When it comes to pull ups, most people know about wide grip pull ups, close grip pull ups, and the classic chin up. But the neutral grip pull up is becoming more and more popular over time. The reason? Not only does switching your grip up help you to avoid repetitive strain injuries, but neutral grip pull ups are one of the best forearm builders in town!
In this article, we will teach you what a neutral grip pull up is, what benefits it offers, what muscles it works, and how to perform it perfectly. We will also help you to avoid common mistakes and find alternatives that can provide similar benefits.
What is a neutral grip pull-up?
A neutral grip pull-up is a form of pull-up in which the palms face each other similar to a hammer curl grip. This type of pull up is a good option for those starting out as you are more likely to perform more repetitions when doing them before building up to other, more challenging, pull up variations.
In this grip, your hands will face each other, and your arms should be shoulder-width apart – or closer depending on the spacing between the bars. You need a pull up bar with a set of neutral handles attached to perform this exercise.
How to Perform a Neutral Grip Pull Up
Here are the steps to performing a Neutral Grip Pull Up:
- Grabbing the parallel pull-up bar, start by hanging freely with your arms extended. This will be your starting position.
- Keep your head up, core tight, breath outward and pull yourself upwards by flexing the elbows and make sure to keep your elbows from flailing outward
- Bring your chin to at least the height of the bar, pause for a second, inhale, then lower back to the starting position.
- Repeat as many as you can while maintaining good form and aim for at least two to three sets to build strength and muscle to your lats, biceps, forearms, and traps.
Make sure to warm up properly beforehand with 5 to 10 minutes of cardio and some dynamic stretching to get the heart rate up and blood flow to the muscle.
You can also do some warm-up sets using a lat pulldown to activate the lats and biceps to get ready for the pull-up. It’s a good idea to perform big movements like pull-ups earlier in your workout when your strength is at its highest level.
Tip: While pulling down your elbows, tighten your glutes to avoid arching your back.
As with all the different forms of pull-ups and chin-ups, you want to make sure not to swing your body or use momentum to hoist yourself upwards. This not only can lead to injury but is preventing you from using the muscles properly.
Neutral grip pull-up benefits
One of the main benefits of neutral grip pull-ups is that it gives you a different option for performing pull-ups. These grips recruit different muscles and is a good way of switching things up.
When you continuously perform the same exercises, your muscles can get used to the movement and end up not responding as well.
Giving your muscles variation is key in producing better results for strength and muscle gain. It can also help you to avoid repetitive strain injuries such as Tennis elbow.
You will build more forearm and wrist strength along with improving your grip. This will help you in other lifts, specifically deadlifts and barbell rows.
You also have the many benefits that any form of pull up will provide:
- Abdominal and core strength increases
- Improved upper back development
- Build bigger biceps
Neutral grip pull-up muscles worked
Here is a list of muscles worked when performing a neutral grip pull up:
- Lattismus dorsi
- Terres major
- Brachioradialis and brachialis
- Deltoids/rotator cuff
- Rectus Abdominus
With a neutral grip pull-up, you’re still working a majority of the muscles in the upper body. This time, there is more emphasis on certain muscles through the biceps, brachialis, and forearms compared to wide grip pull-ups or chin-ups.
Neutral grip pull-ups are a truly functional exercise as the ability to lift one’s own body weight is a true test of functional strength. Your upper body has to work in unison to pull and control your weight.
Pull-ups lend themselves to everyday strength and also improve athleticism and coordination.
Your lats will be the primary muscles used during the motion, but still have to work in conjunction with the scapula, traps, rhomboids, teres major, along with your arms in order to execute a rep.
Even though this is a pulling motion your pectoral muscles and deltoids will still be partially involved as there is an element of shoulder extension.
Studies have shown that the abdominal muscles are the most activated muscle during any form of pull up. More than the lats, traps, biceps, or even the deltoids. Start thinking of pull ups as one of the best core exercises out there, as well as one of the best upper back and bicep exercises.
One advantage with neutral grip pull-ups over the other variations is that the neutral grip is easier on the shoulders. This is due to the fact your hand position is now facing inward as opposed to out.
If you are suffering from any shoulder instability, this closer grip and hand position will make it more likely that you can perform them. The neutral grip pull-up also engages your core as it’s paramount to keep as still as possible throughout the motion.
Neutral Grip Pull Up Alternatives
One alternative to the neutral grip pull up is to use a towel. This not only places more emphasis on your forearms, but it also allows you to perform neutral grip pull ups on a regular pull up bar (without the neutral handles). This will build immense strength through the wrists, forearms, and tremendously improve your grip strength.
The neutral grip pull-up will be the most manageable of all the grips, so some other alternatives include doing weighted versions to give yourself more resistance. You can hook a dumbbell between your feet or use weights hanging from a belt to make the exercise more challenging.
You can also perform negative reps when you have hit failure during your set. Once you can’t complete another repetition with good form, jump up – or use a box – to get you to the top of the pull-up movement then lower yourself under control. You can do a few more reps this way to get extra engagement and fully exhaust the muscle.
Another option is to perform assisted pull-ups using a partner. When you get to the point of failure, your partner will lend assistance by helping push your upper body through the sticking points. It’s important that your partner doesn’t propel you by doing a majority of the work, but give you just enough assistance so you can complete a few more reps.
If you have access to an assisted pull up machine, then you can use that too. This is particularly useful if you have hypertrophy goals (which can require higher rep sets), or if you are tired.
Neutral-Grip Pull Up Versus Regular Chin-Ups
As has been mentioned, you will be more likely to perform a greater number of reps using a neutral grip compared to regular chin-ups. This is good to help build your pull-up form to be able to execute more regular pull-ups and chin-ups.
The regular chin-up is going to recruit your biceps more but it still a good exercise to improve upper body strength and lean muscle gains.
With a regular chin-up, you will be grabbing the bar with your palms facing towards you and this better engages the biceps. The neutral grip will better help develop your forearm and brachialis strength (the muscle that sits under the biceps) leading to bigger, stronger arms.
Equipment needed to Perform neutral grip pull-ups
You can perform neutral grip pull ups at home with a home pull-up bar. Make sure it has the parallel handles, and many of these can be installed over a doorway for home workouts at any time.
If you are going to add in resistance, equipment will include:
Other optional equipment include:
- Hanging weight belts
- Boxes, bench, or chair
If you are working out in a gym, you have a few options: Most gyms will have a combination bar that gives you multiple grips to perform pull-ups, chin-ups, and parallel handles for neutral grip pull-ups. You can find these attached to squat rack cages, cable crossover machines, and even as its own standing unit combined with dip bars.
Some gyms have assisted pull-up machines with neutral grip handles. These allow you to add weight to make it an assisted exercise, taking away the need to lift your own weight. You can work up to the point where you are using half assistance/half your own weight, and progress to the point where you don’t need to use the machine.
Neutral grip pull-up progression
If you can’t do a pull-up, there are things you can do in order to progress up to one. Start by performing exercises that mimic the pull-up including lat pulldowns, one arm dumbbell rows, inverted rows, and bent-over barbell rows. These exercises will build your pulling strength while also building up your lats, arms, and grip strength – all things needed for pull-ups.
Building up core and abdominal strength is another consideration. As we mentioned earlier, your abdominals are the most activated muscle during a pull up, and many people fail to perform pull ups due to a weak core. Planks, crunches, and exercises such as deadlifts can make a huge difference to your core strength which will help with your pull ups in the long term.
Now you can move on to negative pull-ups. This will involve jumping up to grab the bar, or standing on a box or bench. Start at the top of the pull-up position and then lower yourself down under control.
These negative reps will help build the strength required for pull-ups and build the muscles involved in them. Lower down for a 3 to 4-second count. Aim for as many negative reps as you feel you can do while keeping under control.
Try doing these for a week or two.
Next, you can start doing assisted pull-ups by using a resistance band which will help propel you upwards. You will be providing your own strength but getting a boost from the band.
You can also use a box or bench to assist in propelling you upwards. Just make sure not to push yourself straight up but use just enough momentum to get you moving upwards. Aim for 8 to 10 repetitions in this manner over a week or two.
Using an assisted pull up machine can also help. They are often looked down upon by personal trainers, but they certainly have their uses. They are very easy to progress, as you can lower the counter weight by small fractions each time until you are able to perform them without assistance.
By now, you should be able to try one pull-up on your own, if not more. Aim for at least one, and when you can’t do another one, use the band or box to continue on the reps with assistance. The idea from here is to perform as many reps as you can on your own before using the band, box, or partner. Ideally, you will be able to get up to 8 to 10 repetitions on your own which makes for an ideal set.
Mistakes to avoid
The key thing to avoid is to not swing and propel yourself upwards. Not only can this potentially cause injury, but it is also cheating you out of a proper pull-up. You also want to avoid lowering yourself down too fast. This causes you to miss out on gaining true muscle and can also cause unnecessary damage to your back and rotator cuffs.
A few other mistakes to avoid include:
- Doing variations of a pull-up that are too hard at first
- Not extending low enough
- Not pulling yourself up high enough
- Letting your elbows flail outward
- Not breathing properly
- Not keeping your shoulders back
- No Kipping pull ups
If you’ve ever looked at a gymnast you probably noticed how they have some of the best physiques in all of sports. This is because they are constantly pulling and lowering their entire body weight. They have amazing upper body strength and genuine functional strength. This is what makes the pull up such a valuable exercise.
The neutral grip pull-up is an ideal pull-up choice as not only are they more manageable, but still will build great strength and muscle with a bit more arm recruitment. If they haven’t been a part of your workout, now is the time to start adding them in.