The pull up is arguably one of the greatest upper body pulling movements around. It’s been used for many years by a wide range of people to achieve a whole host of different goals. Bodybuilders have used them to add slabs of muscle to their backs. Swimmers have used them to increase the amount of force they can produce in the pool. And the general public have used them because they look really cool (and they’re great for shoulder health). But when isn’t a standard pull up a great idea? When you get really good at them! If you’re able to throw out sets of 10+ standard pull ups comfortably, it might be time to throw in some variation and challenge your pull up game in new ways. See the list below for my top-5 alternate pull up variations.
- Towel pull ups – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZK-0BlUQmgw
These are great to challenge your grip muscles differently to a standard pull up. The change in hand position can also make them easier on the shoulder joint.
2. Weighted pull ups – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkPauNeuv00
The pull up and the muscles used should be trained just like any other movement and muscle- light weight/high reps and heavy weight/low reps.
3. Tempo pull ups – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38AvvpZTfQg
Increasing the time-under-tension through different phases of the pull up is going to challenge the muscle in a much different way to a standard pull up. Adding a 3s hold at the top and a 3s eccentric (down phase) is a good place to start.
4. L-sit pull ups – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QH0dDfyF7QM
These are probably the most challenging variation on this list. Holding yourself in an L position while doing a pull up will place a massive challenge on your midline but because of this you can get the shoulder joint into a very flexed, and sometimes dangerous, position. Tread carefully with these.
5. Ring pull ups – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhalIpVGju0
This variation isn’t as challenging as the others on this list but the ring pull up does offer a unique benefit that a normal overhand/underhand pull up can’t. The ability for you hands to “swivel” as you pull up means this variation can be a lot gentler on the shoulders. If doing pull ups on a straight bar gives you issues, give this a try. You can even combine it with some of the other variations.