10 New and Improved Pull-Up Variations

April 17, 2014

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Pull-Ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises for working the upper body. They target multiple muscle groups, including the biceps, shoulders, upper back and core—which is especially beneficial since most sports activate many muscle groups simultaneously.

If you're bored with regular Pull-Ups, try these 10 variations to make your workout more challenging.

RELATED: 15 'Next-Level' Push-Up Variations

Pull-Up Variations

1. Weighted Pull-Up

A simple way to increase the difficulty is to add weight, just as you would with other exercises like the Bench Press or Shoulder Press. After you do these, a regular bodyweight Pull-Up will seem much easier, and you will be able to perform more repetitions.

How To:

  • Add weight either with a weighted vest, by grasping a dumbbell between your feet or by attaching a weighted plate to a belt around your waist.
  • Perform a standard Pull-Up, keeping your core tight and back straight, and focus on retracting your shoulder blades.

Sets/Reps: 3x10

2. Five-Second Hold Pull-Up

This variation focuses on the concentric phase, or the point when you pull yourself up. This causes your muscles to continue firing while contracting, building endurance and increasing strength.

How To:

  • Perform a standard Pull-Up.
  • Once your head clears the bar, hold that position for five seconds.
  • Lower yourself back down.

Sets/Reps: 3x10

RELATED: Do More Pull-Ups

3. Mixed Grip Pull-Up

The Mixed Grip Pull-Up challenges your body by creating an uneven grip, requiring your muscles to adjust, recruiting more muscle activation in an unfamiliar situation.

WATCH: Todd Durkin's Challenging Pull-Up Variations

How To:

  • Grasp a pull-up bar with an underhand grip with one hand and an overhand grip with the other.
  • Perform a standard Pull-Up, resisting the tendency to favor one arm over the other.
  • Perform the recommended number of repetitions for one set, then switch the grips for the next set.

Sets/Reps: 4x10

4. Towel Grip Pull-Up

By using towels instead of the bar, you have less firmness in your grip, increasing the difficulty. This variation focuses on forearm strength, which is especially useful for sports that require a strong grip.

How To:

  • Wrap two hand towels over a pull-up bar about shoulder-width apart so both ends of the towel hang down over the bar.
  • Grasp both ends of each towel and perform a standard Pull-Up.

Sets/Reps: 3x12

5. V-Grip Pull Up

These combine a close grip and neutral grip Pull-Up. They require you to pull yourself up on one side of the bar, so even though you pull up with both arms, one arm is used a little more than the other. By alternating sides, you force your body to constantly adapt and activate different muscles, similar to game situations.

How To:

  • Attach a v-grip handle or rope onto a pull-up bar with both handles hanging down over the bar.
  • Grasp each handle.
  • Perform a standard Pull-Up, but pull your head over the bar on one side.
  • Perform another Pull-Up, but pull your head over the other side of the bar. That's one rep.

Sets/Reps: 3x6

6. Side-to-Side Pull-Up

This variation incorporates strength, stability and endurance in your core, biceps, upper back and shoulder muscles. It is similar to the Five-Second Pull-Up, but it includes movement while you hold yourself up, requiring you to produce force while still moving.

How To:

  • Perform a standard Pull-Up.
  • After your head clears the bar, flex the biceps of one arm so your body and head move laterally toward that arm.
  • Flex the other arm and perform the same movement.
  • Lower yourself. That's one rep.

Sets/Reps: 3x8-10

7. Perfect Pull-Up

The Perfect Pull-Up incorporates wrist rotation, activating both the anterior (front) and posterior (back) of your arms. This variation creates balanced muscles and causes your body to adapt during the hand grip transitions.

RELATED: Perfect Your Pull-Up Technique

How To:

  • Attached two handles to a pull-up station about shoulder-width apart.
  • Grasp each handle with an overhand grip.
  • Perform a standard Pull-Up, but as you pull yourself up, rotate the handle until you reach an underhand grip at the top of the Pull-Up.
  • As you lower yourself, rotate the handle until you reach an overhand grip at the bottom. 

Sets/Reps: 3x12-14

8. L-Sit Pull Up

This one targets the core and requires stabilization and strength. The tough part is resisting the tendency to let your legs drop as you lower yourself.

How To:

  • Hang from a pull-up bar.
  • With your legs straight, bend at the waist and bring your legs up 90 degrees, making sure not to lean backward.
  • Once your legs are up, perform a Pull-Up while maintaining the "L" shape throughout the motion.

Sets/Reps: 3x8-10

9. Single-Arm Pull-Up

Like the Single-Arm Push-Up, the Single-Arm Pull-Up is a great show of strength and balance. It works one arm at a time, increasing the difficulty and the amount of weight you must lift.

How To:

  • Grasp a pull-up bar with one arm and grasp that arm with your other hand.
  • Perform a standard Pull-Up, shifting your weight toward your pulling arm to increase leverage.
  • As you get stronger, progress to performing this Pull-Up without the assistance from your other hand.

Sets/Reps: 3x3-6

10. Muscle Up

You've probably seen CrossFit athletes perform Muscle Ups, so you know this is a challenging exercise. It is the ultimate pull-up variation, combining a Pull-Up with the pushing phase of a Dip. It is a whole body movement, activating multiple muscle groups in one fluid motion. If you can do this, you are a true athletic phenom.

WATCH: How To Do a Muscle-Up

How to:

  • Hang from a pull-up bar with your thumbs on top (false grip).
  • Perform a Pull-Up, using your momentum to swing (kip) and pull yourself up.
  • As you pull yourself up, bring your chest over the bar as you transition from a Pull-Up to a Dip.
  • Press down to push yourself as you would during a Dip.

Sets/Reps: 3x6-8

Topics: PULL-UP
Andrew Meyers
- Andrew Meyers is a NASM-certified personal trainer at Youfit Health Club in Gilbert, Ariz. He specializes in long-distance running and weightlifting. He graduated with a...
Andrew Meyers
- Andrew Meyers is a NASM-certified personal trainer at Youfit Health Club in Gilbert, Ariz. He specializes in long-distance running and weightlifting. He graduated with a...
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