Two Ways to Make Your Pull-Ups More Challenging

Vertical pulling is an important component to any well-rounded training program, and no exercise fits the bill better than the classic pull-up.

Rock solid pull-ups will target a ton of upper body musculature including your lats, traps, deltoids, and biceps – to name a few.

There are an unlimited number of variations with this exercise, depending on how creative you are.  By playing around with different grip positions (pronated, supinated, mixed, towels, etc) and widths (close, medium, wide) you’re able to target different areas of the back and arms.  Things get even more fun with advanced variations such as clapping pull-ups, muscle-ups, and pull-ups performed with external load.

Once you’ve acquired some decent pulling strength, it gets pretty difficult to make steady progress with pulls and chins.  Adding large amounts external weight can sometimes be a tedious process, and constantly trying to max out for reps will most likely lead to elbow or shoulder pain.

Here are two unique variations to add a fresh challenge to your training regimen.


Wide Grip TRX Pull-ups

This is a variation I stole from Ben Bruno that is easy to setup and that makes wide grip pull-ups much more joint friendly.  All you do is toss the TRX handles over the top of a squat rack to create a much wider distance between them.

You’ll have to keep your legs lifted off the ground, but this isn’t a major issue.  I suppose if you wanted to increase the difficulty you could hold your legs straight out in an L-sit throughout the set.

Widening your grip on a straight bar is a good way to hit the lats more effectively, but unfortunately could result in shoulder or elbow pain with a lot of folks.

The straps of the TRX are great because they allow you to rotate your wrists as you pull up, which feels a heck of a lot more natural when pulling in the vertical plane.  With a fixed bar, your wrists are locked into place, which sends the stress straight to your elbows and eventually your shoulders as well.

Using TRX straps, blast straps, or gymnastic rings are all great ways to avoid chronic pain and inflammation when performing pull-ups at a high frequency.  If you have access to any of them, take advantage!


Band Resisted Chin-ups with Fat Gripz

Two major benefits with this one:

  • Accommodating resistance via the band forces you to pull with more acceleration
  • Addition of the Fat Gripz creates a much greater challenge in regards to grip strength

Here’s what they look like.

I like to loop the band under a heavy dumbbell and then toss it over my shoulder because it seems to stay solid in that position.  Make sure there is tension on the band at all times and that you lower yourself under control.  This will ensure that you’re pulling explosively and it will also make the eccentric portion of the rep more difficult (because the band is pulling you down).


Some Important Cues…

  • Pull all the way to your sternum on every repetition.  This needs to be the standard, just getting your chin to barely cross the bar is not acceptable.
  • Using a false grip (thumbs on top, instead of wrapped around the bar) will help take the biceps out of the movement to some degree.  This is a good thing when we want our back and rear delts to do the majority of the work.
  • If you’re going to be doing pulls/chins frequently (more than twice a week, for example), avoid using a straight bar.  As mentioned earlier, TRX straps, blast straps, or rings are great alternatives.
  • Always keep muscular tension throughout the duration of each set.  Never allow yourself to simply dangle from the bar, as this can create unwanted stress on ligaments and tendons.
  • Avoid hyperextending at the elbow.  For those who have excessive joint laxity (more common in women), your elbows may tend to hyperextend at the bottom of the movement.  If this is an issue, only lower yourself until the elbow becomes neutral or has a very slight bend.


Give these variations a try and see how they work for you.  I hope ya like em’!





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