Pull Ups: What Muscles Does It Target and Benefits

What Muscles Do Pull Ups Target Pull ups are extremely..

Pull Ups: What Muscles Does It Target and Benefits

What Muscles Do Pull Ups Target

Pull ups are extremely challenging exercises. While hanging on the bar, you must use the muscles of your upper body to pull your body up to the bar.

Then, slowly lower your body down.

When mastered, however, pull ups can potentially yield excellent results. They tone your arms and give you the V-shape on your back that swimmers develop.

Always consult your doctor before beginning this or any new exercise regimen.

Latissimus Dorsi

The main action involved during a pull up is shoulder adduction, moving the upper arm bone into the body.

The muscle mainly responsible for this action is the latissimus dorsi. The latissimus dorsi is shaped like a triangle.

The base of the triangle represents the origin of the muscle, adjoining your middle and lower spine. The top of the triangle represents the insertion of the latissimus dorsi, stretching out to your upper arm bone.

During a pull up, the latissimus dorsi tugs on the upper arm bone, adducting it into the body. As a result, your body rises to the bar.

Teres Major, Infraspinatus and Teres Minor

The infraspinatus spans the entire backside of your shoulder blade and stretches out to your upper arm bone.

Below the infraspinatus is the teres minor, and below the teres minor is the teres major.

Both the teres minor and teres major commence on the shoulder blade and stretch out to the upper arm bone.

Together these three muscles assist the latissimus dorsi in shoulders adduction during the pull up. This is the action that moves your upper arm bone into your body, lifting your body up to the bar.

Pectoralis Major and Coracobrachialis

Imagine a Japanese hand fan turning 90 degrees. The top of the fan represents the origin of the pectoralis major, which spans the length of breastbone.

The bottom of the fan represents the insertion of the pectoralis major, stretching out to the upper arm bone.

The coracobrachialis starts on the front of the shoulder joint and stretches out to the upper arm bone.

Conjointly, the these two muscles assist the latissimus dorsi in shoulder adduction during the pull up. This action moves your upper arm bone in, and lifts your body up to the bar.

Long Head of the Triceps

The triceps muscle is made up of three heads: lateral, long and medial. All three straighten the arm at the elbow, because they all lengthen down the upper arm bone and into the elbow joint.

However, the long head is the only head of the triceps that commences at the shoulder blade. Therefore, it performs an additional action that the lateral and medial heads do not: shoulder adduction.

Accordingly, the long head of the triceps contributes to the movement of the upper arm bone into your body as well as lifting your body up to the bar during the pull up.

What are the Benefits of Pull Ups

They’re A Great Form Of Cardio

Ok, whilst you can’t really compare pull ups to jogging on the treadmill, or swimming laps in the pool, pull ups are still very beneficial when it comes to cardiovascular conditioning.

They are tough, there is no denying that, and because of that, your body is forced to work very hard, more energy will be used, more calories will be burnt, and your heart rate will increase.

This means that not only will you get fitter and benefit from greater cardiovascular conditioning, but on top of that, you will also burn fat much more effectively as well, which is a huge benefit for anybody looking to lean down and drop a few pounds in the process.

Many Variations

One of the best benefits of pullups is that there are so many different variations of the pullup.

The great thing is that one variation doesn’t require any additional equipment than another variation. All you’ve got to do is change up your grip.

My favorite variation is the regular ole’ fashioned wide, overhand pullup. This is the best variation for getting your lats to grow nice and wide.

Some other good variations are close grip pullups , and reverse grip pullups (also known as chinups).

I find that all of these variations do a great job of targeting my back, but reverse grip pullups (chinups) place more emphasis on the biceps.

I noticed a lot of progress in my bicep development once I started doing chin ups. So if you want big arms, make sure you’re doing chin ups

They’re Great For Strengthening Your Grip

Some people have naturally stronger grips than others, and if your grip strength leaves a lot to be desired, pull ups could be absolutely ideal.

With pull ups, you are using your arms to basically pull your entire body weight up and into the air, and so as you are gripping onto the bar, you need to ensure that your grip strength does not give out.

If you’re a serious bodybuilder, than having good grip strength is a must. Fortunately, pullups are the perfect exercise for strengthening your grip.

They’re Very Convenient

Another one of the main benefits of pull ups, is the fact that they’re so extremely convenient, which in turn, makes them very popular as well.

Pull ups can be performed virtually anywhere, providing you have a safe and secure structure to use to pull yourself up in the first place, and because of that, a lot of people will perform them when they’re in a rush, or when they’re lacking equipment.

As they’re great compound exercises, you can basically work multiple muscle groups at once, all with the same exercise.

This means you don’t need to train in a gym necessarily, which is great for anybody struggling for time.

They’re Perfect For Training The Back

Finally, the last benefit of pull ups that we’ll be looking at today, is simply the fact that they are so perfect for training the back.

As mentioned, many IFBB pro bodybuilders rely heavily on pull ups for back training, with many of them actually prefer them to back machines and exercises such as lat pull downs.

Pull ups add to the back, they build strength, they increase definition, and they target multiple muscle groups in the back at once.

For anybody out there looking for an effective back exercise, pull ups are, without question, one of, if not the most, effective back exercises you could ever wish for.

5 Tips to Perform More Pull Ups

While Pull Ups can help enhance the whole body, performing a million reps of any single exercise is boring (and could lead to overuse injuries).

Make sure you incorporate these tips into your next Pull Up routine if you want to maximize your numbers.

Tip #1: How to Pull Up Without Risking Your Shoulders

Save Your Joints!

You might have seen or experienced trainees giving each other crap about not hanging completely at the bottom of each rep, don’t get involved in this!

Rather than simply hanging at the bottom of each repetition (which puts unnecessary strain on your tendons and ligaments), start each rep with your shoulders tucked into their sockets and your elbows at a slightly bent position.

This will allow you to perform more reps without the joint pain that comes from complete hanging lock outs.

Tip #2: Pull Up with Your Back! (Not Just Your Arms)

Standard Pull Ups should be performed with a focus on the lats, rather than the arms and shoulders.

If you can’t feel your back being used. Try warming up with a set of Kettlebell Rows, Double High Pulls, Body Rows, or Extended Push Ups.

You can also have someone poke or slap your lats to “wake them up.”

Tip #3: There is No Such Thing as a “Partial” Pull Up

Complete the Reps! Make sure you’re performing full reps; don’t stop when your eyes are level with the bar, get your chin over it each time.

If you find that by the fifth rep, you’re barely making it. it might be time to stop or switch to an easier variation (Chin Ups or Neutral Grip Pull Ups).

Tip #4: There Are 10,000 Types of Pull Ups, Use Them All!

Mix It Up! As you try to increase your Pull Up numbers, remember to mix up your technique. You need to hit all the muscles involved in Pull Ups from every angle in order to improve.

There are variations that can cover several different aspects of fitness, including Grip Strength, Explosiveness, and Full Body Strength).

Here are some examples of each: Grip (Mix Grip Pull Ups, Narrow Grip Chin Ups, 1-Arm Assisted Pull Ups), Explosiveness (Clap Pull Ups, Switch Pull Ups, In & Out Pull Ups), Strength (Side-to-Side Pull Ups, L-Sit Pull Ups, Burpee Pull Ups).

Tip #5: A Day is 24 Hours Long; Plenty of Time for Pull Ups!

Grease the Groove! This is a popular strength training technique that I’ve used in the past to increase my pull up and pressing numbers.

It’s simple: perform a set of Pull Ups (or a different variation each time) every 2-3 hours during the day.

Even if you’re only able to do a couple at a time, you’ll be able to perform dozens over the course of a day.

Again, shoulder joint mobility training is essential for using this technique.


Daniel Messer, RNutr, CPT

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