The pull-up bar is probably the most harmless but most intimidating fixture in a gym. The struggle to pull off a conventional or a basic pull-up, with the right form and technique, is quite real. But there are other ways to make use of the pull-up bar that may increase your strength and grip, and also work on a lot more muscles than just the back. So while the basic pull-up is surely the exercise you want to crack, a pull-up bar is a far more versatile aid which you can use to train other areas of your body.
Here are five different variations which will be the perfect ice-breakers in your relationship with pull-ups. Before you get into them, and if you haven’t mastered the basic pull-up yet, feel free to do them all with the help of bands. Banded pull-ups are the best way to progress to an unaided pull-up.
The Commando Pull-Up
Apart from just the back, the pull-up is an excellent exercise for core stability. You will use an alternate narrow grip (as shown in the video below) for the commando pull-up, but the catch is that you approach the bar sideways: as if you’re carrying a heavy sack on one side of the shoulder with both hands. According to Al Kavadlo, writer of the books Get Strong and Street Workout, the commando pull-up “creates a unique challenge for your trunk as well as your grip due to the increased lateral instability.” The body might want to lazily rotate at the end of every pull-up, but the challenge is to keep it stable and keep going. If you have a longer bar at your gym, then you can even travel across the bar with every rep, as if you’re Rambo crossing a gap between two mountains using a pull-up bar. Hey, whatever works.
This is the easiest pull-up variation on the list, and when done with the right form, can give you a mean bicep pump. A 2013 study in the US National Library of Medicine journal concluded that chin-ups are the more functional exercise of the two. Another research says that they are 50% more effective for your biceps than the conventional pull-up. A comprehensive study of the best bicep exercise, Inside The Muscles: Best Back And Biceps Exercises on t-nation.com, rates weighted chin-ups above barbell and EZ-bar curls. Perfect for arms day, or even a few sets to failure after any workout, the chin-up is usually easy to do due to the underhand grip compared to the more elusive overhand pull-up.
The Australian pull-up is also a fancy name for the inverted row. A move that can also be executed on rings, for the Australian pull-up, perform an inverted row with your feet slightly elevated on a couple of weight plates or a box or a bench. This could be done on a bar on a bench rack as well because most pull-up bars are too high to execute the row. Many may find this method easier than the pull-up. This move will still increase the three main components required to do a proper pull-up: grip strength, core stability, and pulling strength. While performing this, you must always keep your scapula engaged so that your core doesn’t collapse.
The explosive Pull-Up
If training for speed and agility and fat burn is part of your routine, then the explosive pull-up, much like the explosive or clapping push-up, is a great way to train your body. It requires a little more motion on the way up, because you need to release the bar for half a second and grip it right back on your way down to complete the move. It’s an excellent high-intensity variation, and will certainly shred you.
One for the beginners
This is how I first learned pull-ups and it’s a great way to build confidence to try more advanced moves. Position yourself below the bar, raise your arms in the grip you want and use the jump’s momentum to take you up the bar. However, you need focus on slowly coming down in a controlled manner so that the rep counts. You can reset and jump again for the next rep. The muscles in your back, shoulders, core, and chest will work to control this downward movement and increase the coordination required to perform other challenging pull-up variations.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.