Exercise is not always an exact science, and setting new routines can be both difficult and frustrating.
While professionals may make exercises look natural on film, the reality is that proper technique comes from repetition, practice, and breaking compound exercises into parts.
The infamous pull-up appears in a large portion of body-weight exercises, and it can be frustrating for beginners to get a grip on the exercise.
For those who are starting out, or for those who wish to master the technique by breaking the exercise down into manageable parts, we introduce the reverse pull-up.
What is a Reverse Pull-Up?
Contrary to popular belief, a reverse pull-up does not refer to the hang grip used for the exercise. A “reverse grip” exercise usually alludes to an activity done with an inverse grip method.
For example, a reverse grip bench press describes a bench press done with your palms facing towards the top of the body rather than facing your feet.
A reverse pull-up on the hand is a description for the lower half of a pull-up or the “descent.”
For those working up to a complete pull-up, a reverse pull-up is a great way to build strength, confidence, and technique.
It is also essential to distinguish between a chin-up, a pull-up, a reverse chin-up and a reverse pull-up. A chin-up is completed on an overhanging bar, with the palms facing inward.
A chin-up is distinguishable by the handgrip as well as the targeted muscles. When completing a chin-up, athletes prioritize the biceps bracchi by keeping the elbows closer to the body.
A pull-up is also often considered much more versatile, as grip width can be easily adjusted to isolate different muscles. A pull-up uses internal rotation while chin-ups allow the body to rotate externally.
As external rotation is often more comfortable for beginners, chin-ups are usually easier to start with. Learn more about chin-up and reverse chin-ups for beginners here .
Benefits of a Reverse Pull-Up
The pull-up is often considered the king of the upper body exercises. It requires minimal equipment, and the learning curve is quick.
While a reverse pull-up focuses on the bottom descent portion of a full pull-up, the benefits are much the same.
And for those who are using the reverse pull-up to build strength and work towards a full pull-up, here are some benefits you have to look forward to.
Increased Grip Strength
One of the first obstacles when learning to do pull-ups is the unfamiliar strain on the fingers and wrists due to underdeveloped grip strength.
The good news is that this small obstacle does not last long, as grip strength increases quickly. Don’t be discouraged with a few blisters and sore hands- these are the mark of success with pull-ups.
Grip strength is valuable when completing pull-ups, but can also come in handy as a functional fitness tool, in weightlifting, and while playing various sports.
Sports such as golf, tennis rock climbing, and jump rope all become more comfortable with increased grip strength.
For functional fitness, having a strong grip can also help with day to day activities. Pickle jars have never been easier to open.
Valuable Back Strength
Back strength is often overlooked, yet it is incredibly important for overall health, functional fitness, and injury prevention. Pull-ups target quite a few upper back muscle groups, including the latissimus dorsi, the infraspinatus, and the trapezius.
By building the back muscles through strength training, problems such as back pain and bad posture are prevented.
Along with the leg muscles, the back muscles consume a significant amount of energy, so maintaining them builds optimal body composition.
Slow and Steady Progress
For those unable to complete a full pull-up exercise, a reverse pull-up is a perfect way to build strength and perfect technique.
By doing both of these things, injuries will be avoided, and mental confidence will not suffer.
Bodyweight exercises such as chin-ups and pull-ups often carry a strong mental expectation that can be more frustrating than the physical exercise itself.
Setting realistic goals and progressing slowly will make the desired result come sooner and with much more ease and enjoyment.
Good Technique and Proper Injury Prevention
A common mistake made by beginners is rushing too quickly to “complete” the pull-up exercise.
When we focus on speed, we tend to take shortcuts, which can result in injury. Straining the body is not hard to do if speed is the primary goal.
Reverse pull-ups focus on proper technique and slow progress. By mastering each part of the full pull-up exercise one at a time, we significantly prevent injuries that could delay the desired results.
How to Do a Reverse Pull-Up
To practice a reverse pull-up, you will need both an overhead pull-up bar and some sort of elevated device. This device can be a sturdy chair, a box, a gym bench, or even an exercise ball.
Start by stepping onto the elevated deceive and adjusting it as necessary to grip the bar overhead comfortably.
The higher your head is (towards the bar), the better and more comfortable the exercise will be.
Grip the bar with your palms facing outward, and your wrists shoulder length apart to start.
Gently stepping off the elevated platform, lower yourself slowly and with control until your arms are fully extended. Step back onto the chair or bench, and repeat as necessary.
The slower you can lower yourself down, the more valuable to reverse pull-up will be.
Mastering this half of a pull-up means lowering yourself with control and technique, isolating the necessary muscles.
To progress to a more advanced reverse pull-up, you can begin to adjust the elevated device lower and lower, creating a bit more of a pull at the beginning of the exercise.
Think of it as easing your way into a full pull-up.
If you do not have an elevated device handy, a reverse pull-up can also be accomplished with a strong “jump” up to the peak of your pull-up, and a controlled lowering.
When doing this method, be sure not to strain your upper body while jumping up.
Jump as high as your comfortably can, and lower down slowly.
It’s highly recommended for absolute beginners to use an elevated device as it prevents injury and allows more consistent progression.
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.