Health and Beauty

How to strengthen your back with pull-ups + 6 variations!

The pull-up is a classic exercise that targets the muscles of the upper back, especially the latissimus dorsi.

Vertical pull-ups, such as the classic pull-up (hands extended), are essential foundational movements for your training. After you find a form that you feel comfortable with, practice it regularly to gain strength and better form.

Pull-ups can be incorporated into back exercises, upper body exercises, or total body exercises. Personally, this is my favorite bodyweight exercise that I do to stay fit when I'm on vacation or traveling, and even at home when the gym is closed.

Muscles used in pull-ups.
Illustrative credit © Aliaksandr Makatserchyk
  1. Stand under the pull-up bar. Jump up and hold the bar (hands out) slightly wider than shoulder width.
  2. Your shoulders, upper back and hips should be properly aligned. Your arms are completely straight and your body is suspended. This is the starting point.
  3. Take a deep breath and then exhale. Then lift yourself up by contracting your back muscles.
  4. Lift your chin over the bar until your muscles are tight, then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the movement for the intended number of repetitions.

Training tips

  • To help you perform this movement, imagine that after lowering your shoulder blades, you are trying to move your elbows toward the floor by activating your latissimus dorsi muscles.
  • If you feel your biceps are strained, use a pseudo grip (no thumb).
  • Keep your legs straight if the bar is high enough.
  • Avoid finding yourself in a state of hyperextension of the lumbar spine by squeezing your glutes too hard and contracting your abdominal muscles.
  • Lower the arms to near full extension, but avoid locking them completely, as this may put unnecessary stress on the elbow and shoulder joint.
  • Be careful to avoid any body swaying. This is because the unnecessary sway at the bottom of the pulling motion will turn into a large sway during the pulling motion. This large swing will create instability during traction and will force an “S” shaped trajectory. This curved path is not optimal, because if you move away from the bar, it will be more difficult to complete the pull-up.
  • As with other movements like the bench press or deadlift, it is very effective to simulate/imagine that you want to bend the bar. This will facilitate good shoulder blade position throughout the exercise. Put it in your imagination!
  • Never look down, in fact…look up! This is a very important point to take into consideration, as it will help you position your shoulder blades correctly. Hanging and looking at the top of the bar will facilitate a good pullback during the pull-up. Therefore, before you start pulling, try looking at the bar. Moreover, it will give you a feeling of confidence, because looking in the direction of movement will visually guide you and help you complete the pull.
  • If you can't do a single bodyweight pull-up, start by doing a negative pull-up or a flexible pull-up.
  • To make the exercise more challenging, wear a weighted vest or weight belt with weights, or hold dumbbells between your feet.

Which weighted belt to buy?

Amazon Affiliate Link. Prices mentioned in this article are indicative and subject to change.

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How to strengthen your back with pull-ups + 6 variations!

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