The ability to lift one’s own body weight with a pull-up is not just a great muscle-building exercise, but it is the true form of functional strength. The average person would not be able to perform even a single pull up as it requires a great amount of functional strength, muscle coordination, and muscle activation.
What is a close-grip pull-up
A Close-grip pull-up is a great upper body exercise that develops the inner lats and strengthens the back, arms, and core muscles. Close-grip pull-ups put a greater emphasis on your biceps and chest muscles making for better upper-body development exercise.
Close-grip pull-ups also build functional strength as it takes athleticism, and coordination to execute the exercise. These pull-ups will help you in other strength training exercises, will improve your posture, and build more muscle coordination in your body.
How to do a close grip pull-up
To perform a close grip pull-up, the hand position is the most important thing. You want your hands positioned INSIDE your shoulder-width. With that in mind, you want to jump up to the pull-up bar grabbing hold with your palms facing forward. Ideally, you want only around 6 to 8 inches between your hands.
Keeping your core tight and your back straight, pull your body upward until your chin is at the height of the bar. Pause for a second, then lower down under control to complete one rep.
Close grip pull up instructions
- Using an overhand grip, firmly grasp the pull up bar with hands side to side about 6-8 inches away from each other. The close grip ensures you emphasise your lower latissimus dorsi or lats.
- Once you get into starting position, take a deep breath in, squeeze your glutes and pull your abs in tightly. Really concentrate on the midsection when completing the motion.
- Hanging from the bar, feet off the floor, pull yourself upward by depressing your shoulder blades and pushing your elbows down to the floor. Avoid leaning and swinging your body.
- Keep lifting yourself up until your chin meets the bar and your lats contract fully. Once your chin reaches over the bar, you can begin to lower your body back down to starting position.
- Repeat the exercise.
Close grip pull-ups muscles worked
Close-grip pull-ups are the ultimate upper body exercise. Most people think of them as just being a back exercise, but we should look at them as a full upper body movement.
Pull-ups are key to developing true functional strength, the back and arms do the majority of the work, but they need many other upper body muscles to assist the movement.
Here are the muscles used when performing a close grip pull up:
- Lattismus dorsi (Primary)
- Teres major
- Levator scapulae
- Rotator cuff
- Erector spinae
Muscle activation comparison – close grip vs wide grip
The muscles used are pretty much similar to the wide-grip pull-up, but the emphasis changes when the grip becomes closer.
As the hands come closer together, the inner lats are more utilised. The latissimus dorsi as a whole is still involved with pulling the arms closer to the body which results in your upward momentum. But with a close grip, the inner lats become more activated.
The shoulders receive some more stimulus during the close grip pull up compared to the wide grip where they get to relax a bit more. The wide grip pulling motion not only lessens the shoulder activation, but it puts more emphasis on the lower lats and teres major.
With a close grip, it changes how the shoulder joint moves through the exercise. The shoulders are more engaged as the hand position requires them to also be activated as you pull your body upward, and lower under control through the eccentric phase.
The rhomboids also become more activated with the close grip and shoulder joint movement. The rhomboids are small muscles located between the shoulders and thoracic spine. During the pull-up, the contract during the downward motion of the shoulder pull, and this causes shoulder adduction.
This close grip (ideally with your hands about 6 to 8 inches apart) will also result in the lower traps becoming more activated. Since the trapezius muscle helps elevate you upward through a pull-up, the close grip moves the emphasis towards that lower area.
Close-grip pull-up biceps involvement
The other big change as far as muscle usage goes with a close grip pull up will be the bicep usage. The closer your grip goes, the more you activate your biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis.
As you pull upward with a close grip, the brachialis, and brachioradialis work in the same way they do during a hammer curl. Since you are lifting your entire body weight, they get more engagement than you would be able to lift with dumbbells.
The biceps take more of the weight load as you lift and lessen the load distributed to the lats. The lats, of course, are engaged, but not to the extent as during a wide grip pull-up.
The biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis, also get full lengthening at the bottom phase of the pull up which can result in increases in hypertrophy.
Close-grip pull-ups benefits
The first main benefit of the close grip pull up is that they will be easier to perform than the wide grip. This makes it an easier exercise to perform if you are wanting to do some bodyweight exercises but haven’t yet developed the strength required for wide grip pull-ups.
Another main benefit has to do with muscle usage. As mentioned, the wider the grip, the more lat engagement you will get. This is great to develop back development and a V-taper, but the close grip pull up may be a better choice for more muscle development.
Since the emphasis moves from just the lats with the wide grip, the close grip gives you better arm, deltoid, and even pectoral engagement. This can help a more balanced physique and can create more of a 3-D effect as far as upper body muscle development.
Since the close grip changes the emphasis on the back muscles, close grip pull-ups can help build more back thickness because of the emphasis on the inner lats and lower traps.
Wide-grip pull-ups vs close-grip pull-ups
If you are looking to build more functional strength and want to focus primarily on your lat development, wide grip pull-ups will be your exercise of choice. If you have developed a great deal of strength, the wide-grip pull-up will be more challenging than the close grip and continue to provide a great muscle stimulus.
The close-grip pull-up will be better for those who can’t perform many wide grip reps, or if they are looking to build more muscle through the arms or middle back. They won’t create as good a V-taper as a wide grip pull up, however. The close-grip pull-up may also be your superior choice if you are looking to build more balanced muscle through the upper body the way that a gymnast does. The majority of their pulling motion is more close grip-based and creates more of that 3-D muscle appearance.
The one downside here is that the close-grip pull-up may cause more strain on the shoulders so if you have any rotator cuff issues, they could be aggravated more during a close-grip pull-up. The ideal solution is to combine both close, and wide-grip pulls ups during your back or pulling days. It will help to create more variation through your workout and give the muscles through the back, and upper body, a constantly changing stimulus.
Close grip pull-up alternatives
To give some alternatives to the close grip pull-up you can position your hands so your palms are facing towards you making it a chin-up. This will engage the biceps to a higher degree.
Another option – and to really make them more challenging – is to use a towel to perform close grip pull-ups. Loop a towel over the bar so that the ends are hanging down on each side and between shoulder-width apart.
You will grip each end of the towel with your hands and perform a pull-up while holding on. This will engage all the muscles in your hands, wrists, and forearms along with the back. This exercise will build immense back, arm, wrist, and grip strength.
If you are performing a close-grip pull-up at home you will need a home or outdoor pull-up bar, Most gyms should have a pull-up bar either attached to a multi-functional exercise machine or separate on its own.