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The Absolute Best Pull-Ups for Muscle Growth

Pull yourself together… pun intended.

What are the absolute best pull-ups for muscle growth? That is what we will be talking about in the next few paragraphs.

Pull-ups are, without a doubt, one of the best upper body exercises to grow stronger that does not require any equipment, except a place to hang from. Besides pull-ups, the only other bodyweight exercise that could also be compared in terms of efficacy to upper body hypertrophy is the push-up.

The pull-up is a close kinetic chain exercise, this means that the hands are fixed on a surface and the body moves. It is regarded by many as the best bodyweight exercise for your upper body as it targets your back, shoulders, and forearms, as well as a little bit of your biceps.

Pull-ups also have many different variations. You can pull your body with different grips, different width, you could also do chin-up instead of the traditional pull-up and much more.

Related: 11 Pull-Up Variations Every Athlete Needs to Know

But are there some variations better than others for muscle growth and hypertrophy? According to Ryan Humiston the answer is “yes.” His YouTube channel has become one of the fastest-growing fitness channels out there with more than 1.8 million subscribers and more than 190 million video views.

Embarking on a journey to conquer pull-ups can be both challenging and rewarding. In a video he outlined the absolute best pull-ups for muscle growth. In this article, we’ll explore three favourite pull-up variations from Humiston that cater to different aspects of muscle engagement. Additionally, if you find yourself unable to perform a single pull-up, fear not—we’ll outline a strategic plan to take you from zero to pull-up hero in just a few weeks.

Source: Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

The Absolute Best Pull-Ups for Muscle Growth

  1. Close Grip Pull-Ups with T-Bar Handle:

To initiate your pull-up journey, start with close grip pull-ups using a T-bar handle. This variation emphasizes engaging your lats while minimizing bicep involvement. The key is to follow the natural arc of your lats, avoiding a straight-up motion that can lead to excessive bicep engagement. Focus on squeezing your lats as you pull through, creating a back-focused movement.

  1. Wide Grip Pull-Ups with Elbow Pinch:

This atypical movement aims to recruit various muscles across your back, promoting better posture. You can choose between a close grip for more rhomboid engagement or a wide grip for activating rear delts. The unique tweak involves pinching your elbows back halfway through the process, pulling yourself slightly forward on the way up. This adjustment maximizes the engagement of your upper back, working from the inside out for a comprehensive contraction.

  1. Elbow-In Grip Pull-Ups:

The most challenging, yet rewarding, variation involves actively pushing your elbows in throughout the pull-up. This places your lats in a disadvantageous position, forcing them to work harder. Remember to follow the natural arc of your lats, pulling back as you ascend. While demanding, this variation delivers an intense workout for your lats, making it a favorite for those seeking maximum muscle engagement.

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Transitioning from Zero to Pull-Up Pro

pull up back workouts What Muscles Do Pull Ups WorkSource: CrossFIt Inc

If you currently struggle with pull-ups, consider incorporating a strategic plan to build strength and technique progressively.

  • Start with Assisted Bands:

Begin with a set of resistance bands to provide assistance. Aim for four sets daily, gradually reducing assistance over time. This phase focuses on building neurological adaptations and strength.

  • Introduce Weighted Negatives:

Transition to an every-other-day split, incorporating three sets of weighted negatives. Control the descent, emphasizing the elongation of your muscles. This phase helps build eccentric strength, a crucial component for pull-ups.

  • Gradual Independence:

Within two weeks, you should notice significant progress. At this point, you can confidently attempt unassisted pull-ups. The variety of resistance bands allows for a gradual reduction in assistance, making the transition smoother.

You need more assistance? Check out our guide of 3 easy tips to improve your pull-ups.

Mastering pull-ups requires patience, consistency, and strategic progression. By incorporating these pull-up variations and following a systematic approach, you’ll not only enhance your pull-up capabilities but also sculpt a strong and defined back. So, gear up, stay consistent, and enjoy the journey of transforming from pull-up novice to expert.

Watch Ryan Humiston explain the absolute best pull-ups for muscle growth in the video below with more detailed information.

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Improve Your Fitness

Pull-ups stand out as one of the most effective upper body exercises, requiring no specialized equipment. Explore the array of advantages that come with incorporating pull-ups into your regular workout routine.

  1. Muscle Building: Pull-ups predominantly target key upper body muscles, including the latissimus dorsi (lats), biceps, and upper back. This makes them a powerhouse exercise for enhancing muscle mass and strength.
  2. Versatility: Pull-ups can be performed virtually anywhere with a sturdy horizontal bar, making them a flexible and accessible exercise adaptable to various settings, from gyms to playgrounds.
  3. Functional Strength: Engaging multiple muscle groups, pull-ups promote functional strength, translating into improved performance in real-world activities and movements.
  4. Improved Grip Strength: A vital component of pull-ups is grip strength. Consistent practice enhances your grip strength, yielding benefits in other exercises and daily tasks.
  5. Scapular Stability: Pull-ups necessitate scapular retraction and depression, fostering stability in the shoulder blades. This is crucial for overall shoulder health and injury prevention.
  6. Core Engagement: Maintaining proper form during pull-ups requires core muscle engagement, adding a valuable core workout component to the exercise.
  7. Variety of Grip Positions: Pull-ups offer versatility with different grip positions—wide grip, narrow grip, chin-ups, and mixed grip. Each variation targets muscles slightly differently, providing a comprehensive upper body workout.
  8. Increased Body Awareness: The coordination and control required for pull-ups enhance body awareness and proprioception, contributing to improved athletic performance.
  9. Boosted Metabolism: As a compound exercise engaging multiple muscle groups, pull-ups contribute to an increased metabolic rate. This means continued calorie burning post-workout.
  10. Aesthetic Benefits: Beyond functional advantages, regularly incorporating pull-ups into your routine contributes to sculpting your upper body, shaping a desirable V-shaped torso.

In summary, pull-ups offer an outstanding avenue for building upper body strength, enhancing posture and grip strength, and boosting cardiovascular endurance.

Remember, it’s crucial to start at your current fitness level and gradually intensify the challenge. Whether you’re mastering one pull-up or ten, the consistent inclusion of pull-ups in your routine promises a multitude of physical and functional benefits.

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Should You Do Pull-Ups Every Day?

While pull-ups can be a great exercise for building upper body strength, it is generally not recommended to do pull-ups every day. This is because your muscles need time to rest and recover after a workout in order to repair and grow stronger.

Doing pull-ups every day without allowing for proper recovery time can increase your risk of injury and also lead to overtraining, which can negatively impact your overall fitness goals.

Instead, it is recommended to incorporate pull-ups into a well-rounded strength training program that includes other exercises and allows for adequate rest and recovery time between workouts. A good rule of thumb is to aim for two to three strength training sessions per week, with at least one day of rest in between each session.

It’s also important to note that everyone’s fitness level and recovery time can vary, so it’s important to listen to your body and adjust your workout schedule accordingly.

Pull-up Progressions

Unique exercises to enhance CrossFit performanceSource: depositphotos
Ring rows

There are many popular progressions to achieving the required strength to do pull-ups. They include the ring row, banded pull-ups, and negatives (jumping up and slowly lowering down).

In addition to progressions, you’ll need solid and consistent practice.

  • Deadhangs – deadhangs are an effective way to build shoulder stability and grip strength, both of which you’ll need before you can perform a pull-up. Aim to simply hang from a bar for around a minute. Deadhangs can be performed passively or with active shoulders, train both.
  • Push-ups – push-ups are your friends when working on developing strict strength for pull-ups. Most athletes are able to perform at least a dozen push-ups unbroken before they have the strength to perform pull-ups.
  • Ring rows – ring rows follow a similar movement pattern of a pull-up except you get the extra aid from having your feet on the floor. Alongside with ring dips, ring rows are a great exercise to develop strength for pull-ups.
  • Bands – use a band to get yourself used to the movement pattern of pull-ups and know exactly which muscles will be taxed. Bands take some weight away from your body and help you perform the movements easier. Assisted pull-ups have their place as a developmental exercise but you should combine them with other variations and progressions to develop better pull-ups.
  • Negatives – in your quest to becoming stronger, negative pull-ups are probably one of the most effective exercises because they focus on the eccentric part of the movement. Jump onto the pull-up bar so your chin is over it and hold this position for a few seconds. Then, lower yourself as slowly as possible until your arms are extended again. Make sure you go through the full range of motion.
  • Chin over bar hold – this will help you develop your end strength, required for the final portion of the pull-up. Aim to hold this for around 30 seconds while keeping your whole body under control.
  • Supine barbell row – this movement will allow you to develop similar muscles to the pull-up except in a different plane of motion and at an easier intensity. Unlike ring rows, the supine barbell row keeps the hands in a fixed position (like the pull-up).

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