The Truth About Pull-Ups
Pull-ups have long been considered the best body weight exercise for your back and biceps, unfortunately about 85% of the population can’t do pull-ups. Because of the difficulty in doing pull-ups and the convenience, as well, this exercise is often neglected.
If you’ve over-looked pull-ups you’ve neglected half your upper body, because pull-ups work your back, biceps and forearms. Push-ups, which are great for upper body strength only target your chest, shoulders and triceps. If you overlook pull-ups and only do pushups, you are creating muscle imbalance, which can lead to upper back and neck pain.
If you are in that 85% of the population who can’t do pull-ups try ‘modified’ pull ups or as some people call them ‘Australian’ pull-ups ( because you are down under the bar) or “inverted body-weight rows”. Basically you are using a pull up bar that stands about 30 inches off the ground. This allows you to slide underneath the bar and keep your feet on the ground.
The benefit of modified pullups is that you ‘off-load’ about a third of your body weight, which allows most women and men to do body weight pull-ups. You receive the same benefit of free standing pullups as you do with ‘modified’ pull ups, in fact, I think you get more benefit and I’ll explain that later. You will often see people doing ‘assisted’ pull ups in the gym on a Smith machine or squat rack, but for those who can’t afford that type of equipment and train at home you can simply find solid broomstick or metal dow rod and place it between the backs of 2 chairs or somewhere else sturdy / secure.
Pulling to Chin or Chest
The pulling motion, whether from overhead to your chin or towards your chest, as if you were doing a ‘row’ works basically the same muscles – the latissimus dorsi (the muscles that give that nice V-shape look), biceps and forearms. The benefit of the rowing motion and why I like ‘modified’ pullups is that it also targets the muscles between your shoulder blades.
Your trapezius and rhomboids are the muscles between your shoulder blades and are responsible for keeping your shoulders pulled back. They help keep that nice upper body posture and are the direct antagonist to your chest muscles, which are notoriously tight on most people and the biggest reason for upper back pain. Unfortunately a free hanging pull-up doesn’t target as much of the upper back muscles as does a rowing movement, which you get from a ‘modified’ pullup.
For that reason I am a big fan of modified pullups – it helps restore muscle balance to your upper torso, which helps reduce upper back and neck pain. So if you’ve been neglecting your back muscles because you can’t do pull-ups try modified pull-ups. Most women are pleasantly surprised to learn that they can do pull-ups this way, as well as, a lot of men who have added a few extra pounds and can’t do pullups anymore.
I think the biggest surprise is feeling how good of a pump you get for your back and biceps when you start doing pull-ups on a regular basis. Give it a try and train your whole upper body, your back and biceps will thank you for it!