Pull-ups are an incredibly badass bodyweight exercise, and the possibilities for creativity and play are endless. This is one of many reasons why the pull-up is possibly my favorite exercise in the world.
Contrary to what some people might suggest, the pull-up is not just an upper body movement.
It is an extremely technically demanding full-body exercise. Therefore, there are many different elements of the pull-up you can train for. Also, no matter where you are in your current pull-up journey, there is an abundance of exercise variations from the different pull-up pre-requisite categories that will meet your current fitness level and ability. So training for pull-ups is something most people can do.
Are you still struggling to excel at pull-ups? Check out this article where I discuss some extremely common mistakes in great detail.
Let’s suppose you’ve honed your craft and have mastered all of the pull-up pre-requisites, and are now able to bang out multiple reps of pull-ups. Does this mean your journey is over? Absolutely not! Now it is time for you to have some fun.
In this article, I am going to share 10 of my favorite advanced pull-up variations. You might not even have seen or tried some of them before!
Before you sink your teeth into any of these advanced variations, I highly recommend that you are able to perform at least 8–10 perfectly executed strict pull-ups. While this is not a black and white recommendation, you don’t want to perform these advanced variations before you are ready. Also, if any of these advanced variations give you even the smallest amount of discomfort, avoid doing them.
In this badass pull-up variation, you adopt a mixed grip, which means that one palm is facing you (supinated grip), and the other is facing away from you (pronated grip). Place your hands so they are slightly closer together than they would be for regular pull-ups.
As with all pull-ups, initiate the movement by drawing each shoulder blade in towards your spine and down towards your opposite hip, not by pulling with your arms. After you have initiated the scapular movement and as your body is traveling towards the bar, perform a 180-degree turn with your body, and in the direction of the palm that is facing you.
During the lowering portion of the movement, reverse the movement. As with all pull-ups, do not keep your shoulder blades pinned — they are meant to move! During the eccentric component of the pull-up (i.e., on the way down), your shoulder blades should be doing the opposite movement as they did during the concentric component (on the way up).
With this advanced variation, you likely want to keep the number of reps you perform on the lower side. Avoid performing this movement if it bothers your elbows or shoulders.
In this advanced pull-up variation, you perform the movement with just two fingers per hand on the bar. While this variation might seem flashy, it absolutely serves a purpose.
If you are performing pull-ups correctly, the muscles in your mid and upper back — not your arms — should be doing the majority of the work. The shoulder blades — again, not the arms — should be initiating the movement.
This exercise forces you to stop relying on your arms, and is fun to do! If using two fingers per hand is too challenging, start out by using three fingers per hand.
This might be my favorite advanced pull-up variation as it adds an element of play. Make no mistake: while this exercise is fun, it is exceptionally challenging.
Do a pull-up. Once your chest reaches the bar, perform lateral gliding movements with your upper body, while keeping your chest at bar height — this part of the exercise absolutely torches the lats!
Once you’ve completed about 2–5 lateral glides per side, lower your body down to the starting position, by reversing the movements you did on the way up.
I bet you’ve heard of band-assisted pull-ups, but have you heard of band-resisted pull-ups?
In this advanced pull-up variation, rather than using a band for assistance, you are using one to make the exercise more challenging. Set up a band so it is across the base of a squat rack, and so it is resting on your forefeet. Ideally, there should be tension in the band for 100 percent of the movement.
As the band is resting on your feet, this essentially forces you to dorsiflex your feet, fully extend your knees, and engage the muscles in your quads. This is how I coach people to perform pull-ups.
Also, the additional resistance the band provides increases the overall demand for upper body strength, shoulder and scapular controlled mobility, lumbopelvic stability, and grip strength.
Proper body positioning, as well as generating the requisite levels of tension in the lumbopelvic region and lower body, play a key role when it comes to excelling at pull-ups.
In this advanced variation, rest a weighted dowel on your forefeet, and perform pull-ups. If you do not maintain proper body positioning, engage the muscles in your lower body, and dorsiflex your feet, the dowel will fall.
The weight of the dowel also increases the overall demand for upper body strength, shoulder and scapular controlled mobility, lumbopelvic stability, and grip strength. You may start out using an unweighted dowel, and build from there.
Many people struggle to reach their chin or chest to the bar when performing pull-ups, and try to complete the rep by reaching for the bar with their chin — this is not a complete rep!
In all seriousness, your head, torso, and hips should remain in a stacked position for the duration of the movement (think of your body as a canister). Rather than reaching up to the bar with your chin, you want to keep your chin tucked and neck in a neutral position.
In this variation, I’m performing the movement while balancing a book on my head. This helps keep optimal head and neck positioning — if you lose it, the book will fall.
Many people have the goal of being able to do a single-arm pull-up. While this is an extremely lofty goal, this advanced variation is an in-between.
With this type of pull-up, hold onto the bar with one hand, grab onto your opposite forearm with the hand of the non-working arm, and perform pull-ups while using as little assistance from the non-working side as possible.
This exercise demands a lot of shoulder and scapular controlled mobility, grip strength, and lumbopelvic stability, and is extremely anti-rotational in nature. While you may use any grip, I find that adopting a neutral grip works and feels best.
I got this innovative advanced pull-up variation from my friend Nick Nilsson, who calls these corner rack pull-ups with lateral band tension, and they are awesome!
With this variation, wrap a mini-band around your forearms and grip onto the top cross beams, positioning your palms so they are facing outward. For the duration of the movement, press outward or laterally against the band and into the beams as this increases the amount of work the lats are required to do. Make sure there is tension in the band for 100 percent of the movement.
This advanced pull-up variation is extremely unique as it combines pull-ups and band-resisted psoas marches. With this movement, you simultaneously pull yourself up to the bar while performing band-resisted psoas marches, using a mini-band wrapped around the front of your feet.
In order to execute both of these movements to perfection, you likely need to perform both movements using a slower speed, which makes the exercise even more challenging. Once you reach the top position, pause for a brief count, and return to the bottom position while reversing the movements you did on the way up.
Here is another single-arm assisted pull-up variation you can try out. In this exercise, fasten a band around the pull-up bar, and grab onto the band with your non-working hand. Perform pull-ups while using as little assistance from the non-working arm and band as possible.
Like the other single-arm assisted variation I shared, this exercise also demands a lot of shoulder and scapular controlled mobility, grip strength, and lumbopelvic stability, and is extremely anti-rotational in nature.
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