A pull-up is one of the most advanced exercises that you can do to enhance your performance. The engagement of multiple muscle groups in this routine makes it unique and highly effective.
People who have recently signed up at a gym may find it tough to rip this exercise. That said, this becomes a goal of many gym-goers once they witness the perks of working out at a beginner level.
If your gym-lover friend has inspired you to learn and ace this challenging exercise, you have landed at the right place. This article dives deep into multiple types of pull-ups and muscles worked. Knowing how pull-up muscles work has always helped fitness trainers guide their students to adopt the right approach.
By the time you finish this article, we hope you will make an informed decision too!
What Muscles Are Worked With Pull-ups?
While your entire body is typically engaged during pull-ups, there are some primary groups of muscles worked doing pull-ups:
The “lats” are the biggest muscles in your upper back which help in many upper body movements(1). They are also known as the “broadest muscles” because they cover a wide area in your upper back.
Your “lats” are the most important muscles when doing a pull-up exercise. They give you the strength to pull your body up towards the bar.
The “traps” are a muscle in your upper back with three parts: upper, middle, and lower. When you do a pull-up exercise, your traps help to stabilize your shoulder blades, supporting optimal mechanics l. This helps make your movements up and down more controlled (2). The upper back muscles work harder when using a wide grip.
Biceps and Triceps
Your “biceps” are important for stabilizing muscles during a pull-up exercise. They are located at the front of your upper arm and are responsible for bending your elbow, which is when your arm moves downwards during a pull-up, lifting your body upwards.
The biceps contract to help lift your body weight, making them shorter. When you lower back down, the biceps must lengthen and work with the “triceps” muscles to control the movement. The triceps work hard during the lowering phase, so it’s a good idea to do tricep extensions as part of your workout routine. To strengthen your biceps, you can do classic bicep curls.
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The “teres major” is a muscle that connects your shoulder blade to your upper arm. It plays a role in extending, rotating, and bringing your arm down towards your body. It works with the “lats” muscle, one of the pull-up muscles worked.
The teres major helps the lats by pulling your arms down towards your body, making the movement smoother and more effective (3).
Your “pec” muscles are located at the front of your chest. They help to stabilize your shoulder joints and assist in bringing your upper arm and elbow down towards your body (4).
Although they play a smaller role during a pull-up, compared to the muscles in your back, your pecs still have an important role in supporting the main workers. Doing press-ups is a great way to train these muscles by working them in isolation.
Your “rhomboids” are muscles located behind the trapezius in your upper back. Like the trapezius, they help to stabilize your shoulder and scapula. These muscles are useful for rotating, bringing inwards, and lifting the scapula. These movements are important when doing a pull-up exercise.
What Muscles Are Worked In Close-Grip Pull-ups?
Back and arms are the close-grip pull-ups muscles worked. This pull-up variation helps to build the lats and biceps when performed regularly.
Changing your hand position to a close grip while doing a pull-up exercise can help reduce unnecessary strain on your shoulder when using a wider grip. Nonetheless, using a closer grip will involve your biceps muscles more, which can lessen the emphasis on your lats.
Some instructions to follow when doing a close-grip pull-up are:
- Grab the pull-up bar with your hands facing away from you (pronated grip) and keep your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Take a deep breath and tighten your glutes and abs.
- Engage your shoulders and lats by driving your elbows straight to the floor.
- Pull yourself towards the bar until your chin is above it, and fully contract your lats.
- Lower yourself back down slowly to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise for the number of repetitions assigned.
What Muscles Are Worked During Wide-Grip Pull-ups?
A wide-grip pull-up is your best bet for strengthening your upper body and core muscles. This routine often comes as a challenge for beginners and even pro athletes. It is tough to perform because your hands are further from the center of your body, making the routine more difficult. Traps and lats are also the wide-grip pull-up muscles worked when performed properly.
To do this exercise, you have to:
- Stand in front of a pull-up bar or station. Use an overhand grip to grab the bar with hands placed wider than your shoulders.
- Hang from the bar with your chest pushed out and take a deep breath. Engage your shoulder blades then use your back and arm muscles to pull yourself up towards the bar.
- Bring your elbows towards your sides and breathe out as you go up. Once your collarbone is level with the bar, pause briefly, then slowly lower yourself back down.
- Stop just before your arms are fully extended, and then repeat the same movement again
What is the Difference Between Wide-Grip and Close-Grip Pull-ups?
Given how each pull-up focuses on similar muscle groups, it is plausible to question the difference between the efficiency of wide and close-grip pull-ups.
Wide grip pull-ups differ from close grip pull-ups regarding the activated muscles and the difficulty level. Close grip pull-ups are better for beginners and those with mobility issues, while wide grip pull-ups are for more experienced people who want to increase the difficulty of their workout without adding more resistance or volume.
Close-grip pull-ups could be better for hypertrophy since they allow for more reps and provide a greater range of motion. However, if you want to target your lats specifically, then wide-grip pull-ups are the way to go.
Which Muscles Are Worked in Neutral Grip Pull-ups?
A neutral grip pull-up is a good way to spice things up when you are tired of the usual routine. Also, when you constantly follow the same routine, the muscles can get used to it and may not respond well.
The neutral-grip pull-up is an exercise where you hold onto handles that face each other while pulling yourself up. This exercise works your upper back, biceps, and core muscles. It’s a good option for people who want to avoid putting too much stress on their shoulders or who have trouble doing regular pull-ups. It can also help you do more pull-ups overall.
Follow these instructions when doing a neutral grip pull-up:
- Hold the parallel pull-up bars with your palms facing each other and your arms straight. This is your starting point.
- Engage your shoulder blade and drive your elbows down, using your arms to pull yourself up without swinging or using momentum. Try to get your chin above the bars.
- Take a moment at the top before lowering yourself to the starting position.
Neutral grip pull-ups are a great exercise to test your functional strength as you lift and control your body weight. This exercise requires the upper body muscles to work together to pull and maintain control of your body.
Check out this list of neutral grip pull-up muscles worked to learn if it is focusing on the target groups:
- Biceps brachii
- Latissimus dorsi
- Lower trapezius
- Rotator cuff
- Rectus abdominis
Neutral grip pull-ups are tough but excellent for upper body muscles and wider back development.
Which Pull-ups Work Chest?
By now, we all know that pull-ups are an incredible exercise for the upper back and biceps. What most people often wonder is whether pull-ups also work the chest. Let’s find out below!
Your chest doesn’t play a big role when you do a pull-up. Only a small muscle in your chest called the pectoralis minor is used. There’s a small, thin, triangular muscle beneath the big chest muscle called the pectoralis minor. It connects to the top of your shoulder blade and stabilizes the shoulder blade to support optimal shoulder movement. Strengthening this muscle won’t make your chest bigger or more defined, but your shoulder needs it to function well.
The main chest muscle also called the pectoralis major, is a big muscle covering the upper front of your body. It starts from your collarbone, breastbone, and the bottom part of your ribcage. The muscle gets narrower and forms a triangle shape that attaches to your upper arm bone (5).
This chest muscle has several arm-related functions. One of the most notable tasks of this muscle is arm adduction. This involves bringing the arm in from the side, like when hugging someone.
Thus, pull-ups aren’t considered a highly beneficial exercise for the chest. But they are considered fantastic because of their incredible potential. For instance, doing pull-ups can make you better at sports and more capable in everyday activities. This means you can perform better in sports, do daily tasks with less effort, and reduce your chances of injury.
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How to Get Better At Pull-up Repetitions?
A common question even pro athletes face is how to get better at pull-up repetitions. This exercise is strenuous and may get you tired quickly. Primarily, you should leverage the negative or otherwise eccentric pull-ups if you wish to ace this routine and do back-to-back pull-ups without difficulty. The exercise starts at the top by either jumping or stepping on something to reach that position. Once you’re up there, the aim is to control yourself down as slowly as possible until full extension at the bottom.
Doing this helps you build strength through the full range of a pull-up and engages the big muscles in your back. Also, doing the “eccentric” phase (lowering phase) builds the strength to do a full pull-up once those muscles are strong enough.
You can do this by slowly lowering yourself for 3 to 5 seconds and doing this for several reps, with a rest in between.
Doing negatives can also help improve your grip strength. Even while hanging from the bar it takes strength from the many muscles in your hands, wrists, and forearms. Negatives are fundamental to teaching your body how to do a pull-up. It builds muscles in the same group that you do a full pull-up.
The Bottom Line
Experts have often endorsed working pull-up muscles for their impact on the overall physical performance of gym goers. However, pulling exercises, like lat pulls and negative pull-ups, is only half the equation for achieving a healthy musculoskeletal function. It is essential to balance pulling and pushing exercises, accompanied by a healthy lifestyle, to reap the maximum rewards.
Pull-ups activate multiple muscles in your body, including your back, shoulders, arms, and even your abs. These muscles work together like a team of caped crusaders, helping you lift your body to new heights. The next time you hit the gym, call upon your inner superhero and get ready to power up those pull-up muscles!
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- The Anatomy of the Latissimus Dorsi Muscle (2022, verywellhealth.com)
- Trapezius Muscle (n.d., my.clevelandclinic.org)
- Teres Major (n.d., physio-pedia.com)
- What Muscles Do Push-Ups Work? (2022, healthline.com)
- Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Pectoral Muscles (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)