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5 Best Types of Pull Ups to Maximize Muscle Growth

Pull-ups are an indispensable and highly effective exercise in the realm of strength training and muscle growth.

As a compound movement, pull-ups engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, making them a fundamental part of any comprehensive workout routine.

Beyond the classic pull-up, there are several variations that offer distinct muscle-targeting benefits, allowing individuals to tailor their training to specific areas of focus and achieve more balanced muscle development.

In this article, we will delve into the significance of pull-ups in the context of strength training and muscle growth. We’ll explore the various types of pull-ups and the specific muscle groups they target, providing insights into how each variation contributes to overall fitness and body composition goals.

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Whether you are a beginner looking to incorporate pull-ups into your routine for the first time or an experienced fitness enthusiast seeking to maximize muscle growth, understanding the nuances of different pull-up types will empower you to design a well-rounded and effective training plan. So, let’s embark on a journey to explore the five best types of pull-ups that can significantly impact your strength, muscle development, and overall athletic performance.

Wide-Grip Pull-Ups

Wide-grip pull-ups are a popular variation of the classic pull-up, characterized by a wider hand placement on the pull-up bar. In this exercise, the hands are positioned wider than shoulder-width apart, engaging different muscle groups compared to the standard grip.

The wide grip places additional emphasis on the lats, teres major, and posterior deltoids, making it an excellent choice for those aiming to develop a broader back and enhance upper body strength.

Targeted Muscle Groups:

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats): The wide grip maximizes the involvement of the latissimus dorsi, the large muscles of the back responsible for the V-shaped appearance and overall width of the upper body.

Teres Major: This muscle works in synergy with the lats and plays a crucial role in shoulder stability and movement.

Posterior Deltoids: The rear shoulder muscles are effectively engaged during wide-grip pull-ups, aiding in shoulder extension and overall shoulder strength.

Benefits for Muscle Growth and Strength Development:

Wide-grip pull-ups offer several key benefits for muscle growth and strength development:

Hypertrophy: The wide grip increases the range of motion and muscle activation, promoting greater muscle hypertrophy in the targeted areas. This, in turn, leads to a more well-defined and muscular back.

Upper Body Strength: As a compound exercise, wide-grip pull-ups engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, helping to build overall upper body strength and functional fitness.

Core Stabilization: Proper execution of wide-grip pull-ups requires core engagement to maintain stability, contributing to improved core strength and balance.

Proper Form and Variations to Challenge Yourself:

To perform wide-grip pull-ups with proper form:

  • Hang from the pull-up bar with a wide overhand grip, arms fully extended, and shoulders relaxed.
  • Engage your core and pull yourself up towards the bar until your chin is above the bar or close to it.
  • Lower yourself back down in a controlled manner, fully extending your arms at the bottom of the movement.

Variations to challenge yourself include:

Weighted Wide-Grip Pull-Ups: Add extra resistance using a weight belt or a dumbbell between your feet to increase the challenge and promote further muscle growth.

Wide-Grip Pull-Up Holds: Pause at the top of each rep and hold for a few seconds to enhance muscle endurance and strength.

L-sit Wide-Grip Pull-Ups: Raise your legs in an L-sit position as you perform the pull-up, engaging your core and lower abdominals even more.

Incorporating wide-grip pull-ups into your workout routine can significantly contribute to a well-developed back, increased upper body strength, and overall muscle growth. As with any exercise, proper form and gradual progression are essential for safety and optimal results.

Weighted Pull-Ups

Weighted pull-ups are a challenging variation of the traditional pull-up, where additional resistance is added to the body to increase the intensity of the exercise.

This is typically achieved by wearing a weight belt with weight plates attached or holding a dumbbell or kettlebell between the feet. Weighted pull-ups are widely regarded as a superior strength training exercise, providing a pathway to progressive overload and enhanced muscle hypertrophy.

Equipment Needed and Safety Considerations:

To perform weighted pull-ups safely and effectively, you’ll need the following equipment:

  • Weight Belt: A sturdy weight belt designed to hold weight plates securely around your waist is essential. Ensure it fits properly and doesn’t cause discomfort during the exercise.
  • Weight Plates or Dumbbells: Select appropriate weight plates or a dumbbell that suits your strength and fitness level. Start with a manageable weight and gradually increase it over time.

Safety considerations when performing weighted pull-ups include:

  • Proper Form: Maintain a controlled and stable motion throughout the exercise. Avoid swinging or using momentum to lift the weight.
  • Warm-up: Always warm up your upper body and shoulders before attempting weighted pull-ups to prevent injury.
  • Spotter: If possible, have a spotter nearby to assist you during the exercise, especially when using heavy weights.

Targeted Muscle Groups:

Weighted pull-ups engage various muscle groups, including:

  • Biceps: The biceps work to flex the elbow joint during the pulling motion.
  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats): The lats are the primary muscles responsible for the pulling action, helping to bring the body upward toward the bar.
  • Trapezius (Traps): The traps play a role in stabilizing the scapulae and shoulders during the movement.
  • Rhomboids: These muscles are involved in retracting and stabilizing the shoulder blades as you pull yourself up.

Progressive Overload with Weights for Increased Muscle Hypertrophy:

Weighted pull-ups offer a unique advantage in terms of progressive overload, a fundamental principle for muscle growth.

By gradually increasing the weight load over time, you challenge your muscles to adapt and grow stronger. This increased resistance stimulates muscle hypertrophy, leading to more substantial gains in size and strength.

To apply progressive overload effectively:

  • Start with a conservative amount of weight that allows you to perform a sufficient number of reps with good form.
  • As you become more proficient, gradually add small increments of weight, ensuring you can still complete your target rep range.
  • Aim for sets of 6-12 reps, as this range has been shown to optimize muscle hypertrophy.
  • Consistently track your progress and adjust the weight accordingly to keep pushing your muscles to new levels of growth.

Incorporating weighted pull-ups into your training regimen can significantly accelerate muscle development, improve upper body strength, and provide a challenging yet rewarding fitness goal.

As always, focus on proper form, progressive resistance, and listen to your body to achieve the best possible results while minimizing the risk of injury.

Close-Grip Pull-Ups

Close-grip pull-ups are a variation of the traditional pull-up where the hands are positioned closer together on the pull-up bar, typically at shoulder-width or slightly narrower. This variation alters the mechanics of the exercise and shifts the focus to different muscle groups, making it an excellent choice for individuals seeking to target specific areas of the upper body.

Targeted Muscle Groups:

Close-grip pull-ups primarily target the following muscle groups:

Biceps: With the hands placed closer together, the biceps play a more significant role in elbow flexion during the pulling phase.

Rhomboids: The rhomboids are engaged to a higher degree in close-grip pull-ups as they help retract and stabilize the shoulder blades.

Rear Deltoids: The rear deltoids, located at the back of the shoulders, are actively involved in the pulling motion.

Unique Benefits for Upper Body Strength and Muscle Engagement:

Incorporating close-grip pull-ups into your workout routine offers several unique benefits for upper body strength and muscle engagement:

Biceps Emphasis: Close-grip pull-ups place greater stress on the biceps, aiding in their development and promoting stronger arm muscles.

Rhomboid Activation: The emphasis on the rhomboids helps improve posture and upper back strength, leading to a more stable and controlled pulling motion.

Rear Deltoid Development: Close-grip pull-ups target the rear deltoids, which are often overlooked in standard pull-ups, resulting in a more balanced shoulder development.

Grip Strength: The narrower hand placement requires increased grip strength, providing an opportunity to enhance grip and forearm muscles.

Avoiding Common Mistakes and Modifications for All Fitness Levels:

To maximize the effectiveness and safety of close-grip pull-ups, it is crucial to avoid common mistakes and make appropriate modifications based on your fitness level:

  • Proper Form: Maintain a controlled and smooth motion throughout the exercise. Avoid swinging or using momentum to pull yourself up.
  • Gradual Progression: If you are new to close-grip pull-ups, start with assisted versions, such as using resistance bands or an assisted pull-up machine, until you build enough strength to perform bodyweight close-grip pull-ups.
  • Avoiding Excessive Shoulder Strain: If you experience shoulder discomfort, consider reducing the width of your grip slightly or consulting a fitness professional to ensure proper form.
  • Use of Grip Aids: For those with limited grip strength, using chalk or grip-enhancing aids can help maintain a secure grip on the bar during close-grip pull-ups.
  • Full Range of Motion: Strive to complete each rep with a full range of motion, starting from a dead hang and pulling yourself up until your chin clears the bar.

Close-grip pull-ups offer a valuable addition to any upper body strength routine, emphasizing the biceps, rhomboids, and rear deltoids.

By incorporating proper form and making necessary modifications, individuals of all fitness levels can benefit from this exercise, experiencing enhanced muscle engagement and improved upper body strength. As with any exercise, consistency and progressive overload are key to achieving desired results and minimizing the risk of injury.

Commando Pull-Ups

Commando pull-ups, also known as “climber pull-ups,” are an advanced variation of the traditional pull-up that challenges your upper body strength and grip.

In this exercise, instead of using a standard overhand grip, you utilize an alternating grip, with one palm facing towards you (supinated) and the other facing away (pronated). The alternating hand placement requires enhanced coordination and engages a unique combination of muscles.

Targeted Muscle Groups:

Commando pull-ups effectively target the following muscle groups:

  • Biceps: The supinated grip places greater emphasis on the biceps, making them a primary mover during the pulling motion.
  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats): As in regular pull-ups, the lats play a crucial role in the upward pulling motion, contributing to back muscle development.
  • Forearms: The alternating grip demands increased forearm strength and endurance to maintain stability throughout the exercise.
  • Upper Back: The muscles of the upper back, including the rhomboids and rear deltoids, are engaged to support the movement.

Core Engagement and Stability during the Exercise:

Commando pull-ups require significant core engagement and stability due to the asymmetrical hand placement. The core acts as a stabilizer during the movement, ensuring that your body remains balanced and aligned. A strong and engaged core helps prevent excessive twisting and ensures a smooth, controlled motion during the exercise.

Advanced Progression Techniques and Variations for Experienced Individuals:

For experienced individuals seeking to further challenge themselves with commando pull-ups, several advanced progression techniques and variations can be incorporated:

  • Weighted Commando Pull-Ups: Introduce additional resistance by wearing a weight belt or holding a dumbbell or kettlebell between your feet. This increases the intensity and promotes greater muscle hypertrophy.
  • One-Arm Commando Pull-Ups: Once you have mastered the standard commando pull-up, work towards performing the exercise using only one arm at a time. This advanced variation demands exceptional upper body strength and stability.
  • Commando Muscle-Ups: Combine the commando pull-up with a muscle-up motion, transitioning from the pull-up phase to a dip position above the bar. This advanced move requires considerable upper body strength and coordination.
  • Commando L-sit Pull-Ups: Elevate the challenge by performing commando pull-ups with your legs raised in an L-sit position. This variation enhances core engagement and strengthens the lower abdominals.

Safety Considerations:

As commando pull-ups are an advanced variation, it is essential to prioritize safety and proper form:

Gradual Progression: Start with standard pull-ups and work on increasing your upper body strength before attempting commando pull-ups.

Warm-up: Properly warm up your upper body and forearms to reduce the risk of strain or injury.

Controlled Motion: Avoid using momentum to swing your body during the exercise. Focus on a slow and controlled movement throughout.

Commando pull-ups offer a challenging and effective way to engage multiple upper body muscle groups. As with any advanced exercise, consistency, proper form, and adequate rest and recovery are essential for continued progress and optimal results.

Archer Pull-Ups

Archer pull-ups are a demanding variation of the traditional pull-up that requires considerable upper body strength, stability, and flexibility. In this exercise, one arm performs the majority of the work while the other arm remains straight and fully extended to the side, resembling the stance of an archer drawing back a bow.

The complexity of archer pull-ups lies in the asymmetrical movement, which challenges the targeted muscles and requires coordination between both arms.

Targeted Muscle Groups:

Archer pull-ups engage a variety of muscle groups in the upper body, including:

  • Lats: The lats are the primary muscles responsible for pulling the body upward, particularly on the side with the working arm.
  • Biceps: Both arms are involved in this exercise, but the biceps of the working arm play a more significant role in elbow flexion.
  • Rear Deltoids: The rear deltoids assist in shoulder extension during the pulling phase of the exercise.
  • Obliques: The obliques are engaged to stabilize the torso and support the asymmetrical movement.

Improving Flexibility and Muscle Balance with Archer Pull-Ups:

Archer pull-ups promote improved flexibility and muscle balance in the upper body. The exercise requires a considerable range of motion in the shoulder joint of the non-working arm, encouraging increased flexibility in that side. Additionally, the asymmetrical nature of the movement challenges the muscles on one side more than the other, leading to enhanced muscle balance and functional strength.

Safety Precautions and Step-by-Step Guidance for Mastering the Movement:

Before attempting archer pull-ups, it’s important to consider safety precautions and follow a step-by-step progression to master the movement:

Warm-Up: Begin with a proper warm-up, focusing on shoulder mobility exercises and stretches to prepare the upper body for the demands of the exercise.

Master the Standard Pull-Up: Ensure you can perform a sufficient number of standard pull-ups with good form and control before progressing to archer pull-ups.

Assisted Archer Pull-Ups: Start by performing archer pull-ups with assistance from your non-working arm. Use your fingertips or lightly hold onto the bar with the non-working hand to reduce the load on the working arm.

Rogue Invitational 2021 Best Bodyweight Exercise Technique for Muscle MassSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

Controlled Eccentric Phase: Focus on controlling the descent (negative) phase of the movement, slowly lowering yourself down to build strength and control.

Increase Range of Motion: Gradually increase the range of motion of the non-working arm as you gain flexibility and confidence in the exercise.

Full Archer Pull-Up: Once you have built the necessary strength and flexibility, attempt a full archer pull-up, emphasizing the controlled movement and maintaining proper form throughout.

Balanced Training: To avoid muscle imbalances, incorporate archer pull-ups into a well-rounded training routine that includes other pulling and pushing exercises.

Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to any signs of discomfort or strain during the exercise. If you experience pain, stop immediately and consult a fitness professional or healthcare provider.

Archer pull-ups are an advanced bodyweight exercise that can significantly challenge and strengthen the upper body. By following safety precautions, practicing proper form, and gradually progressing through the exercise, you can work towards mastering this impressive movement and reap the benefits of enhanced flexibility and muscle balance.


Pull-ups are a cornerstone of strength training and muscle growth, providing a multitude of benefits for upper body development. Throughout this article, we explored five of the best types of pull-ups that can significantly impact muscle growth and overall strength.

  • Wide-Grip Pull-Ups: These emphasize the lats, teres major, and posterior deltoids, promoting a broader back and increased upper body strength.
  • Weighted Pull-Ups: By adding resistance, weighted pull-ups facilitate progressive overload, leading to enhanced muscle hypertrophy and strength development.
  • Close-Grip Pull-Ups: Placing the hands closer together targets the biceps, rhomboids, and rear deltoids, contributing to a stronger upper body and improved posture.
  • Commando Pull-Ups: The alternating grip engages the biceps, lats, forearms, and upper back, offering a unique challenge for advanced upper body strength.
  • Archer Pull-Ups: This complex exercise targets the lats, biceps, rear deltoids, and obliques while improving flexibility and muscle balance.

Incorporating pull-ups into your training routine is essential for a well-rounded and effective upper body workout. These exercises engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, making them highly efficient for muscle growth and functional strength development.

To achieve optimal results, it is crucial to emphasize proper form, gradually progress through variations, and maintain consistency in your training. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced fitness enthusiast, starting with the appropriate variation and gradually increasing the difficulty will ensure safe and steady progress.

Remember, pull-ups are not only a test of physical strength but also mental resilience. Set challenging yet achievable goals, push your limits, and celebrate each milestone along your fitness journey.

With dedication and perseverance, pull-ups can become a rewarding and transformative part of your fitness regimen, leading to a stronger, more muscular, and functional upper body. So, go ahead and conquer the bar – your future self will thank you for it!

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