It may look simple, but you’re using your own strength to pull your body up and the pull-up engages all major muscle groups. It strengthens your arms and shoulders, back muscles, overall body strength and has significant benefits on your mental health too, as you pull your body into position.
If you rotate between only overhand, underhand, and neutral-grip pull-ups, then it’s time to broaden your training horizons—and probably your lats. There are way more pullup variations than the simplistic body-weight tower at your local gym would lead you to believe.
We walk you through six worthy pullup options. You may not be able to crush all six of these pullup moves—ranked from easiest to hardest, but your back will be bigger and better for trying.
If you aren’t strong enough to do a full pullup yet, this is probably the best way to practice going through the full range of motion.
- Secure a wide elastic band to a pullup bar and let it hang straight down to the floor.
- Select a band resistance appropriate for your strength level—the thicker it is, the more assistance it will provide.
- Place one foot or knee in the loop of the band, then grab the pullup bar with a shoulder-width grip.
- Lower down to full arm extension, then pull yourself up to the bar.
- Repeat for reps.
- As you get stronger, use a lighter band and eventually work toward body-weight pull-ups with high reps (10-plus).
For this variation, you’ll have to pull yourself toward the side on the way up in order to avoid hitting your head. This creates a unique challenge for your trunk as well as your grip due to the increased lateral instability.
- Position yourself sideways to the pullup bar and grab it with one hand just in front of the other.
- From here, lower down to full elbow extension, and then pull yourself up so your head clears the bar to one side.
- Lower back down, and then ensure your head clears the opposite side of the bar.
- Alternate sides every other rep.
These are great once you can already do 20-plus strict unweighted pullups. After you get to that point, if pure strength is your goal, weighted pull-ups can be a useful tool.
- Add a modest amount of weight to your body (anywhere from five to 50 pounds) by way of a weight plate dangling from a weight belt (or a band, as shown).
- From there, perform a pullup, using the grip of your choice.
Uneven pullups involve using one arm to a greater degree than the other. This makes it an easy way to add intensity without external weights.
- Drape a towel over the pullup bar and grip it with one hand, with the other hand grasping the bar with an overhand grip.
- Perform pullup reps—down to full elbow extension at the bottom, chin clearing the bar at the top.
- Do half of your reps for the set, then switch sides for the rest of the set.
- Or switch hands every other set and make sure you do an even number of sets.
These are great for building explosive pulling power. As with all pullup variations, focus on using your arms to generate power rather than kicking with your legs.
- With a shoulder-width, overhand grip, do a pullup.
- At the top of the rep, when your momentum is still carrying you upward, quickly slide your hands together on the bar.
- Lower yourself back down and do a pullup with the close grip.
- At the top of that rep, slide your hands back out to the wider grip and do another complete rep.
- Move your hands in and out in this fashion every other rep.
Think of an archer pullup almost like a self-assisted one-arm pullup. It’s a great way to dramatically increase the intensity of a standard pullup without the need to add weight.
- Assume a wide, overhand grip on the bar.
- Pull yourself up to one side so that at the top of the rep your head is right next to one hand, with the opposite arm extended and running along the bar.
- In the finish position, you’ll resemble an archer pose—one arm in close to you and the other extended.
- Alternate sides every other rep.