The pull up is a classic calisthenics exercise that works the entire back as well as the biceps and triceps.
The traditional, overhand pull up grip means placing your hands a few inches over a shoulder width apart and, you guessed it, pulling your body weight up!
Mastering this is key to building upper body strength but once you’re able to complete a good number of repetitions, you might be thinking… what’s next?
The great thing about the pull up as a movement is that it not only improves grip strength but that, by variations in grip, it is a super versatile exercise that you can adapt easily.
Each variation is great in its own way. We’ve provided a list here of 7 pull up variations that require different types of grip and will really strengthen different parts of your upper body.
This is not an exhaustative list of grip/ pull up variations but it makes a great start.
You will obviously need a pull up bar for these exercises and, for some of them, you will need one with parallel bars incorporated. You can see more about pull up bars here.
Pull Up Variations
1. Narrow Grip Pull Up
A narrow or close grip pull up means moving your hands anywhere from just a shoulders width apart to as close as a few centimetres apart.
Moving your hands closer together while performing a pull up means that, as well as really targeting those lats, you will be able to activate the pecs and the biceps more.
Of course, you should never sacrifice your form whilst doing any of these variations.
With the narrow grip pull up in particular, try to always ensure that you work your muscles to a full range of motion.
2. Wide Grip Pull Up
A wide grip pull up, on the other hand, takes some of the work away from your shoulders and engages the traps and the lower lats more than a classic pull up.
To perform this exercise, ensure that your grip is wider than your body and that your thumbs point towards each other. It helps to imagine that your arms and torso form a Y shape as you do this.
The wide grip is a change that you can make to your pull up that will significantly increase its difficulty so be aware that it might take some time to master.
3. The Chin Up
By flipping your hand grip around so that your fingers are facing towards you, you can perform a chin up by pulling yourself up until your chin passes the level of the bar.
This is a great movement that works a huge range of muscles but specifically targets the lats and biceps.
You can perform a chin up with your hands either a shoulders width apart or closer together in the range described for the narrow grip pull up.
Always make sure to activate your core and to focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together slightly as you pull up.
4. The Hammer Grip Pull Up
If you find traditional pull ups to be hard on your wrists, the hammer grip pull up, also known as a neutral grip pull up, is a great alternative. For this exercise, you’ll need a pair of parallel bars.
These can be further apart, to allow you to perform a wide neutral grip pull up, or close together as most parallel bars will naturally be.
To perform this exercise, you simply hold the inner handles with your hands facing each other.
Begin by drawing back through the shoulder blades and then pull the elbows in tight to the side of the body as you pull yourself up.
5. Mixed Grip Pull Up
The mixed grip pull up, which involves placing one hand facing toward you and one facing away as in a regular pull up, is an awesome variation that can really your improve grip strength.
Because it makes it easier to grip, this variation is actually easier than many of the others on this list.
This variation in grip will also work to target both your back and your biceps for well-rounded strength and size.
Try to get your chin up above the bar and, of course, ensure that you periodically switch hands to avoid muscle imbalances.
6. Around The World Pull Up
The around the world pull up is one of the more advanced pull up variations out there. It really works each arm individually as well as targeting both sides of the back.
You can perform this pull up variation by placing your hands just over a shoulder width apart and then pulling up with a focus on one side which you then shift to the other whilst keeping your chin above the bar.
Again with this movement, you need to ensure that you are placing equal focus on both sides of the body.
7. Muscle Up
If you’re ready to take your pull ups to yet another level, the muscle up is an amazing pull up variation to master.
The muscle up works exactly the same way as a normal pull up except when you reach the highest point of the movement, you push yourself up above the bar.
This is great for the chest and tris but is definitely a difficult move that takes a lot of practice.
So there you have it…. 7 pull up variations that will allow you to progress your training, improve your strength and, most importantly, to have fun.
Calisthenics workouts never get boring because there are so many ways to utilise your body strength and these grip variations exactly prove that.
The pull up is an awesome exercise but these variations are sure to make you feel even cooler and even stronger!
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.