The pull up is always a bit of a love it or hate it exercise. Generally you hate pull ups until you can at least do one easily! No one wants to just be hanging there giving it their all… that’s not a good look. But with some smart training and simple progressions everyone should be able to manage a pull up at some point in their training career.
The pull up is a compound exercise encompassing all major muscle groups of the upper body. The specific muscles challenged during the exercise are detailed below for each joint:
Elbow - Biceps, brachiialis, brachioradialis
Shoulder - Latissimus dorsi, teres major
Scapulothoracic - Posterior deltoids, teres major, lower trapezius, pectoralis minor, levator scapulae, rhomboids
Trunk - Rectus abdominus, erector spinae, transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques
As you can see, the pull up gives a pretty decent overload to the core muscles as well as the upper body. When you are performing the move, the trunk is maximally braced.
Pull ups and chin ups… whats the difference?
Simple answer - the grip.
Both exercises require you to lift your body up from a hanging start, pull up is done using an overhand, pronated grip, whereas the chin up uses an underhand, supinated grip.
Research has shown that chin ups have greater activation of the biceps and pec major, whereas the pull ups show greater activation of the lower trapezius muscles.
The pull up gives a more balanced challenge to the shoulder whereas the chin up gives a slightly more anterior-dominant focus. The lower trapezius muscles are often an areas neglected by most, so the pull up is a good option to work these key areas.
By using the pull up within your training programme, you are promoting shoulder health by challenging both the anterior and posterior shoulder and working muscle groups key for maintaining good posture.
How do I start off learning a pull up?
Horizontal rows are a great regression for a hanging pull up. With the feet on the floor, you are not pulling your entire body weight up. Use either a TRX or barbell placed low to the floor. If this is still too challenging, bend your legs and push through the floor as you pull up.
Once you have the horizontal row nailed, its time for the hanging pull up! Negative reps (doing only the downward portion) are great to build up strength for the entire move. Soon you’ll be repping those hanging pull ups for days. Enjoy!