All Kinds of Pull-ups

Neutral Grip Pull-up

The pull-up is my all time favorite exercise. It’s simple, effective and can be varied in an endless amount of ways. Pull-ups work the entire upper body, particularly the lats and other back muscles.

The Basics
The standard pull-up is performed while hanging from an overhead bar with your hands a bit wider than your shoulders and your palms facing away from you. Keeping your whole body tight, begin to pull yourself upward. When your chin passes the bar, you’ve completed one repetition.

The chin-up is the most common pull-up variation; it’s the same as a pull-up except your palms are facing towards you. Changing the grip from overhand to underhand places more emphasis on the biceps.

Wide Grip vs. Close Grip
Feel free to vary the width of your grip with chin-ups and pull-ups. Wider grips will generally be a bit harder as they place more emphasis on the lats; a closer grip puts more emphasis on the arms, chest and shoulders.

Commando Pull-up

Neutral Grip & Commando Pull-ups
You can also do a pull-up with your palms facing towards each other. This is typically done on two bars that are parallel to each other (commonly referred to as a neutral grip). There is also a variation where you do a neutral grip pull-up on one bar with your hands staggered, alternating which side of the bar your head passes on the way up. This is often called a commando pull-up.

Australian Pull-ups
If you’re still learning to do a pull-up, the Australian pull-up is a great way to work your way up. Check out my guide to Australian pull-ups for more on this modification.

Be careful with pull-ups behind your neck

Behind the Neck Pull-ups
This is an exercise that you have to be careful with. If you’re new to pull-ups or you’ve had shoulder/rotator cuff issues, it might be best to leave these out for now. However, for those of you who are comfortable with pull-ups and have healthy shoulders, going behind the neck can be a challenging and worthwhile variation.

Dead Hang Pull-ups
When performing pull-ups, you want to use a full range of motion. The dead hang pull-up ensures that you are doing just that. During a dead hang pull-up, your arms are fully extended at the bottom of each rep, bringing your body to a dead hang. Absolutely no momentum is used to pull your body upwards.

Kipping Pull-ups
Unlike the dead hang pull-up, when you do a kipping pull-up you are intentionally using as much momentum as possible to swing yourself over the bar – be explosive! There are a few different kipping techniques out there. Mine is a bit unorthodox but it works for me.

Plyo Pull-ups
Once you get comfortable with pull-ups and kipping pull-ups, try some plyometric variations. Any explosive pull-up that involves letting go of the bar is a plyometric pull-up. One of my favorite plyo pull-ups is the clapping pull-up.

Plyo Pull-up

Archer Pull-ups
An archer pull-up involves using a very wide grip and only bending one elbow as you pull yourself up. The other arm stays straight. The top of the rep looks almost like you are drawing a bow and arrow. The archer pull-up is a great technique to help practice towards the one arm pull-up.

The One Arm Pull-up
The one arm pull-up is the granddaddy of them all! It takes tons of practice and patience to acquire this skill, but if you are willing to work for it, it’s within your grasp!

A Life of Possibilities
This is by no means an all-inclusive list. There are infinite pull-up variations so feel free to get creative! Watch the video below to see demonstrations of these pull-ups as well as several other variations, such as the L-sit pull-up the “X pull-up.”

For more information about pull-ups, pick up a copy of my book, Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics.

This entry was posted in Body Weight Exercises, Pull-ups!. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Al Kavadlo

    Thanks – glad you found some inspiration here!  Good luck with your pull-up contest!

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  • Ty

    Since these are all pull ups, and ‘chin’ could refer to how high we pull (why would a supine grip be a chin up if someone only got their nose to the bar?) I think we should name the grip variations after their grip.

    Palms away: pro-ups (pronated)
    Palms to self: sup-ups (supinated)
    Neutral grip: neu-ups

    This is cool because it’s 1 character shorter than chin/pull and I think it’s more technically correct. There’s a lot of old books using the chin-up term for the pronated grip, and people referring to supine grip as pull ups. I think the chin=supine pull=prone is a relatively recently forced meme that we should reject.

  • Al Kavadlo

    I agree that the terms “pull-up” and “chin-up” are a bit arbitrary, but it’s not going to change any time soon and I’ve got more important things to worry about.

  • Fyture

    Hi Al, I hope this isn’t too demanding. This is a pretty long request in fact. I just tore my rotator cuff, so I’m being forced to switch mainly to bodyweight exercises. I was wondering, could you make a list of what 1 or 2 muscles are mainly being worked in each variation of the pull up? like close grip underhand = bicep and lats, etc… Is it too much to ask for? If it is, you can just ignore it, no worries :) Good article by the way, thank you!

  • Al Kavadlo

    Bummer about your rotator cuff!  As for which muscles are worked in which variations, they all work the same muscles (lats, biceps, abs, etc.) but to varying degrees.  Your best bet is to experiment for yourself (once your shoulder is healed and you’ve completed physical therapy).

  • Fyture

    Is it dangerous to do pullups with a torn rotator cuff? I had a good workout today using mainly pushups, pull ups, dips, and hand stand pushups, and i didnt feel any pain in my shoulder. the only time i feel it is when I’m on the bench press, or when I move my shoulder in certain positions.
    Also, do you only do calisthenic exercises? Or do you do use freeweights/machines as well?

  • Al Kavadlo

    It’s not necessarily dangerous to work out with a torn rotator cuff.  It depends on your individual situation.

    And yes, I lift weights sometimes, but I don’t like to work out with machines.

  • Fyture

    What about your chest, shoulders, biceps, and triceps? I read the FAQ that you mainly stuck to deads and squats? Do you ever lift weights for those muscles? I was wondering because they look extremely well developed, and I’ve never seen someone who does strictly calisthenics for those muscles, be that big lol. But that could be because of my ignorance :)

  • Al Kavadlo

    I’m not very big at all!  I just have low body fat so you can see my muscle tone easily.  And yes, I only do calisthenics for my upper body: pull-ups, dips, muscle-ups, etc. 

  • Fyture

    interesting. thanks! also, do you do all of your moves everyday? like you do pullups, pushups, etc. everyday? what about recovery time?

  • Al Kavadlo

    No I don’t do everything every day.  I’ll be putting out a new book soon that addresses these questions!

  • Fyture

    okay cool, i was pretty confused on that lol. cant wait to read it! are these books available in stores?

  • Ali

    love your work. I have one question though. How does one progress to a plyo push up.

  • Al Kavadlo

    Thanks, Ali!  It takes lots of practice and dedication to progress to plyo push-ups.  I’ve got a couple of push-up articles and videos here on this blog that discuss plyos.  if you do a search you’ll find them.

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  • joe

    When I’m doing a lot of pullups I always eventually pull a back muscle and it kills my enthusiasm when I have to take a break for a bit. Is there anything you can suggest to keep me limber? How do you deal with injuries? 

  • Al Kavadlo
  • joe

    That’s perfect. Thanks so much man. I just found your site today and it’s easily the best resource I’ve found for the the type of training I want to do. Take care sir. 

  • Xavier

    I just wanted to say thank you so much! This website is extremely helpful! I do Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and the last thing I need is to get bulky. Not to mention it’s a sport all about body awareness. Has been a perfect alternative to weight training. Thanks again.

  • Al Kavadlo

    Thanks – glad to help!  Keep training hard!

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  • Tomazco

    Very thorough list here, thanks. However might I suggest that you put some info on precisely which muscles each different exercise focuses on? I’m a little confused by them all!

  • Al Kavadlo

    They all work your whole upper body, but in subtly different ways.  You should get my new book, Raising The Bar, if you want to know more.

  • Mike, ENgland

    Hey Al – thanks for all of your great advice and tutorials – truly inspirational. I love doing pull-ups, especially as I want to gravitate to the muscle-up, but I have recently developed some tendinitis in the right, dominant forearm. Do you have any recommendations for a swift recovery. I have modified the pull-ups to chin ups with an underhand grip, which does not seem to stress the muscles anywhere near so much, but I don’t want to lose the gains from the overhand grip. Whatever you can suggest will be very much appreciated!

  • Al Kavadlo

    Thank for the kind words, Mike!  The best way to deal with tendinitis is simply to rest or lower your training volume until the pain subsides.  Your muscles can generally get stronger at a faster rate than your connective tissue, so it’s important to give the tendons time to catch up.

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