Pull Ups
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Pull Up Variations and Grips

Pull ups are an effective and efficient exercise that can be done pretty much anywhere – the gym, at home or even in the playground. Another benefit includes independence, as they can be done without a personal trainer.

Start your routine with stretching exercises or even light cardio exercises to prevent injuries.

It goes without saying that form and technique are essential to a safe and trenchant workout. Improper form can lead to sprains, fractures, and strains whether you’re using an overhand grip, underhand, neutral, or mixed pull-up.

Which muscle groups you’re working depends on your grip. Pull ups mainly activate the lower trapezius (traps) muscle. With that said, keep reading to learn about the pull up variations and grips that build the upper body and improve overall fitness.

Pull Up Grips

The progressive gym-goer knows the importance of pull ups. He can teach the beginner the particular workout routines and exercises that are most effective at activating specific muscle groups.

You can benefit from pull ups alone or try wearing a weighted vest, using a kettlebell or dumbbell to increase the intensity. However, when it comes to pull ups, it’s to your advantage to use the correct pull up bar and use the grip that’s best suited to you and your goals.

Here are 4 different pull up grips:

We will discuss each one further below.

Overhand grip

The overhand grip has its advantages inasmuch as it has disadvantages. Depending on the bodybuilder’s experience, the overhand grip could be difficult to do. Choose the overhand grip for pulling movements. It puts more of the weight load on your lats. Because the grip is wide, the other muscles don’t support the lats as it normally would using another variation of the pull up grip.

Underhand grip

You may recognise the underhand grip by another name. It’s commonly referred to as the reverse or supinated grip or even a chin-up. Some people prefer the underhand grip and that simply means you hold the bar from underneath with your palms away from your body. Not only that, but your shoulders are wide apart. Because of the hand placement, you use your arms or biceps more than your back.

Neutral grip

You’ll find this pull up variation makes a huge difference in your sessions when you compare it to pull ups with the palms facing away from the body. If you want to distribute the load and work multiple muscle groups, try the neutral grip.

The hand position or type of grip makes this workout the body builder’s go-to. It’s great for beginners who want to build strength and reduce shoulder strain.

Mixed grip

Trainers or experienced bodybuilders suggest using the mixed grip as an alternate. It’s especially useful if you are using a weight belt or find the standard pull up or the chin up difficult. All you need to do is to place one hand in the overhand (palms facing forward) position and the other hand in the underhand (palms facing you) position.

The results are bulging biceps and a superior V-shaped back. The bonus is it helps define the middle region, and it reduces fatigue.

Pull Up Variations

With any gym experience or none, you may know certain exercises will bring about different results. To use a variation of those exercises means you will have to meet and overcome the challenges that come with it. That being said, it would be to your benefit to try as many grip variations as possible. This will allow you to work with each of the muscle groups and build stamina and optimal strength.

Here are some pull up variations you can add to your workouts:

  1. The Classic Pull Up
  2. Wide grip pull up
  3. Narrow Grip Pull Ups
  4. Neutral Grip Pull Up
  5. Towel Pull Up
  6. Negative Pull Up
  7. Scapular Pull Up
  8. Pull-Up with Leg Raises
  9. Walking Pull Up
  10. Weighted Pull Up
  11. Around the World Pull Up
  12. Muscle Ups
  13. Butterfly Pull Up

The Classic Pull Up

normal pull up

You may recall the classic pull-up as it’s like the chin-up, except the palms face away from the body. Some people know to use the pronated grip or overhand grip when they want to work the lower traps or lats rather than put the focus on the chest and arms. If you have trouble getting into the starting position, trying using a step stool.

Tip: Don’t forget to squeeze your abs as you lower your body into a hanging position.

Wide Grip Pull Up

How to do wide grip pull ups

The only difference between the wide grip pull up and the conventional pull up is the wide grip. Because of the difference, it puts more emphasis on the lats, where it should be in this case. While some people use an angled bar, use a straight bar.

However, the range of motion will not be as great if you compare it to the conventional pull up and this is only because the arms are not as close.

Narrow / Close Grip Pull Up

This is perhaps the only pull up in which it’s okay to lean back in the starting position. You also want to grip the bar with a narrow grip meaning hands should be about eight inches apart.

As you pull up, you should feel the intensiveness of the narrow grip in the chest, skeletal muscles, rear deltas, lower lats, upper arms, and forearms. 

Neutral Grip Pull Up

Neutral Grip Pull Up

The neutral grip pull up is yet another strengthening variation. And because there are variations in the grips, there will be differences in which muscle groups are affected.

The neutral grip is not as difficult to do as the chin up, but it requires the right equipment, try using a set of parallel handles or a pair of gymnastic rings.

Towel Pull Up

Towel Pull up

The Towel Grip Pull Up is easy to do, or at least on paper, but first, you’ll need to secure the equipment.

Grab a couple of old towels, but make sure they can hold the load. Stay away from weak, decrepit looking rags or else they will fail you at the worst possible moment.

Next, throw the towels over the bar so they are the same length on both sides and shoulder-width apart.

Take firm hold of the towels, like in the middle and pull up like normal. Because you’re using the towels, it should put more emphasis on your core and consequently, improve your grip.

Negative Pull Up

pull up negatives

You’re going to need something to stand on for this variation. Grab a bench or some kind of sturdy and stable platform and get into starting position.

Starting position for the Negative Pull Up is basically remembering your palms should not be facing you and your hands should be shoulder-width apart on the bar.

Once your chin reaches the level of the bar, step off the platform.

Use control movements to lower your body down. Your arms should be extended fully to complete this set.

Scapular Pull Up

scapula pull up

For now, let’s start the exercise by hanging down from the bar. Some experts say it doesn’t matter which way the palms face. However, others suggest the palms should face away from the body and you should place your hands just passed your shoulders.

Stretch your arms up so they are straight above you. Change your stance so it appears as if you’re shrugging your shoulders a little bit, but only in the reverse.

Pull the scap down and together so you’re able to lift your bodyweight and pause. Hold this position for a second, then go back to step one.

Check your form and make sure you’re not bending your elbows.

Tip: Practising the scapular pull up regularly will make it easier to climb rocks or mountains even when you’re ready for some real excitement.

Pull Up with Leg Raises

pull up leg raises

The pull up with leg raise is a two-in-one workout in that it simply combines the leg raise and pull up. In doing so, it challenges both the core and the back muscles to lift the legs.

To complete the set, go through the normal steps of executing a pull up – take the bar into your hands, palms facing away from the body, shoulder-width apart.

Flex your abs, lats, and arms and as you lift, slowly bring your legs up with you. It should look as though you’re sitting down with your legs stretched out in front of you.

While you’re in this position, take a pause and concentrate on the midsection. You should feel the tension in your core and pulling muscles.

Now, carefully lower your legs and repeat movements

Walking Pull Up

This variation can prove a bit challenging for most gym-goers. The slower you walk through the pull ups, the more difficult it will be.

Begin the Walking Pull Up standing on a solid platform.

With your grip shoulder-width apart and palms facing away from you, remove your legs from the platform.

Slowly begin to move your legs as you would if you were walking while you lift and lower your body.

Return to the platform and dismount after completing a few reps.

Weighted Pull Up

The weighted pull up targets the shoulders, biceps, core, and back muscle groups. The only thing different in this variation is you’ll be adding weight.

As an example, we’ll use the weight belt.

Secure the belt around your waistline.

Place your hands on the bar and pull your bodyweight up so that your chin reaches the bar.

Slowly lower your body down and you’re done.

Around the World Pull Up

Start with your grip beyond shoulder width and hang your body down using the pull up bar.

Flex your lats and begin the exercise going counter-clockwise.

Pull upward to the right and keep moving until you reach the middle of the bar. Once there, your chin should meet with the bar.

Continue making the circular movements until you return to starting position with arms fully extended.

Repeat clockwise.

Muscle Ups

When done the right way, this strengthening exercise works not only the lats, but the entire upper region.

Take the rings using a false grip. The base of your palms should be on top of the rings. Pull up by pulling the elbows down and to your side.

As you reach the top, pull the rings up to your armpits are and roll your shoulders using forward movements. Your elbows should move straight back. This will allow you to smoothly go into the dip.

Extend through the elbow to complete the exercise.

Butterfly Pull Ups

Butterfly pull ups are another variation of the classic pull up. Bodybuilders say they are a little difficult to learn. You may need to practice before becoming the master of butterfly pull ups.

Start by swinging your feet out in front of you. You should also flex your core and hips. Put your shoulders in motion so your swinging away from the bar.

Now, pull up using your arms. While you’re doing that, extend your hips so your body is straight. Now lean back and arch your chest.

Pull your body up and through the bar, then start lowering yourself back down but control the movements. Make sure your feet are in a position to begin the next rep.

Adnan Munye

A certified personal trainer, Adnan specialises in weight loss, muscle building, body conditioning, core strengthening and injury rehabilitation. Adnan comes from a sporting background, where he has played football, badminton, rugby, and swimming all at various levels.

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