The pull-up targets back muscles, specifically the latissimus dorsi (lats), as well as the trapezius, rhomboids, and biceps in the arm. Because pull-ups involve multiple muscle groups simultaneously, they are a great way to build strength and muscle mass and improve functional movement.

Variations of the Pull-Up

  • Chin-up: You perform a chin-up with an underhand grip with palms facing you. Chinups involve the biceps more than the overhand pull-up, making them a little easier.
  • Negative pull-up: A negative pull-up only involves the eccentric phase of the exercise (when the muscles are elongating). To perform a negative pull-up, start at the top of the pull-up position and slowly lower yourself. This variation is a great way to build strength if you can’t do a full pull-up yet.
  • Assisted pull-up: To perform an assisted pull-up, use a resistance band looped around the bar. The band counteracts some bodyweight resistance to pull yourself up, making the exercise easier. You may also use a partner to help lift you.

How to do a Pull-up

  1. Place hands in an overhand grip on the bar, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hang with your arms extended but not entirely straight, slight bend in the elbow, and your body straight.
  3. Pull yourself up. A complete pull-up is when your chin is over the bar.
  4. Lower yourself back down slowly to the starting position.

Tips for Doing Pull-ups

  • If you can’t do a pull-up, start with assisted pull-ups. You can use a resistance band or a partner to help you lift yourself.
  • As you get stronger, you can reduce the amount of assistance you use.
  • Focus on keeping your body straight throughout the entire movement.
  • The lats are the primary muscle targeted. Focus on engaging your lats throughout the pull-up.
  • Don’t jerk yourself up to the bar. Use a controlled movement.
  • A common mistake to avoid is using momentum to swing the body up. 
  • If you can’t do a full pull-up, try doing negative pull-ups, slowly lowering yourself from the top position.
  • Engaging your core throughout the movement is recommended.
  • As you get stronger, you can gradually increase the number of pull-ups you do.

How many pull-ups should you do?

A fit male can typically do 4 to 8 pull-ups at a time.

A fit female can typically do 1 to 3 pull-ups at a time.

Top athletes can do 12 to 15 pull-ups or more with good form.

Benefits of Pull-ups

  • Pull-ups build strength in your back muscles using body weight.
  • They can also help you build muscle mass in your back and arms.
  • Pull-ups are a functional exercise that can help you improve your grip strength, posture, and overall fitness. 
  • Pull-ups are a great way to prepare for activities that require upper-body strength, such as rock climbing, swimming, and gymnastics.

If you’re new to pull-ups, don’t get discouraged if you can’t do one right away. Implement the different variations into your workout routine 2-3 times a week. It will take time and effort, but you will eventually build the strength to do a full pull-up.