Want to look like a badass in the gym? Rock some pull-ups and you’re there.
Want to be a fierce independent bitch? Pull-ups can help.
There are many benefits of pull-ups. We’re going to focus on the top 6 benefits of pull-ups. Don’t know how to do pull-ups? Today’s the day you learn.
What is a pull-up?
A pull up is when you lift your body weight straight up off the ground (from a standing position).
What Muscles do Pull-ups Work?
Pull-ups work your back.
Primarily, you’re working your lats (latissimus dorsi). Your lats are on the top and outside of each shoulder, then they run down the back.
You’re also working your upper-inner back (next to the lats), which is called the Rhomboids.
You’ll also get a kick-ass workout for many of your arm muscles including the forearms, biceps, and triceps.
You’ll receive some benefits to your pecs and abs as well.
What are the Benefits of Pull-Ups?
Here are the 6 best benefits of pull-ups: function, convenience, compound, grip, pain, and bragging.
Benefits of Pull-Ups #1 – Pull-ups are a functional exercise
Functional exercises are ones that prepare you for daily life, not just working out. They relate to the actions you perform all the time.
Pulling is one of the functional movements and pull-ups are the best exercise for it.
Benefits of Pull-Ups #2 – Cheap, Easy, Convenient
Pull-ups are cheap because you only need something high to grab.
If you go to a gym, they’ll have somewhere to do pull-ups. They’ll probably have an assisted pull-up machine if you can’t do an unassisted pull up (yet).
If you work out a home, you can buy an inexpensive doorway pull up bar. You could also do pull-ups on the bars at a park, a sturdy tree branch or anywhere you can grab that will support your weight.
Pull-ups are easy. I don’t mean easy like anyone can start doing fifty pull-ups today (I wish). I mean easy like they don’t need complicated movements or equipment. Grab and pull. The mechanics of it are simple, it’s the strength that’s difficult.
Pull-ups are convenient. As mentioned above, you can do a pull up on any grippable item that will support your weight. See a door nearby? Good. You can use it to do pull-ups.
Benefits of Pull-Ups #3 – Compound Exercise
Pull-ups are a compound exercise. What does that mean? It means that different muscles groups are working together during the exercise.
When doing a pull-up, muscle groups in your back, shoulders, arms, and core must all come together to get it done. This is the opposite of what happens in isolation exercises. An isolation exercise is one that works only a single muscle, independently of your other muscles. Think bicep curls and calf raises.
That’s not to say that isolation exercises should never be done – some do have a valid place in a workout. But, generally, a compound exercise will be preferred. Which would you rather? 10 pull up reps or 10 reps each of 4-6 different exercises to hit all the same muscles?
Benefits of Pull-Ups #4 – Hold On
Grip strength. It tends not to be anyone’s number one goal – but maybe it should be.
Grip strength is the strength of your hands and forearms. It’s the result of those muscles and tendons.
Why should you care about grip strength?
The same muscles and tendons responsible for a strong grip are also the cause of carpal tunnel and tendonitis. Improving your grip strength reduces your likelihood of developing those (very common) injuries. If you’re already injured, be cautious but you can still exercise.
Another benefit of increased grip strength is for sports. Tennis, rowing, rock climbing, mixed martial arts, and many more sports rely on your grip strength.
You’ll also experience benefits in your daily life. You’ll be able to do a lot of things. Examples include:
- hold more weight (think carrying those groceries in)
- write and type for longer with less discomfort
- hold on to your dogs’ leash when the try and run after that squirrel
- opening jars.
Another excellent exercise for improving your grip strength is the Deadlift.
Benefits of Pull-Ups #5 – Bye Bye Back Pain
Pull-ups can improve your posture. People with good posture look taller and thinner.
But more importantly, people with good posture experience less back pain.
If, like a lot of people, you spend a lot of time sitting (in the car, at a desk, on a couch) you will have an increased spinal load. Pull-ups can help decompress the load. This can help with current back pain but also reduce your chances of future back pain and injury. Win-win.
Benefits of Pull-Ups #6 – Brag About It
Pull-ups are badass and everyone knows it.
This can be good motivation to keep working on your pull-ups when it’s tough – and if you can’t do pull-ups, getting the first few in is going to be tough.
Pull-ups & Your Weight
Pull-ups involve pulling the entire weight of your body up off the ground.
This means, the more you weigh the hard it will be for you to do pull-ups.
When you do a pull-up, you’re lifting your entire body weight up. If one person weighs 115 pounds (52kg) and the other weighs 165 pounds (75kg), guess who’s lifting more? The person who weighs 165 pounds is going to have to pull up 165 pounds. The person who weighs 115 pounds? Well, they only have to pull up 115 pounds.
BUT – Don’t let your weight stop you from doing pull-ups! They can be done – at any weight – you’ll just need to be a bit stronger! And stronger is better anyways.
How to do a Pull-up
Pull-ups are hard. You have to be strong enough to lift your entire body weight.
This is, hands down, the best pull up progression video I’ve seen. It shows you seven levels to work through until you can do a pull-up. You should treat each level as a progression. If you can’t do each level with relative ease, DO NOT MOVE ON TO THE NEXT LEVEL!
Pull up Progressions & Pull up Alternatives
I’m hesitant to suggest any. There are a ton of variations and progressions you can find online, few of which will help you do a proper pull-up.
I’m going to suggest ONE progression alternative for people with a commercial gym membership (or a lot of money to spend on their home gym). Use the assisted pull up machine.
The following video uses a standing assisted pull up machine. I’ve never seen one like this – the gyms I’ve belonged to have had kneeling ones. The machine works the same way, but it has a padded “seat” that you kneel on, instead of standing.
Adding Pull-Ups to Your Workout
Do pull-ups (or your level) – 3 sets of 8-12 on arm day.
Tracking Your Pull-Ups
You should definitely be keeping track of your workouts – all of them, not just pull-ups. It will make seeing your progress easy (and satisfying).
But the real benefit is improvement. If you’re not tracking your workouts, how do you know when it’s time to advance to the next level? You don’t.
I like the JeFit app. I use the free version, but there is a paid option that offers extra stuff.
Checking Your Form
A workout buddy is a helpful thing to have. They can motivate you to workout (and keep you from skipping workouts). They can also check your form.
If you don’t have a workout buddy, you’ll have to check your own form. You can workout in front of a mirror or video yourself and check it after.
If you workout in a commercial gym, ask a staff member or another gym-goer. Most are happy to help.
Start Doing Pull-Ups!
If you haven’t been doing pull-ups, it’s time to start.
The benefits of pull-ups definitely outweigh all the downsides. Yes, they’re hard. But, they’re worth it.
Follow the guided video above to progress. There are no shortcuts!
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