Spice Up Your Pull Ups: Creative Exercises for the Bar

Pull Ups are among the most difficult and impressive exercises you can perform in the gym. Whilst nearly everyone can bench press/squat/deadlift after a few weeks training, it can take people months or even years to master even the basic pull up (none of that ‘kipping’ rubbish, and yes, sorry Crossfitters, they are rubbish as we explained here the other week).

But once you’ve managed to perform a regular pull up, what can you do next? This article will look at how to perform the basic pull up, how to step up the difficulty if required and how to make them slightly easier if you cannot manage a full pull up just yet. Mix up a fresh protein shake my brochochos and brochachettes, it’s time to sit down, dig in and take some notes!

Exercise #1. The Pull Up

An exercise that works the lats and the Trapezius muscles, the pull up also works the biceps and brachialis. Grab a bar with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you) with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

get creative
Don’t forget your dark sunglasses if you really want to look like a complete BAMF out there on the beach!

Keeping your elbows flared out throughout gradually pull yourself up until your clavicle (collar bone) is in line with the bar. Pause and then lower yourself back down again in a slow and controlled manner. For best results try pushing your chest out slightly so that there is a slight arch in your back, this will lead to greater lat activation.

The standard pullup is one of the most natural feeling for most people and has been shown to be one of the most effective movements for overall back-muscle development/growth. If you have access to a gym and want to supplement pullups to double-hammer your back check out our guide to back-bulging exercises.

Exercise #2. The Chin Up

If you are struggling to perform a full pull up then the chin up is a decent substitute as it is slightly easier to complete. It also works the biceps more directly so you could also use the chin up as an awesome addition to an arm workout.

Grab the bar with two hands in an underhand grip, make sure that your hands are relatively close to each other. Pull yourself up to the bar as you would with a regular pull up, pause, and then slowly lower yourself back down again.

Exercise #3. Eccentric Pull Up

Another regression from the standard pull up that is also an excellent exercise in its own right (aren’t pull up the gift that just keeps on giving?). The eccentric pull up involves only the lowering portion of the pull up.

So for starters you are going to need a box or step or something so that you can start at the top of the movement with your collar bone in line with the bar. The idea with an eccentric lift is to fight gravity as much as possible, so don’t drop down. Instead lower yourself as slowly as possible fighting to stay up as much as you can.

Once you finally reach the bottom you can let go of the bar and climb back up to the top. Eccentric training has many benefits such as improved hypertrophic response (bigger muscles for all you bros out there!) [1][2].

Exercise #4. The Inverted Row

If even the eccentric pull up is a bit challenging (or if you’re looking to knock out a high-rep set) then the inverted row is the exercise for you. A smith machine is perfect for this, but any bar that is set at waist height is perfect.

Lie under the bar with your hands holding on to it in an overhand grip and shoulder-width apart. Keeping your heels touching the floor and leg straight raise your body off the ground. Then you can initiate the exercise by pulling yourself up until the bar touches your chest, pause, and then lower yourself back down until your arms are straight.

Exercise #5. Wide Grip Pull Up

This exercise is performed exactly the same as the regular pull up but with your hands much further apart. This makes the exercise much more difficult to perform but the benefit is that it will work your Latissimus Dorsi muscles much more than the regular pull up.

Exercise #6. The Typewriter Pull Up

Start in the usual pull up position and raise yourself up until your collar bone is level with the bar. Then you are going to slide your body to the left (keeping your hands in the same place) so that your right shoulder is now on the inside of your right hand and your left shoulder is on the outside of your left hand.

Pause and then slide along until your right shoulder is on the outside of your right hand. Move back into the central starting position and lower yourself down. That’s one rep. The movement is similar to how a typewriter moves as you write, hence the name.

Bonus #7. The Marine Pull Up Routine

OK, so this is more of a series of pull ups and it does require you have some sort of jungle gym near your house, but the combinations are so awesome we thought we’d include it anyways. This Marine is absolutely jacked and you can bet your ass he got that way largely from high volume workouts featuring body weight exercises like the ones mentioned above.

Check him out for a little playground inspiration!


[1] Pope, Z., Willardson, J., Schoenfeld, B., Emmett, J., Owen, J. 2015. Hypertrophic and Strength Response to Eccentric Resistance Training with Blood Flow Restriction: A Pilot Study. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching 10(5): 919-931

[2] Armstrong, R., Warren, G., Warren, J. 1991. Mechanisms of exercise-induced muscle fibre injury. Sports Medicine 12(3):184-207


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