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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
Updated On: August 08, 2023
Is there anything better than a compound exercise that requires only your body weight and can be done virtually anywhere? While we love barbell training, we also really appreciate bodyweight exercises, and in particular, pull ups.
The pull up is an amazing exercise that can build monster back muscles. And that's just one of its benefits! We're about to discuss all of the amazing reasons why pull ups are one of the most effective exercises and a must for any training program.
This article will cover:
The pull up is a bodyweight upper body exercise that uses a large amount of muscle mass. As a compound lift, it is vital to include it in your strength training program. Further, it's a great exercise to use for muscle growth and has been instrumental in training everyone from athletes to kids in PE class.
One of the best pull up benefits is that it mimics functional strength seen in movements that occur in everyday life. It simply consists of grabbing an object overhead and pulling your entire body weight up. As a primary bodyweight movement, you can perform it anywhere, using everything from a pull-up bar to a tree branch.
Let's start by digging into the benefits of pull ups. Free to do with the ability to perform them almost anywhere, pull ups are also great at building muscle, making them one of our favorite upper body exercises.
Let's take a closer look at what makes this exercise so great.
An obvious benefits of pullups is that apart from a wide-open field, you can do them just about anywhere. The only thing you need to perform a pull-up is some sort of object above your head that you can grab onto.
And while using a pull-up bar is the ideal choice, it's certainly not the only one. You can use just about anything. Some other possibilities include a basketball hoop, tree branch, or wooden structures.
You can even use lower bars if needed and lift your legs, which will also hit the core.
Assuming you're not doing pull-ups in a gym, you can get in your strength training for free! When comparing calisthenics vs weights, this is a serious benefit. Remember, your pull up bar doesn't need to be fancy. It just needs to hold your weight.
Visit any park in any city, and you'll be able to find a set of monkey bars to use. Find a tree with a sturdy branch, or even look for a doorframe at your house that is sturdy with a wide enough ledge for your fingertips.
Get creative, and you'll find a structure that can double as a pull up bar.
Looking for another benefit of pull ups? They use a massive amount of muscle mass. A pull-up will induce major improvements in both muscle size and upper body strength, meaning it's exceptional for building muscle.
Using large amounts of muscle groups, which is what occurs with compound exercises, is vital for optimal strength training.
Isolation exercises don't invoke the same demands on the neuromuscular system, meaning they don't illicit the same meaningful improvements.
Pull-ups are one of the greatest strength training exercises you can include in your training program. Just because it's a bodyweight exercise doesn't mean it's only good if you don't have access to a gym.
Everyone, gym membership or not, should be adding pull ups, or a pull up variation, in their training program.
Another pull ups benefit: Pull-ups can easily be made easier or harder, depending on your fitness level.
For example, an advanced athlete may want to use traditional pull-ups one day to improve muscle endurance or muscle growth. On another day, they might want to use a weight belt with heavy weights to load their body for strength training.
The point here is that there is plenty of pull up exercise variety.
The importance of grip strength has become better understood over the past few years¹. It is a great indicator of your total upper body strength, total upper body muscle mass, mortality, and quality of life.
Now, this information needs to be looked at in the proper light. This research likely shows that grip strength indicates your neuromuscular function and lifestyle, which lowers your mortality.
But, considering pull-ups require you to hold your entire body with your hands, it's a safe bet to say they will also improve all of those variables.
If you want a strong grip, a pull-up is a great exercise to build one.
A pull-up and other bodyweight movements are unique in that they require you to lift your own body. In other words, you are the load.
While you can definitely modify the exercise to make it easier or harder, your body composition plays a huge factor in your success in performing pull-ups.
In other words, in order to progress in pull-ups and move on to more advanced versions, you must have a relatively low body fat percentage, or just be super strong.
Lifting your body weight gives you direct feedback on your relative strength. This is a unique benefit, as a drop in performance in free weights could be chalked up to a loss in strength for a variety of reasons.
But with pull-ups, it could be a direct indicator you've gained some fat.
We firmly believe that your fat loss should be controlled through diet, like macros counting, for example. However, lifting weights and resistance training plays a role in burning calories, which makes fat loss easier.
Since a pull-up uses so much muscle mass, it will also burn a lot of calories, contributing to weight loss and better body composition.
Last but not least on our list of benefits of doing pull ups is improved athleticism. When compared to lifting weights, being able to control your body is a skill that's harder to develop.
But it's a vital one that demonstrates athleticism and better functional capacity.
Bodyweight exercises, like pull ups, require you to control not just your primary muscle groups but, in fact, every single muscle in your body.
Even though your legs aren't used during pull ups, you must still control them, so they're not swinging around.
As you can see, there are tons of pull ups benefits. When discussing, "what do pull ups work", just about all of the upper body muscle groups, including the core muscles, will be activated.
Here are the major muscle groups used during a pull-up.
The latissimus dorsi, or lats for short, are the largest muscle in the upper body, running across the entire back before tapering down the spine.
Their primary job is to manipulate the shoulder joint by pulling them down or backward.
The trapezius muscle, or the traps, are the body's primary scapula (shoulder blades) stabilizers. They play an extremely important role in both performance and basic life movements.
Weak traps are unable to effectively stabilize the scapula, resulting in your other joints compensating. This leads to several ailments, such as shoulder and elbow pain. This means trapezius exercises are extremely important!
Your anterior delts are one of your three shoulder muscles and sit on your shoulder girdle. One function is it works in unison with the other two deltoid muscles to help stabilize the shoulder.
In addition, it helps to draw the arm back and is involved in all pulling exercises, such as pull-ups.
Your biceps are the upper arms' primary elbow flexors. The biceps muscles are activated to a higher degree in chin-ups, but rest assured they're also working during pull ups.
While many people don't think of pull-ups as being a beneficial exercise for the abs, they actually work the core muscle groups to a very high degree.
If you have ever seen someone just starting with an assisted pull-up, you likely notice their body swinging back and forth. That's because their core is too weak to stabilize the body. Pull ups = serious core work.
The pull-up is a relatively easy movement to perform, but there are some key points you need to be aware of to get the most out of every pull-up you do.
How to do a proper pull up:
Pull-ups aren't completely perfect (but they are close!). There are a few pull up drawbacks you should be aware of.
However, when asking the question "are pull ups good for you?" the answer is still a resounding yes. None of these drawbacks should stop you from including pull ups (or a modification) in your workout split.
Pulling your body all the way off the ground is no easy feat. On the one hand, this makes pull ups such a great exercise. On the other, this can be hard and discouraging for new trainees.
Luckily, there are plenty of regressions you can use to help you get your first pull-up. Getting that first pull-up is probably the hardest part of your pull-up journey.
There are some people who may be unable to even use regressions. This just means this group should first focus on losing weight and strengthening their back muscles via a great back workout before circling back to pull ups. Consider adding some pull up alternatives to your training program to further strengthen your back and work similar muscles.
There's a false notion that pull-ups aren't good at building muscle. While this may be true for more advanced trainees performing regular pull-ups, you can easily add as much weight as you want to your body to increase the load. There is a multitude of various progressions you can perform as well.
People will often point to this because they look at guys who only follow a calisthenics plan. Generally, their goal isn't to pack on massive amounts of muscle. Remember, pull-ups test your relative strength, so there is a balance between having the right amount of muscle and not becoming overly huge.
Mind you, calisthenics-focused trainees are not small. They're just smaller than guys who lift heavy weights every day. But, keep in mind, many elite lifters also have pull ups and chin ups in their program.
If your goal is to do more pull ups, you need to train them a lot. While you shouldn't use pull ups everyday, placing them in your workout routine 2-3 times a week is ideal.
If you can, we recommend performing two versions of the pull-up.
The benefits of pull-ups are extensive, making them one of the top resistance training exercises and ideal for just about anyone. Everyone from elite bodybuilders to strength athletes to your average guy looking to improve his body composition will appreciate pullups benefits.
While it may take some time to become proficient, once you do, you'll have an arsenal of exercises to use to build some impressive back muscles. Start training today and we can guarantee you'll see improvements in all aspects of your fitness: strength, muscle growth, and body composition.
Unable to complete that first pull up? Our pull up progression plan will get you there.
Looking for a great piece of equipment to make pull ups super accessible? Check out these outdoor pull up bars!
Sayer AA, Kirkwood TBL. Grip strength and mortality: a biomarker of ageing? The Lancet. 2015;386(9990):226-227. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(14)62349-7
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February 20, 2024
February 20, 2024
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