Growing up I would always see people doing pull-ups, from movies like I am Legend with Will Smith all the way down to Rap videos. The Pull-up is everywhere. It doesn’t stop there, but the Pull-up is also a staple in the navy, marines, military, callisthenic and gymnastics. One of the big reasons why is because of the beauty of the exercises simplicity. It’s fascinating that there are people out there who don’t even train or know much about training, but they have a pull-up bar in their house and guess what? They have big lats. Who would have thought that pulling yourself up to a bar would be one of the best exercises for the upper body? It’s a primal human pattern and even monkeys do it. Climbing is a form of pulling too which convinces me that its an exercise that most of us are meant to do. It’s only recent that I finally understood the importance of the pull-up because I used to not be able to do them properly. Now I know how to do them properly and the stretch I get in my lats is amazing. When I say that pull-ups are the king of upper body exercises, I am also referring to chin-ups. These two movements are different, but they are both essential exercises and you would be missing out if you didn’t incorporate them. So without further ado, here are 25 reasons why I think that pull-up is the king of upper body exercises.
1) The best lat builder in existence.
The lats are the biggest muscle in the upper body if you didn’t already know and they can dramatically change the way your upper body looks. People think that huge biceps and a big chest will stretch out a t-shirt and they might to a certain degree but no other upper body exercise will stretch out your shirt more than the good old Pull-Up. Every upper body muscle is involved to a certain degree. The lats go from your armpits all the way down to your waist and really give you the illusion of width. The V-taper is something that everybody wants so this exercise must be taken seriously and should be a staple.
2) One of the best bicep builders.
Chin-Ups build big biceps and that’s a fact. I haven’t met somebody who was able to do very strict Chin-Ups for higher reps who didn’t have good arms. If you are trying to get bigger biceps, then these must be a staple.
3) Amazing forearm and grip developer.
Hanging your whole bodyweight from a bar can be very difficult especially if you are overweight and the forearms have to work very hard to hold you up as well. If you want to make your grip work even harder, then you can fatten the grip on the bar by using FatGripz or you can eventually work up to One-Arm Chin-Ups.
4) One of the best core exercises that you could do.
Your first times doing Pull-Ups you might notice that your abs are sore the next day, this is because your abs are working hard to keep your body upright while you are pulling yourself up.
If you are very serious about getting a strong core and putting more emphasis on your abs then try doing L-Sit Chin-Ups, they are brutal!
At the end of this book, I have provided a list of over 20 places to do Pull-Ups from various poles all the way to trees so you have no excuse. This is good because even if you train at a gym you can stick to your main movements but on another day you can dedicate everything to Pull-Ups at home where you try various grips and hit different areas of your back.
6) The best exercise for testing upper body vertical pulling strength.
Lat Pulldowns don’t even come close to Pull-Ups when it comes to testing absolute vertical pulling power. The Pull-Ups calls way more muscles into play such as your core as well.
7) Extremely humbling if you are overweight.
If you weigh over 220lb then chances are that Pull-Ups will not be as easy for you as they are for the person weighing 140lb. This will be a very humbling exercise for you but don’t discouraged, if it’s really hard for you at first because your body will eventually adapt and you will eventually get used to the movement.
8) Long head of the triceps activation.
This may surprise you, but the Pull-Ups actually work the long head of the triceps which are basically what makes your arms look big. The Pull-up is by no means a triceps exercise but you may still experience some triceps soreness after Pull-Up sessions.
9) From a coaching standpoint, it’s very easy to program.
Pull-Ups only require a bar or rings so it is a great way for the coach to save a bit of money while the clients/athletes get phenomenal results.
10) Very fun exercise especially if you can do them weighted of with harder variations.
I personally really enjoy doing Pull-Ups and find that they are fun.
11) Could potentially help improve your Squat, Bench, Deadlift, Rows and Overhead pressing if you’re into weightlifting.
Big and strong lats play a big role in improving your lifts and providing a stable base.
12) Could easily be progressed or regressed for anybody.
No matter who you are, there is a Pull-Up variation out there for you unless if you have a legitimate excuse or injury that doesn’t allow you to do them. Pull-ups are too easy? Try single arm L-Sit Ring Chin-Ups for 10 reps. Pull-Ups are too hard? You can attach a band to a pull-up bar and loop it through your body so that you will have assistance for pulling yourself up and the stronger you get, the lighter you make the band and eventually you will be doing them without a band.
13) It has been a primal movement pattern for hundreds and thousands of years.
Humans and monkeys did a lot more climbing than we do today. It seems like many humans have lost the ability to climb and pull themselves up, we have become weak. Use the Pull-Up to your advantage at get your primal strength back.
Let alone pulling, who would have thought that after hundreds of years that some humans wouldn’t even be able to hang from a bar or a tree?
The society we live in is made up make us weak and I can almost guarantee you that in a couple of hundred years that standing up is going to be very rare. This is due to the fact that humans are seated all day in their cars, in front of their computers and T.V.’s. Technology does everything for us so it makes sense but we will eventually suffer in due time.
14) Easy to track your Pull-Up progress.
Exercises like Pull-Ups are very straightforward and it is easy to track your progress.
15) Low risk and high benefits if you use gymnastic rings or neutral grip handles.
If you use the straight bar to do Pull-Ups, then you will eventually start to experience pain in your elbows and then your shoulders but if you play it safe and use gymnastic rings or neutral grip handles then the benefits definitely outweigh the risks.
16) Countless grips and variations to choose from to help you avoid overuse injuries and optimal lats.
There are so many different variations to choose from, I personally like:
VBAR PULLUP SIDE TO SIDE
This variation is elbow and wrist friendly because it’s a neutral grip and it’s great for the lats. I actually feel this version more than the straight bar variation. The way the exercise works you’ll put your head over on the left side on one rep followed by the right side on the second rep. To do this, you will need a VBAR, luckily many gyms have them.
These are great and probably more joint friendly than the variation above, but it’s also significantly harder because the stabilizers have to work harder. I like this variation because your hands can move freely as opposed to the straight bar.
SHOULDER WIDTH NEUTRAL GRIP PULL-UPS
These work great for the lats and hit the biceps pretty hard as well. Nothing fancy with this variation, but it could deliver great result’s.
CLOSEGRIP NEUTRAL GRIP PULL-UP
Very similar to the first variation that I mentioned, but this time you aren’t going from side to side, the range of motion on this feels longer and the stretch I get in my lats when I do this variation is insane. I’m currently incorporating this variation in my program and it’s sparking some new growth.
In all of my years of lifting, I have yet to find an exercise that humbles me as much as the FatGrip Pull-up. You think that you have good grip strength? Try these and watch a 15 rep max turn into 4 or 5 reps. My forearms are never sore unless if I do these.
17) Pull-Ups aren’t extremely hard to recover from and they are easier on the CNS than Deadlifts.
Pull-Ups are a great way to add volume and frequency to your program without frying your CNS.
18) They are easy on the lower back.
I used to think that the best exercises for your back had to stress your lower back to a great degree (Deadlifts, Bent Over Barbell Rows, T-Bar Rows…etc) but then I added Pull-Ups in the mix which helped me get more frequency and volume without hurting the recovery of my lower back.
19) Pull-Ups look badass.
There is no denying the fact that pulling your own body weight up and down countless of times looks really badass.
20) Pull-Ups keep your body honest.
The beautiful part about bodyweight training is that it’s a detector of where you are at in your training. With all of these machines in the gym and even with free weights such as barbells and dumbbell’s, we get so convinced that we are getting stronger and stronger. This may be true to a certain extent, but check this out:
If these were some of your stats in September 2010
- Deadlifts: 135lb x 5
- 1Arm Dumbbell Rows: 50lb x 8
- Pull-ups: 10
And these are some of your stats in 2011:
- Deadlifts: 225lb x 5
- 1Arm Dumbbell Row: 85×8
- Pull-ups: 4
Notice how the Pull-ups went down? If all of your weighted exercises are going up in weight, but your bodyweight exercises are going down then chances are that you are just getting FAT. You just have more weight to bounce off of you and less range of motion. The same thing applies if you could bench press more weight but you can’t do as many dips as you used to do.
21) Improved posture.
Deadlifts and Rows might be some of the best exercises for helping you improve your posture, but strong lats are also important for standing upright which is exactly what the Pull-Ups train if you do them properly.
They work. I have never met anybody who had a Pull-Up bar in their house who didn’t have a decent back.
There are so many benefits that it’s hard to go wrong with this exercise. I’m not the type to marry myself to an exercise, but if you have no shoulder or elbow problems and you could do them pain-free then they are definitely worth having in your program and toolbox.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the basics.