Posted by Brenda Wallace
Any bodyweight exercise relies on three components for it to work:
(1) Resistance (2) Distance (3) Stability
Change any one of these and you’ll have a variation that you can try in any bodyweight exercise. The pushup shows this the best. Doing pushups with your hands higher than your feet (incline pushups) are easier than doing pushups on the floor. Your arms have less resistance to work against. Moving your hands wider or narrower than the shoulders change which muscles are needed for the pushup, which can make things easier or more difficult. Stability can be altered by placing your hands on basketballs or another round surface.
The same principles also apply to your pull ups. Here’s a bunch of pull up variations that demonstrate these three principles quite clearly, and how to do them.
1-2: Basic pull up and chin up
Before you can vary, you need to know the classical form! Grasp the bar with your palms outward (pull up) or inward (chin up) about shoulder width apart. Pull your body upward until your chin completely clears the bar. You may find it helpful to think of pulling your elbows down to the floor and pushing your chest upward. Lower yourself back down with control. Ideally, keep your body from swinging as much as possible.
Here’s a really good, if a little cheesy, exercise plan that you can use to get yourself the strength for both pull ups and chin ups. The only problem is that this guy needs a Stud Bar and not that flimsy DIY thing!
3-4: Assisted pull up and chin up
An assisted pull up or chin up removes some of the resistance and makes the exercise easier. There’s several ways to do this. A partner can hold your feet, or you can stand on something. Some people use strong resistance bands hooked over the bar. There’s even assisted pull up machines in many gyms. Experiment! Another form of this is to have someone raise you up to the top position, then letting go while you control the descent. These are called “negatives.”
Here’s an example of some of these assisted variations to go with the ones you learned in the first video, as demonstrated by Stud Bar staff:
5-8: Wide and narrow pull up and chin up
To do these, just move your hands wider or narrower than the standard pull up or chin up position. In general, the wider your hands are the more you’ll feel it in the back. Narrow positions will bring it more into your lats and arms. Try it! Put your hands up right now, pretend you’re gripping a bar and pull yourself up with different hand positions. You can feel where your body tenses up to prepare for the movement.
Here are some more examples off these basic variations, along with hammer pull ups:
9-10: Side-to-side pull up and chin up
Now we’re getting into more difficult variations. A side-to-side means that you pull yourself up in a diagonal direction until your chin touches your hand. Lower yourself back down in the same direction then go up the other way. This is the beginning of messing with stability in a pull up. Keep your hands in the basic position or go a little wider. The wider you go the more difficult. Here’s an example from the UK (note that they call it a chin-up throughout. Must be a Brit thing):
11-12: Around the world pull up and chin up
This is the next level up after the side-to side. Pull yourself up to one hand then slide your chin directly across to the other hand above the bar before lowering yourself down. Repeat on the other side, or do reps in one direction then go the other way. Lots of instability, distance, and resistance changes here! Check out this example:
These variations are about distance. Start from hanging from the bar then lift your legs straight up until your body is in the shape of an L. From this position, do pull ups or chin ups. Lower yourself completely to a hang each time. This will be extremely challenging, and will also blast your core.
15-16: Sternum pull ups and chin ups
Who says you have to pull up just to your chin? Sternum pull ups and chin ups are done when you can pull your chest up to the bar. Lean your head and shoulders backward a bit as you pull up and push your chest upward. This is a variation that is important to master. Try combining these with an L-sit. It’s possible!
17: Clapping pull up
For these you need to be able to do a sternum pull up with no problem. These build explosive power in the arms and back. Pull yourself up as fast as you can into a sternum pull up, clap your hands, then grab the bar and lower yourself before you fall. To start these, first just try taking your hands off the bar for a moment and catching yourself. Then move on to just making your hands touch while keeping then curled. Finally, move to full claps. Here’s an example of this progression:
18: Quick change
This is like doing a clapping pull up, only instead of clapping you switch your grip between pull up and chin up with each repetition. Note in the example below that the athlete is doing sternum pull ups and chin ups to allow his hands to clear the bar safely.
19-20: Commando pull up and commando L-sit pull up
A commando pull up is when you stand sideways to the bar and pull yourself up with your hands very close together. Some people lace their fingers and other people put one hand right in front of the other. You can do these at the edge of the bar so you can pull straight up. If your bar won’t allow that, then pull yourself up to one shoulder, lower, then up to the other shoulder. Move your body around the bar, not your head! The L-sit variation just adds extra pain, but you’ll need a bar that hangs from the ceiling to give your feet clearance.
21. Alternate grip pull up
For those deadlifters out there, why not try your alternate grip on the bar? Put one hand in chin up grip and the other in pull up grip. Do a few reps then switch the grip around.
22. Towel pull up
This is one of the best exercises for developing grip strength. Loop a small towel over the bar. Grip the part that hangs down then pull up! You probably won’t be able to clear your chin above the bar with these. Shoot for getting it above your hands. You can do many of the variations already listed with a towel setup for extra instability, or try some of these variations from Crossfit.
23. One-armed pull up
One-armed pull-ups take your pull up regime to the next level. Some of the most experienced pull up artists in the world pale when they’re faced with the one-armed pullup as it requires a mixture of balance, poise, and style to do these right (without hurting yourself). We’ve attached a tutorial video that will help you get into one-armed pullup territory.
24. Muscle ups
Muscle ups are a Crossfit specialty. They’re designed to kick your butt and train your entire core. Perform a sternum pull up and keep pulling up. Lean forward until you can push yourself up and lock your arms out above the bar. Next, do a dip back down then lower yourself back to start. There are a lot of special tricks to this exercise, so you may want to consult a Crossfit trainer first before attempting.
25. Add rings
After you’ve been doing ‘regular’ style pull-ups for a while, you might find that they’re getting easy. For a bit of challenge in your exercise diet, pull out the gymnastics rings and attach them to your pullup bar. This will add a new factor of difficulty because the rings themselves are not naturally stable. Have you seen the grace and style of gymnasts working the rings? You can do that too.
Here at Studbar Pullup Central, we use the Elite EXF Gymnastics Rings with Adjustable Straps.