There are different types of workouts you can do at the gym or at home to reap the benefits of exercise. But if you want to focus on upper body strength, one of the workouts you can do is pull-ups.
We've read an analyzed hundreds of studies on strength training's benefits, spending nearly 45 hours focused on researching the benefits of pull ups. The top 8 reasons why you should include pull-ups in your workout routine are that pull-ups:
- Improve your physique and strength
- Build significant grip strength
- Improve joint fluidity and bone health
- Boosts metabolism and helps burn fat
- Are great for men and women
- Benefits your overall health
- Are convenient
- Improve posture
- Can be modified to suit your level of fitness
Pull-ups improve your physique and strength
Adults lose 3 to 8% of their muscle mass every decade and one way to prevent or reverse this phenomenon is to engage in regular strength training exercises like pull-ups.
During a randomized trial of healthy individuals, it was discovered that:
- After 6 weeks of training twice a week, participants improved their pull-ups by 39%
- Subjects increased performance by 65% after 12 weeks of pull-ups done twice a week
Pull-ups are good for your physique and strength because:
- Pull-ups train your grip to be stronger as you need to be able to support 100% of your body weight, and more if you wear weights
- It challenges your core muscles as you need to stabilize your body as you through the up and down motions
- It is transferable strength, which means the upper body strength developed by pull-ups can be used to make other exercises easier or everyday tasks a breeze
- It builds muscle endurance - the more you do it, means increasing the number of pull-ups you’ll be able to do
- You get the highly-coveted v-shape as pull-ups target the biggest muscle of the back
- It reduces back pain
Effects of grip on muscle activation
For untrained individuals, the way you grip a pull-up bar might not seem important. However, the position of your hand can result in different muscle activation.
Based on a systematic review on hand orientation and pull-ups, it was revealed that:
- A pronated grip results in a 79% increase in infraspinatus activation
- A perfect pull-up increases latissimus dorsi activation by 130%
- A supinated grip activated the bicep brachii by 96%
- Regardless of grip orientation, the pectoralis muscle is only activated by 44 to 57%
Pull-ups improve joint fluidity and bone health
As a type of resistance training, pull-ups are beneficial for people who want to strengthen their bones and keep their joints fluid.
During a small study on healthy individuals, it was discovered that:
- 80% of joint activity happens at the shoulder joint during a pull-up
- 50% of joint activity happens at the shoulder girdle, which includes the scapula and the collar bones
- Results in stress lines on the bones of the upper arms as the muscles get pulled, stimulating bone-forming cells and strengthening the bones
- Keeps the joints in the elbow, shoulders, and back fluid
Pull-up can help increase metabolism and weight loss
Pull-ups increase muscle mass, which means your body burns more calories and positively affects your metabolism.
Based on various sources,
- One pull-up can burn 0.2 to 1 calorie
- 1 minute of pull-ups can burn 4 to 10 calories
- You need to do 3,500 pull-ups to experience weight loss
- A woman weighing 150-lbs can burn about 9 calories for 1 minute of pull-ups
- A man weighing 170-lbs can burn about 11 calories per minute of pull-ups
Pull-ups: Men vs. Women
Men are built with more muscle mass in their upper body compared to women. So it’s not surprising that men are able to do more pull-ups than women.
According to various sources, on average:
- A man can do at least 8 pull-ups
- A woman can do 1 to 3 pull-ups
Above-average strength and fitness are indicated by being able to do:
- 13 to 17 pull-up reps or 18 consecutive pull-ups for men
- 5 to 9 pull-up reps or 7 consecutive pull-ups for women
In a survey that aimed to find out how many people can do a single unassisted pull-up, it was discovered that:
- 80.2% of men can do it
- Only 31.3 of women can do it
- 80% of nonbinary can do it
Despite the difference in muscle built, pull-ups are good for both men and women because:
- They help increase upper body strength
- Improve how the upper body looks
Health benefits of pull-ups
Studies on the effect of pull-ups on health are scarce, but as a type of resistance training, it can have some positive effects on your overall health.
Based on several reviews on the effects of resistance training, which include pull ups, it was stated that 10 weeks of strength training can:
- Increase resting metabolic rate by 7%
- Increase HDL cholesterol by 8 to 21%
- Decrease LDL by 13-23%
- Reduce triglycerides by 11 to 18%
- Lower resting systolic blood pressure by 3.2 to 4.6 mmHg
- Reduce diastolic blood pressure by 1.4 to 2.2 mmHg
- Increase bone mass density by 2.7 to 7.7%
- Improve insulin sensitivity by 16%
- Reduce depression by 80%
Pull-ups as part of a workout routine can:
- Reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular health problems in the future
- Improve bone density
- Lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
Pull-ups are convenient
Unlike other weight training exercises that you need access to a proper gym to be able to do, pull-ups can be done anywhere you can prop yourself up, hang, and do your sets.
- Save you time because as a compound exercise, it activates different muscles at once
- Can save you money as you can use the doorframe or buy a pull-up bar that installs on your door
- Can easily be elevated by just adding weights or using resistance bands
Pull-ups improve posture
Poor posture is one of the downsides of spending hours in front of your computer, whether it be for work or school. But this can be remedied by adding pull-ups to your workout routine.
- Pull-ups require you to hang onto a bar and carry 100% of your weight, or more, which improves your posture as:
- Your body is in an upright position
- Your back is not hunched
- Shoulders aren’t rounded
- Reduces stress on the spine, neck as they are in a neutral position
- Your core muscles are stronger which helps prevent slouching
What muscles do pull-ups work?
pull-ups work the muscles of the chest, shoulders, back, specifically the:
- Latissimus dorsi, the largest muscle of the back
- Trapezius, the muscle that spans the nape, the upper back, and the shoulders
- Thoracic erector spinae, the muscles on either side of the spine
- Infraspinatus, the muscle of the shoulder blades
- Teres major, a strip of muscle that connects part of the shoulder blade to the upper arm
- Pectoralis major and minor, the main muscles of the chest
- Biceps, the muscle on the front part of the arm
- Triceps, the muscle on the back of the upper arm
Do pull ups and chin ups work the same muscles?
Both exercises work the muscles of the chest, shoulders, back, and arms. The difference lies in the grip. During pull-ups, your palms face forward when you grip the bar. Meanwhile, your palms face you during chin ups.
The movement of pull ups and chin ups may be similar, but muscle activation is affected by how you position your hands on the bar. If you want to target your lats or back muscles, go for the pull ups. If you want better biceps and pecs, do the chin ups.
Do pull-ups make you taller?
There aren’t sufficient study to back up claims that pull-ups can help you grow taller. However, because pull ups improve your posture, you stand straighter and taller, which helps you appear like you’ve grown a few inches taller.
Should you do pull-ups everyday?
You can do pull-ups everyday but that won’t allow your muscles time to rest, heal, and grow. This means that you won’t get bigger muscles in a short period. The best approach would be to have at least a day of rest in between pull-up sessions. Otherwise, to do them everyday, you would need to do significantly lower repetitions.
What is a negative pull-up?
A pull-up has 2 phases: the positive or upward phase and the negative or downward phase. The point of the negative pull-up is to have control during the downward phase and not just let your body drop and hang.
You start a rep in the upward phase and slowly lower your body. And according to studies, the negative phase is more efficient in improving muscle mass and strength
Can beginners do pull-ups?
Yes, beginners can do pull-ups but may only be able to complete less than 10 pull-ups on the first try. Fitness professionals recommend starting with 5 pull-ups during the first week, then increase the numbers each week. As for the frequency, you can do it twice a week at the beginning.
You can also do other upper body exercises like lifting weights to help with grip strength and strengthening muscles. Otherwise, using an assisted pull up machine can benefit you greatly by significantly lowering the weight you need to lift.
Does kipping make pull-ups easier?
Kipping is the act of swinging your lower body to get momentum, making it easier to pull your body up. This is quite useful for beginners who are struggling a bit in their pull ups.
Based on a study, kipping can reduce muscle activation in the arm, back, shoulder, and chest muscles by 10.6 to 13.4%. This means in kipping, your muscles aren’t getting the same workout compared to a traditional pull-up. Thus some strict pull-up practitioners see keeping as cheating.
Also, if you have previous shoulder injuries, it would be best to avoid kipping as it can exacerbate the injury and cause pain and discomfort.
What other strength exercises are great for building muscle?
There are thousands of exercises and variations, but it's key to focus on the most essential exercises. These strength exercises are incredibly effective and come with their own unique sets of benefits:
- Squat benefits for building muscle
- Push up benefits for building muscle
- Bench press benefits for building muscle
- Deadlift benefits for building muscle
Anyone who wants to improve their upper body strength can add pull-ups in their exercise regimen. It may be hard to do at the beginning since you are carrying 100% of your body weight, but the more you get comfortable with it, the stronger you become and easier it gets.
Pull-ups offer a ton of benefits from correcting posture, increasing muscle mass and strength, and even help with self-esteem.
Like other strength-training exercises, you reap most of the benefits of pull-ups when you do it 2 to 3 times a week instead of everyday. This gives your muscles to tear and repair itself to experience gains.
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You can wear any pair of training shoes when you do pull-ups. The focus of pull-ups is your upper body and your feet are off the ground when you do them. Unlike other strength training activities that would require special footwear, you can wear CrossFit shoes or HIIT trainers or even everyday gym shoes if you please.
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