Known as the “upper body squat,” your classic pull-up is a vital part of your regular exercise routine, specifically targeting the biceps and latissimus dorsi (lats).
But sticking to the same old pull up routine can become “meh” or prevent you from progressing in your fitness goals.
Why should you do pull up variations?
There are good reasons why you should mix up your pull-up routine.
Not only does it keep you motivated to work out, but it also gives you the chance to gain greater intensity and resistance, thus helping you get stronger muscles.
When trying out some pull up variations, you don’t need anything other than a change in your technique and grip, although sometimes different gym tools and some additives to help build muscle can help.
There are loads of interesting and creative pull up exercises that can help you target new muscles and refresh your fitness routine.
This is especially important if you’ve hit a bit of a fitness plateau, so here are nine pull up variations to try, for beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.
The Kipping Pull Up
Made popular by Crossfit, Kipping is a type of pull up variation that provides your body with some anaerobic exercise, but don’t attempt it until you can do at least five regular pull ups.
It will improve your grip while building strong lats.
To do it correctly, you want to use an overhand grip. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Gently pull your legs back so that you’re slightly arched. Now, pull your legs forward as you swing up to the bar.
Make the most of this movement to really reap the workout benefits. The bonus of kipping is that you’ll be able to do more reps than with classic pull ups once you get used to it.
This pull up variation works out your arms, which makes for a good “arm day” at the gym.
You want to hold the bar with a narrow overhand grip and pull yourself up smoothly so that the bar touches the bottom of your neck.
Slowly lower yourself until your arms become locked.
Secondary muscles that this pull up variation targets include the rhomboid muscles in the back, which are important for pulling the shoulder blades together and having good posture.
Towel Pull Up
Using a towel in your pull up workout is a quick and easy way to work up more of a sweat while giving you more of a challenge, too.
Grab a towel and throw it over your bar. Make sure that both sides are of the same length, then hold onto the towel as you pull your body up.
This is so effective because it strengthens your grip, a vital component in greater all-round strength. It also works the muscles in your forearms, back, and core.
Plyometric Pull Up
Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced
This is a pull up variation that should only be attempted if you’re an intermediate to expert trainer.
Plyometric exercises are great for short bursts of energy, while working lots of different muscles simultaneously.
For this pull up, you want to hold the bar so that your hands are placed beyond your shoulders, and pull your body up to the bar as fast as you can.
While pull up advice generally steers you away from faster movements, this Plyometric Pull Up is all about the speed!
You want to make the most of the momentum so that you can quickly remove your hands from the bar and clap them, before grabbing the bar again on your way back down.
This is a great exercise because it requires coordination of your entire body.
One-Arm Pull Up
Pulling yourself up with just one arm is much more strenuous than a regular two-armed pull up, but that’s what makes it such a good workout for your arms, shoulders, and core.
If you’re starting out with this pull up variation, you can hold the wrist of the arm that’s gripping the bar to make it a bit easier for you to accomplish.
Hold the bar with your left hand and pull your left hip upwards so that it decreases the distance between your left hip and shoulder.
This is a move that connects your core to your shoulder and latissimus dorsi muscles.
Pull your body up to the bar while engaging these muscles, then lower yourself down and repeat the exercise with the right arm.
One hand pull ups can really hurt your hand and cause it to callous. If you start to rain for them you should consider some weight lifting gloves.
Minute-Long Pull Up
This pull up variation is a simple way to rev up your regular pull up.
It involves lots of pausing during the exercise so that you really give your muscles a chance to contract and hold their positions.
It’s especially great for working out your forearms and improving your pull up grip! You want to do a regular pull up, but slow it down.
So, take 20 seconds to pull yourself up to the bar, then hold the position for 20 seconds at the top, before taking another 20 seconds to lower yourself down.
The “Down Under” Pull Up
In this pull up variation, you get to target your pecs and back muscles so that these get most of the workout.
Set up a Smith Machine so that you can lie down on the floor and use the bar to pull up your upper body.
Keep both legs extended and straight on the floor during the exercise, focusing on your upper body.
Mixed Grip Pull Ups
You might think of pull ups as requiring you to hold the bar with the same grip from start to finish.
But this pull up variation mixes things up, hence its name. It requires you to change your grip throughout your pull up exercise or just try pull ups with different grips.
For instance, you can use a pronated grip (in which your hands are over the bar and your knuckles are facing upwards) with one hand and a supinated grip (in which your hands are underneath the bar) with the other.
Try different grips to see which one gives you the most challenge!
Typewriter Pull Ups
Hold the bar with an overhand grip that’s extended a bit beyond your shoulder width.
Now, pull yourself up until your sternum is in line with the bar. Move your body towards one of your hands, keeping your other arm stretched out and your hand gripping the bar.
As you do this pull up, you’ll see why it’s called the “Typewriter” – you’re moving your body as though you’re stretching out with one hand in a typing motion.
Move back into the starting position and then try the move with the other side of your body. This exercise builds up your biceps, triceps, and upper chest.
Add Resistance To Your Pull Ups
Weights are a must to add to your pull up routine if you want to become stronger, and you can do this in a variety of ways if you feel that you want something a bit more stimulating when you’re standing at the bar.
But you can become creative with how you use weights. Here are some ideas.
Wear A Heavy Backpack
You don’t need fancy gym tools to get pull ups with more resistance.
Pack a backpack with heavy items and then wear it during your pull ups for an instant load.
The useful thing about this is that you don’t have to worry about the backpack falling off you during the exercise.
Another easy way to add more weight to your pull up is to place a dumbbell between your legs while doing a pull up.
As you get used to it and manage not to drop the weight to the floor, you can increase its size and weight.
Get A Dip Belt
A Dip Belt can easily add more weight to your pull up.
It’s basically a belt that has a chain attached to the front of it on which weights can hang between your legs.
This gives you greater resistance when doing a pull up, and you won’t have to worry about dropping your load as in the case of using dumbbells.
Pull Up Mistakes To Avoid
No matter how many pull up variations you can do, if your form is off you’re not going to be achieving as much as you can.
In other words, you’ll be wasting your time and energy. Therefore, make sure you avoid these common pull up mistakes.
You Stop At The Bottom
You’ve reached the bar and are lowering yourself back down.
But you stop when your arms are still bent, because it makes it easier to do the next pull up immediately.
Resist the temptation to do this. Instead, make sure you go all the way down until your arms are completely extended.
Yes, it feels much harder, but in the long run you’ll be so much stronger because you didn’t take shortcuts.
Your Chin Doesn’t Go Above The Bar
In order for a pull up to be considered completed, you have to get your chin up above the bar.
It’s not enough to get your head to the bar and then lower yourself back down.
By not getting your chin above the bar, you’re essentially giving yourself a shorter range of motion and this will prevent your muscles from getting a complete workout.
You Neglect Your Lower Body
As you can see from some of the pull up variations we looked at earlier, pull ups don’t have to be all about your upper body.
When doing your pull ups, by contracting your abs and glutes, you can exercise more muscles in your body.
Another important way to engage your core during a pull up is to keep your feet and legs pressed together as you move up and down.
When you make your body more rigid from head to toe so that you maintain your shape during the pull up, this gives you greater consistency and form, while making the pull up more challenging.
Improve Your Grip Strength
Your grip strength is a vital part of doing pull ups correctly.
That’s why draping a towel around the pull bar to pull yourself up can be so good for you, as mentioned earlier in the article.
The fact is, if you want to become skilled at pull up variations, having a strong grip is what will enable you to do so.
Best of all, good grip strength will give your arms an excellent workout during your pull up variations.
To get a good grip on the pull up bar, strengthen your hands with a variety of exercises.
A simple (but not too easy!) one to try is hanging from the bar at the end of your workout. This will make your hands become stronger.
To do it correctly, you want to use an overhead grip and engage your core while tucking your tailbone.
Maintain the position for half a minute, then release your tailbone for another 30 seconds.
Why Are Pull Ups So Important?
Pull ups give many muscles in your body a workout, while improving your grip strength and giving you stronger hands.
But that’s not all. Pull ups build your overall strength, which can assist you in other weight training workouts, making your exercise goals much more possible.
What’s The Difference Between A Pull Up And Chin Up?
Pull ups use the overhand grip while chin ups use the underhand grip, but experts claim that both are effective when it comes to working out your back muscles.
In fact, chin ups can be said to be a variation of pull ups, so you might want to use them in your pull up routine!
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