Perfect Form: Wide Grip Pull Up

Technique

  • Take an overhand grip on a high horizontal bar with your hands placed 7-10 inches wider than your shoulders.
  • Fully extend your arms and relax your shoulder muscles to stretch your lats.
  • Inhale slightly more than usual and hold your breath as you begin to pull up.
  • Raise your shoulders first while holding your elbows out to your sides and concentrate on pulling your elbows down to raise your body.
  • Continue to pull yourself up until your chin is level with or slightly above the bar.
  • Hold the top position momentarily, then lower your body under control to the initial fully extended arm and shoulder position and exhale.
  • Inhale and repeat for reps.

Performance

* To most effectively work the upper latissimus dorsi muscles, which widen the upper back, keep your grip as wide as is comfortably possible. The wider your grip, the greater the emphasis on the upper portion of the lats and teres major. The closer your grip, the more you involve the lower portions of both the latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major.

* The first half of this movement is most important for developing mass in the upper latissimus dorsi. The key is to first raise your shoulders and then your entire body. In fact, simply raising and lowering your shoulders (doing partial reps) is effective for this section of the muscle. This is great for adding intensity at the end of a set when fatigue prevents you from completing the full range of motion. To effectively raise and lower the shoulders, however, completely extend your arms and relax the muscles to fully stretch before beginning the pull-up movement.

* Using a wide grip can make it extremely difficult to raise your chin to or above bar level while still keeping your elbows out to your sides. Don’t be too concerned if you don’t raise your body all the way up, but you should strive to go through as full a range of motion as possible.

* The biceps aren’t greatly involved in the pulling-up action, mainly because of the pronated grip. This action twists the tendon of the biceps so that it no longer has an effective line of pull. You’ll see it contract, but it’s more to stabilize the elbow than to lift the body. Focus on raising your body with your back muscles via shoulder elevation and shoulder-joint adduction rather than elbow flexion.

* Bringing the back of your neck to the bar isn’t recommended because it greatly decreases the range of muscle involvement and may cause injury. When you pull up with the bar in front, your arms remain in a neutral plane of movement, which is safer and affords a greater range of motion.

* The rhomboid and pectoralis minor muscles are strongly involved in this exercise. Coming out of the initial stretched position, these muscles undergo a strong contraction to rotate the scapulae downward, which in turn allows the arms to move downward. Note that when you initially raise your shoulders, the scapulae move and begin their downward rotation.

* Many women avoid the pull-up because of the difficulty of raising their bodyweight. The lat pull-down and assisted pull-up machine are often preferred.

Training Science

Primary Muscles Involved

In the shoulder joint, the upper latissimus dorsi, teres major and lower pectoralis major are assisted by the coracobrachialis, subscapularis, short head of the biceps and long head of the triceps. The latissimus dorsi covers a very wide area of the lower half and upper sides of the back. The teres major, on the outer surface of the scapula, is located on the upper sides of the back. The pectoralis major covers the entire chest. The lower section, which is involved in this exercise, comprises most of the total mass and lies directly under most of the breast tissue.

In the shoulder girdle, the primary muscles involved are the rhomboid and pectoralis minor. The rhomboid lies beneath the middle of the trapezius, located in the middle of the upper back. The pectoralis minor is a small muscle on the front of the upper chest and is covered by the pectoralis major.

Muscle/Joint Actions

In shoulder-joint adduction, the upper arms move in the side plane from an overhead position toward the sides of the body. This action is performed by the upper latissimus dorsi, teres major and lower pectoralis major. In the shoulder girdle, downward rotation of the scapula is performed by the rhomboid and pectoralis minor. In this action, the right scapula rotates clockwise and the left scapula counter-clockwise when viewed from the rear. The axis of rotation is through the middle of the scapula. Elevation of the scapulae involves the upper trapezius and levator scapulae located in the back of the neck.

Sports Uses

The wide-grip pull-up is important for developing the upper back muscles, especially the upper portion of the latissimus dorsi. The actions in this exercise are crucial in all climbing actions when grasping with a pronated (palms-away) or neutral (palms-facing) grip and the elbows out to the sides. These actions are frequently used in rock and mountain climbing. Firefighters and police officers benefit from this exercise to help them climb fences, walls and ladders, as do members of the military when going over various obstacles. The pull-up develops the muscles needed in all forms of swimming, especially the breast-stroke and butterfly, and gymnasts use the involved muscles during all pulling-up actions on the uneven bars.

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