Are you looking for a new challenge in the gym? Ready to tone and strengthen your back muscles, but wondering if pull-ups are for you?
You’re in luck – whether you can do 0, 5, or 10+ pull-ups (or anything in between!), we’ve got 17 different pull up variations that will help take your upper body strength to the next level. intermediate
Beginner (0-2 pull-ups)
These beginner pull-up variations are perfect for athletes looking to increase their pull-up reps or even build up to doing their first pull-up. Perfect form isn’t your primary concern when starting your pull-up journey.
So doing “kipping pull-ups”, having your knees bent, or using any assistance shouldn’t be overlooked or avoided. We all start somewhere and it’s essential to build a solid foundation before trying intermediate to advanced-level variations.
1. TRX Band Rows
How to: To perform a TRX band row, stand parallel to the bands. Then as you have a hold of the grips, take 1-3 steps forward depending on your skill level. The further you stand, the more difficult.
Then pull the handles to your chest to perform the exercise. Focus on squeezing your back as you get closer to the handles.
This can also be done with a doorway if you don’t have TRX bands.
Benefits: To build enough upper body strength to perform a proper pull-up.
2. Australian Pull-ups
How to: Similar to a TRX row, start by grabbing onto a bar or barbell that is secured in place. Take a few steps forward depending on your fitness level and pull your chest to the bar. These are a great progression to help build the necessary strength to perform your first-ever pull-up.
Even if you can do a few pull-ups, lowering down to this progression can help you get in more reps when your pull-up strength is maxed out within sets.
Benefits: To build enough upper body strength to perform a proper pull-up.
3. Negative Pull-ups
How to: To do a negative pull-up, you’ll need a bar that is low enough to jump up to or you can grab a chair or plyo box to stand on. Once you have that, jump up to the top portion of the pull-up.
Now work on slowly bringing yourself down and control your body weight as you lower.
Improving the negative portion of pull-ups is great for improving grip strength, muscular strength, as well as overall control of your body.
Benefits: To work on controlling the negative portion of the pull-up. This will increase bodyweight control, grip strength, and overall upper body strength.
4. Machine Assisted Pull-ups
Machine-assisted pull-ups are great for feeling the correct motion of a pull-up without having to carry your full body weight just yet. Most gyms will have a machine-assisted pull/dip machine that you can use.
How to: To start, select the amount of weight you want to be alleviated from your body (the higher the weight you select, the easier the exercise will be).
Make sure the knee pad or foothold is in place and grab onto a handle above you. While you stand on the foothold or place your knees on the pad, pull your chest up to the bar just like you would do a pull-up.
Benefits: The beauty of a machine-assisted pull-up is that you’ll have the same constant amount of weight alleviated through the exercise to help you replicate a pull-up.
5. Band Assisted Pull-ups
Just like machine-assisted pull-ups, the resistance bands are great for replicating a pull-up while relieving some of your body weight.
How to: First, start by looping the resistance band to the bar. Then place your feet on the resistance band. Then perform a pull-up.
Benefits: The difference between a machine-assisted pull-up and a resistance band pull-up is that the resistance band will be a bit more difficult as you rise higher in your repetition. This is because as you pull your body up to the bar, the band will begin to be unstretched and go back to its normal form.
This results in a more challenging pull-up and this will be the closest progression to doing a standard pull-up.
Intermediate (2-10 pull-ups)
At this point, you should be able to do 2 to 10 pull-ups. You’ve gained the strength to do your first few and now you’re looking to raise your numbers and add some variety to build your back muscles, biceps, and even shoulders. Note that just because you can do a few pull-ups, going back down to the lower progressions can still help you in the earlier stages of your journey.
6. Standard Pull up (shoulder width)
This is the most basic form of the pull-up. Grab the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with your palms facing away from you in the “overhand grip” position. From a dead-hang position, pull yourself up to the bar while focusing on engaging your core muscles.
The standard pull is great for building upper body strength while also developing your body muscles.
7. Close Grip
How to: To do a close-grip pull-up, grab the bar with an overhand grip and place your hands closer together compared to normal shoulder width apart. Then pull up.
Benefits: According to Muscleandstrength.com, positioning your hands closer together allows for less shoulder strain while performing the movement, creating more emphasis on the biceps. In doing so, the lats may not be activated as much compared to a standard pull-up.
8. Wide Grip
How to: To do a wide grip pull-up, grab the bar with an overhand grip wider than your normal shoulder width. Then pulls up.
Benefits: Compared to a close grip or even standard pull-ups, the wide grip is typically the more difficult pull-up variation even with the shorter range of motion. The wide grip emphasizes much more upper back work while lessening assistance from your biceps or other supporting secondary muscle groups.
9. Chin up (underhand)
How to: To do a chin-up, you first want to start by grabbing the bar about shoulder-width apart with your palms facing you (underhand grip). Then pull up.
Benefits: Compared to the overhand grips, a chin-up places much more emphasis on the bicep muscles and even rear delts.
10. Neutral grip
How to: The neutral grips are the handles that are perpendicular to the other handles on a pull-up bar. Grab onto these handles with your palms facing each other. Then pull up.
Benefits: A neutral grip will typically be your strongest pull-up since it has less strain on your shoulders and wrists. The muscles worked are closely compared to a chin-up, but much more of the lats and upper back muscles can be engaged.
11. The “Perfect Pull-up”
How to: Begin by grabbing the bar just like a standard pull-up. Now instead of pulling up from a dead hang like a normal pull-up, you’ll want to activate your scapulas/shoulder blades.
To do this, lean back which lifts your chest upwards towards the bar, and bring your shoulder down. Now as you pull up with your legs straight, you’ll feel much more upper back activation while performing a much more difficult variation.
Benefits: Performing pull-ups like this can be more difficult since your upper back is much more engaged. Be sure to avoid kipping or swaying as this may affect the muscle activation in your back.
Advanced (8+ pull-ups)
At this point, you’ve reached the advanced pull-up variations. You can now do 8 or more pull-ups with perfect form and you should be proud. With this amount of upper body strength achieved, you can perform more intense variations of pull-ups and work on “skill-based” variations.
12. Commando pull-ups
How to: To do a commando pull-up, your starting position will differ from most pull-up variations. Start by standing under the bar and turn to your side. Then grip the bar in a neutral position with your palms facing each other and place one hand in front of the other.
As you pull up your chin over the bar, tilt your head to one side to avoid your head hitting the bar. Be sure to alternate sides your head tilts toward to avoid any imbalances. Same with your hand placement in between each set.
Benefits: According to Muscleandfitness.com, commando pull-ups are great for increasing lateral stability as well as keeping your core engaged to avoid swaying and rotating.
13. Muscle Ups
How to: A muscle up is basically a pull-up that transitions into a straight bar dip. To do this requires explosive strength as well as timing and technique.
To do a muscle up, you’ll need to pull your chest up and over the bar, then proceed to do a straight bar dip. As you come down from the exercise, come down slowly and controlled.
Benefits: As mentioned, the muscle up requires plenty of explosive pull-up strength as well as technique. It can take days, weeks, or even months to learn how to do them, but can help build your explosive strength, and increase your pulling strength range of motion, and overall full upper body strength.
14. Weighted Pull-ups
How to: Performing a weighted pull-up is just like any other pull-up variation except instead of only using your own body, you’ll add weight to carry. This can be done using a dip belt or a weighted vest.
Benefits: Weighted pull-ups are great for building strength because you’re not limited to only carrying your own body weight. At some point, your body will adapt to doing tons of reps in each set. By adding weight, you can increase resistance and intensity improving your grip strength and upper body strength.
15. L-Sit Pull-ups
How to: Start by choosing a pull-up variation you feel comfortable with. Now to do an L-sit pull-up, lift your legs so they’re parallel to the ground creating an L-shape with your body. Then pull up.
Benefits: Performing an L-sit alone requires core strength and stability. Performing a pull-up while in the L-sit position requires concentration and complete body control. The L-sit pull-up will work out your core, hip flexors, and the muscles required to do a pull-up all at the same time. This makes it much more intense and can increase muscle endurance.
16. Archer Pull-ups
How to: To do an archer pull-up, your starting position should replicate a standard pull-up. Overhand grip with your hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Now as you pull up, lift up to one side while lifting the other arm over the bar with your hand opened. Be sure to twist your hip slightly toward the opened hand to give yourself better leverage. This pull-up variation is closely compared to a one-arm pull-up since much more emphasis is placed on a single arm.
Benefits: Archer pull-ups require a ton of arm and back strength. It is one of the progressions for a one-arm pull-up. Think of them as a one-arm pull-up with an assisted arm in place for balance and control. These are great for working up the necessary strength and control that a single-arm pull-up requires.
17. Single-arm Pull-ups
How to: To perform this exercise, start by holding onto the pull-up bar with one arm. Make sure to have your hand positioned slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your other arm should remain hanging down at your side. Next, pull yourself up until your chin is level with the bar.
Benefits: This is much easier said than done. The single-arm pull-up requires much strength and control of one’s body weight. It is one of the most difficult pull-up variations an athlete can perform. Performing these can improve single-arm grip strength, overall strength, and overall upper body strength at an advanced level.
Other ways to add variety
Rings are great for increasing your stability and control since they are less stable of a handle compared to a normal pull-up bar.
Place your thumb next to your fingers
Instead of wrapping your thumb around the bar, line it up with the rest of your fingers. This will place more emphasis on your back and less on your forearms. It can also help increase your reps.
Change your pace
Doing slower reps can increase the level of intensity and time under tension. Doing faster reps can help increase the number of reps you do.
Final Thoughts on Pull Up Variations
Pull-ups are one of the best upper body exercises you can perform as they offer many benefits for upper body strength and upper body muscle.
Incorporating new variations can work smaller muscles that may be neglected or not as focused on, which can lead to a more developed back. Take a deep breath as you rise and decline during your reps and be sure to use proper form to avoid injury.
No matter where you’re at in your fitness journey, pull-ups should not be an exercise you overlook. Just begin or continue at a level you can handle and work your way up. Before you know it, you’ll be doing advanced variations in no time!