel.
Aside from convenience, there are many other benefits from adding pull ups to your routine. Pull ups are known to be a closed kinetic chain exercise, which means that these types of exercises are considered to be more functional as far as movements, meaning that you are essentially repeatedly working muscles and parts of the body that you would typically use in daily life, while mimicking and emphasizing the movements you do daily, such a squats to pick up a child. (1)
In addition to being a closed kinetic chain exercise, pull ups are also considered a fundamental compound upper-body exercise, because not only do they target multiple muscle groups, but they undoubtedly utilize multiple joints. This means that pull ups will further activate your central nervous system, offer maximum muscle involvement and encourage more stimulation for muscle growth. (2)
The active gym goer clearly knows the importance of leg day. The importance of pull ups for your upper body and arm strength is equivalent to what lunges would do for your legs and lower body. With pull ups being one of the most essential upper body exercises for muscle growth and strength, pull ups alone target your biceps brachii and your latissimus dorsi (also known as lats) which determines how wide your back is, while giving your back the appearance of wider shoulders (with that desirably strong and muscular v-shaped look) better than any other upper body exercise out there. (3)
In fact, in a study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, on the “Surface electromyographic activation patterns and elbow joint motion during a pull-up, chin-up, or perfect-pullup rotational exercise,” found that these exercises alone activate the lats 117-130% and the biceps 78-96% out of the 21 men and four women that participated in the study. In fact, the study found that pull ups, chin ups and the perfect pull up actually activated the same muscle groups. In addition to the lats and biceps, these exercises activated the infraspinatus, lower trapezius, major pectoralis muscle (pecs), erector spinae and the external oblique. The only difference between the exercises was to which magnitude and intensity each muscle group was activated per exercise performed. Pull ups did a great job at activating and working the lower trapezius muscle, while chin-ups were most effective at activating the pectoral muscles and biceps. (4)
With pull ups being both a closed kinetic chain exercise and a largely fundamental compound upper-body exercise, you can easily and regularly increase the intensity of your workouts. It is no secret that in order to build legitimate muscle mass that you must regularly increase the intensity of your workouts for long lasting muscle building benefits. Typically, with most workout routines and exercises, they require a level of ingenuity and elaborate tinkering to further increase the intensity of your workouts. However, for pull ups, that it is not the case. All you have to do to increase your intensity with pull ups is to first and foremost find your best grip width, which should be done from the get go, but also, using advanced drop sets, wearing a weighted vest, strapping a kettlebell or weight plate to your waist, or even adding a dumbbell from your feet can certainly offer the increased intensity needed to amp up and get the most out of your pull up regimen. You can incorporate rope and peg-boarding climbing to your routine as well, which will definitely add some juice to your pull up abilities as you become more and more advanced. (5)
Just by simply adding weights, you can encourage an anabolic growth response in your muscles, and because you are working your traps, shoulders, pectoral muscles and your back, you will definitely see an increase in stronger, denser, muscle mass being built. As a result, the stronger your upper body becomes, the further you’re setting yourself up for excellence when it comes to pushing. If you can become a pro and reap all of the rewards from pulling, you will be able to further get the most from the exercises that have pushing involved. (10)
As we mentioned previously, finding the perfect grip width is essential and should be considered a priority when you begin your pull up journey. Because every person is different, personalizing your routine as much as possible and finding out what works best for you is essential to ensure you are getting the most out of your efforts. Another reason your proper grip width is important is because pull ups are also known to carry the benefit of increased grip strength. This is, of course, essential to building, shaping and strengthening your forearms. Utilizing grip builders and remembering to squeeze the bar are the two easiest ways to dominate your pull ups and build powerful grip strength. (6)
Another added benefit from pull ups is that there are many variations available. As we mentioned, there are various options such as neutral grip chin-ups, weighted chin-ups, band resisted chin ups, towel chin-ups, contrast loading chin-ups, 1.5 rep chin-ups, and super slow repetition chin-ups. (7) According to mensfitness.com in their article “The 15 Best Pull Up Variations,” when it comes to pullups, there are two different types of pullups: “There’s the bodybuilding style, where your lower back is rounded and your knees are bent, and the tactical style pull up– often used in the military and by gymnasts– where your legs are kept straight and slightly in front of your body as the pullup is completed,” says Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT, and founder of BuiltLean, who personally recommends the tactical style pull-up. “It keeps your core engaged to help protect your lower back and maximizes full-body tension.” (8) The article further gives us 15 of the top variations of pull ups that we can work with. They include: weighted pull ups, kipping pull ups, close grip pull ups, “Around-the-world” pull ups, wide-grip pull ups, muscle-up pull ups, the towel grip pull up (mentioned previously), L-sit pull ups, single arm pull ups, etc. (8) The list of variations go on and on, which is a great benefit because options are limitless to further help us maximize workouts. Pull ups offer the versatility and flexibility through different variations alone that allow us to switch things up, never get bored, and most importantly, to continuously work out and challenge our upper body muscles on a regular basis through different variations.
Another added benefit from incorporating pull ups into your fitness routine, whether your primary goal is to build a better, stronger upper body and core, improve your grip strength, or achieve that desirable look of broader shoulders and a powerful looking v-shape, is that the use of pull ups can also activate fat loss. No, pull ups are not exactly cardio, but as with most any exercise, it will increase your heart rate. Further according to an article posted on menshealth.com, “5 fat-loss myths,” they write that “A metabolic exercise doesn’t have to make you out of breath to be effective.” It is highlighted that resistance training and exercises like pull ups are a great way to boost your metabolism. Studies have even shown that these types of exercises can boost your metabolism for up to 72 hours post workout.
No matter the goal, pull ups should be the most important part of your workout routine. Not only can this simple exercise help with weight loss and building an amazing upper body, but any exercise that focuses on the back and core strength can and will improve posture, reduce back pain, and add core strength, which aids in posture and flexibility within the spine. Furthermore, pull ups can prevent and reverse muscular imbalances that can occur from overuse of push body movement exercises. When you focus more on pushing than pulling, you underuse your back, causing you to aid in under development of your back muscles. This type of muscular imbalance can further lead to unwanted, uncomfortable injuries to the back and completely debilitate and affect your posture. (10)
As you can see, the benefits of pull ups are virtually endless. Although the idea of pull ups may be intimidating at first, ensuring you have the proper form and grip, and the will to try, is all you need to get started. Maintaining proper form to ensure the quality of your efforts is key to continued success. As time passes, you will notice that your pull ups are becoming easier and easier. Once your pull ups become a walk in the park, you will notice that your strength has improved and your posture is amazing. Because pull ups are so versatile and have many variations, it’s pretty impossible to ever get bored with your pull up routine, and as they become easier, you can always find innovative ways to add weights and strength to further increase the intensity for maximum benefits. Lastly, pull ups have become “the” exercise for “upper body and arm day.” Naturally, we know to never miss leg day, and every leg day requires squats and or lunges, but pull ups are at the same level of importance for the upper body as squats and lunges are for the lower parts of the body. Adding pull ups to your routine is a way to build that stronger and sexier upper body for which you’ve been striving, and it offers just the boost you need to never want to miss “arm and upper back day,” again.