Pull-up (exercise)

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Not to be confused with Chin-up.
pull-up techniques

A pull-up is an upper-body compound pulling exercise. The pull-up is performed with a palms facing forward position. Conversely, a "chin-up" (alternately, but incorrectly identified as a "pull-up" position) is done with palms facing the exerciser.

The most popular current meaning refers to a closed-chain bodyweight movement where the body is suspended by the arms, gripping something, and pulls up. As this happens, the wrists remain in neutral (straight, neither flexed nor extended) position, the elbows flex and the shoulder adducts and/or extends to bring the elbows to or sometimes behind the torso. The knees may be bent by choice or if the bar is not high enough. Bending the knees may reduce pendulum-type swinging.

A traditional pull-up relies on upper body strength with no swinging or "kipping" (using a forceful initial movement of the legs in order to gain momentum). The exercise mostly targets the latissimus dorsi muscle of the back along with other assisting muscles.

Earlier meanings[edit]

In past decades, a pull-up also included open-chain pulling exercises done with a barbell.[citation needed] These exercises are now more popularly known as the bent-over row (in the 50s[1]) and upright row (in the 70s[2])


The name refers to pulling up one's body. It can be done with the hands facing any directions, from prone to supine.

Some have associated a "pull-up" with utilizing an overhand (pronated; palms facing away) grip. This includes by the Boy Scouts of America,[3] Guinness World Records[4] and recordholders.org.[5] Organizations such as the United States Marine Corps however, see pull-ups as both the overhand and underhand grips.[6]

A "chin up" is bringing the chin up to touch the bar or go over the bar, with a supinated palms-facing grip.

Variations of pull ups, beyond being named for their grip, can also be named based on how high the body rises, by naming it after the body part that either comes into contact with or passes over the top of the bar. A "chest-up" or "sternum-up" for example, indicates that the chest or sternum meets the bar, requiring extra scapular adduction and depression.

The pull-up as a physical test[edit]

Pull up tests in armed forces[edit]

US military personnel conducting pronated grip pull-ups

Pull ups are one of the best ways to measure the upper body strength of the "pulling muscles". They are commonly used by armed forces, such as the United States Marine Corps, as a vital way to determine strength among service members.

Pull ups was also used as part of military test in places such as Singapore, where the IPPT for National-Service men is used. It is also used in the NAPFA test for male students above the age of 14. It was then removed in 2014 with the announcement of a new IPPT format.[7]

This is determined by the amount of good form reps that can be done, commonly 20 to 25 pull ups in a row is the standard of perfect score in most of the physical condition tests and the minimum value is 3 full pull ups. This test is usually not timed.[8]


Pull-ups (including chins) can be done with a supinated, neutral or pronated grip (often called "Chin-ups" "Hammer grip pull-ups" and "Pull-ups" in order). Grips may match each other or be different (mixed grip). Grips may also rotate throughout the movement, such as by doing them on rings or rotating handles (false grip). The range of motion used by trainers can vary. The fullest possible range is with straight arms overhead (elbow directly above shoulder), to pulling when the arms are at the sides (elbow directly below shoulder). People sometimes only train portions, such as avoiding locking out the arms at the bottom, or stopping when the head/chin/neck touch the bar. Positions within the range are also trained isometrically, as in flexed-arm and straight-arm hangs for time.

The width of the grip may also differ. When grabbing and holding the bar during the pull-up, the hands can be apart at shoulder-width, or wider, or narrower enough to touch each other. This may make the pull-up more difficult and may limit the range of motion compared to the shoulder-width grip.

Muscles used[edit]


Pull-ups primarily target the latissimus dorsi.


Pull-ups also work the brachialis and brachioradialis in the arms. These muscles are located near the elbow, and help move the forearm. The biceps brachii, or simply biceps, cross the elbow and shoulder joints and work to flex the elbow joint during the exercise. They are involved more during a Chin-up.[9] The long head of the triceps also crosses the shoulder joint and assists in shoulder adduction.


Pull-ups work on the teres major, a small muscle at the back of the shoulder blade. The nearby rhomboids, which connect the spine to the shoulder blade, play a part in pull-ups and related exercises. Pull-ups also work on the trapezius along the spine and shoulder, and the levator scalpulae along the side of the neck. These muscles work to elevate and depress the shoulder blade, and are sometimes called the "shrugging muscles." The deltoid, which is used in all side lifting movements, and which stabilizes the upper arm bones on the scapula, also comes into play.[10] The posterior deltoid also assists in external rotation at the top of the movement.

Abdominal muscles[edit]

The abdominal muscles stabilize your entire torso and help generate force to lift the body up. They prevent the spine from rounding to compensate strength and injury. These stabilizers include the transversus abdominis, the muscle that surrounds the spine and organs, diaphragm, and other deep muscles near the spine. The outer abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominus and external and internal obliques, function as secondary support for the stabilizing abdominal muscles. They also help reduce body swinging.

Pelvic floor[edit]

Like the abdominal muscles, the pelvic floor muscles hold the organs up within the body cavity and stabilize the pelvis and legs during pull-ups. Without proper hip stabilization, the legs and pelvis would move around during the exercise, causing instability and decreasing one's ability to perform a pull-up well.[11]

Hands and forearms[edit]

The muscles of the forearm are also worked by holding the overall body weight, improving the strength of the fingers and the forearms muscles creating a strong isometric contraction in these muscle groups.


Organizations like the American Council on Exercise give advice such as "care should be taken not to unduly put stress on your shoulder during this exercise."[12] Elbow pain due to tendonitis, bursitis, and ulnar nerve entrapment can occur as a result of excessive pull ups and improper technique.


Example Type
A standard pull-up


Standard dead-hang pull up is grasped with an overhand/underhand/alternative-hand grip. Then the body is pulled up until the chin clears the bar, and finished by lowering the body until arms and shoulders are fully extended. Stricter standards would only consider a full repetition to be one in which the elbows pass behind the coronal plane.

Animation of a weighted pull-up


Weight is added using a dipping belt, or grasping a dumbbell with the feet, or weight vest/shorts

Animation of a behind-the-neck pull-up

Behind-the-neck pull-up

The chin is dropped forward through cervical flexion. The goal of the pull-up is to touch the bar with the back of the neck.

Mixed grip

One hand is placed in the overhand (pronated) position and the other is placed in the underhand (supinated) position to provide variation on the elbow flexors used.

Commando pullup

Also called the cliffhanger pullup, the body is held sideways to the bar, hands right next to each other, one hand pronated and the other supinated, and the body is raised as far as possible (until one shoulder touches the bar). This variation emphasizes one arm, and can be used as a progression towards the one arm pullup.

Animation of a one arm pull-up

One arm

A one arm pull-up is performed by grasping the bar with only one hand while pulling up. This is difficult due to the considerable strength required.[13]

One hand

An easier version of the one arm pull-up: a pull-up where one hand grips the other arm just below the wrist.

Climbers' pull-up startClimbers' pull-up end

Climber's pull-up

A pull-up staying as close as possible to one side; typically the arm doing the majority of the work is alternated each repetition. In the most advanced version of this, one arm is kept totally straight; this is called the archer pullup. In an alternative version called the typewriter pullup or around the world pullup, the trainee comes up on one side, moves horizontally across to the other side while holding at the top, and then down on that side.


An easier version in which the body is bent dynamically to help propel the athlete upward. The hips swing first forward and then back as the legs swing forward. Finally, the legs swing downward again, pushing the torso upward. The fastest version where the head follows an elliptical path, moving backward at the bottom of the motion and forward at the top, is sometimes called a butterfly pull-up.[14]

Sternum pull startSternum pull end

Sternum pull-up

A pull-up with a longer range of motion, finishing with the bar touching the sternum.

Animation of a muscle-up


A pull-up with a maximal range of motion, transitioning to a dip. Generally the initial pull-up uses an overhand grip to make the switch easier and is more explosive in order to take advantage of momentum from the first half of the exercise to aid in the second half.

Assisted Pull-Up

A pull-up band is a large rubber band that is tied around the pull-up bar, then you place either a foot or a knee in the open “loop” hanging from the bar as you do your pull-ups. The band will assist you by taking on some of the bodyweight load and allowing your muscles to complete the pull up movement at a more manageable weight.

Supine row

Sometimes called an "Australian pull-up", "reverse push-up", "inclined pull-up" or "inverted row", this is performed with the bar 2 to 3 feet off the floor. The trainee lies on the ground under the bar, face-up, and grasps the bar with extended arms. The exercise is performed by pulling the chest up to the bar. The body is held in a rigid plank position while the heels remain on the floor. "Supine" refers to the body being face-up, not to the grip: supine rows can be done with prone, neutral or supinated hands.

World Records (pronated grip)[edit]

Guinness World Records[edit]



See also[edit]