For decades pullups have been regarded as the measuring stick for complete physical health or strength. Ever since the iconic black and white portrait of Arnold Schwarzenegger doing pull ups went mainstream, the amount of pull ups you can do in one set has become an indirect representation of just how strong you supposedly are.
But that begs the question, why are pull ups so popular? What muscles do pull ups work? I mean if you were to dive into most of the resistance training programs on the market today, I can almost guarantee that they all include pullups in some way or form. Whether it’s the traditional wide grip pull up, narrow or neutral grip, chin ups, and even assisted pull ups all seem to find a way into the everyday gym-goers’ program.
Okay so before we list the benefits of pull ups, we’re going to backpedal slightly and briefly cover:
What are pull ups?
A pullup is exactly that a pull-up, it’s an exercise designed for the user to pull him or herself vertically upwards using nothing but their own body strength. Their bodyweight acts as the resistance and it is usually performed using a pole, mounted bar, or a pair of ring ropes.
Anyone can do them! Even if you can't pull up your full body-weight just yet. Try starting out with a pull up assist band.
What do pull ups work out?
Traditionally, they have been used as an exercise to strengthen back muscles. Now I use the word traditionally, simply because in reality, it's so much more than a back exercise. You see, pull ups serve as the foundation of upper body functional strength. It’s an exercise that has the potential to provide several benefits ranging from something as simple as improving grip strength, helping to achieve a better posture, and even in some cases reducing back pain.
Do pull ups make you stronger?
How many times have you seen someone in the gym that can bench press 3x their body weight but can’t even reach up and touch the pull up bar, let alone lift themselves up for a single rep?
It's the sad reality of modern-day resistance training. Because relatively speaking a measure of true strength is based on how well you can move your own body weight. So on that basis with enough practice, pull ups can definitely make you stronger.
Unfortunately, the potential strength gains you can make doing pull up exercises in isolation are limited. To make meaningful progress in strengthening your body you will still need an external load (resistance). So trying to improve your overall strength by doing JUST pull ups for strength training won’t be beneficial in the long term. However, adding them to your resistance training program is a really effective way to get stronger.
Is it OK to do pull ups every day?
This is a tricky one so we’ll break it down for you guys, so that you can see why this isn’t as straightforward as it may seem...
Can you do pull ups every day? The simple answer here is: YES.
But the real question you should be asking is SHOULD you do them every day? Probably not.
We’ll explain this using two different scenarios:
Janice is a seasoned gym-goer and recently decided that she would like to give Crossfit a go. Since Janice has been a regular in the gym for the better part of a decade she was confident she could kick it with the local Crossfit clan. Unfortunately, after attending the first few sessions, Janice quickly realized that her upper body strength was nearly non-existent. Especially when compared to her peers that had been doing Crossfit for a couple of years. So she set herself a goal: in 3 months' time she would be able to do 10 pull ups with good form.
Now in Janice’s case, doing some form of a pull up every day for the next 90 days will significantly improve her upper body strength.
So if you find yourself trying to achieve a specific goal in a finite amount of time then doing pull up exercises every day is OK.
Now let’s look take a look at a different scenario:
Jacob is a bodybuilder that has more than 20 years of experience in the gym. He weighs around 275lbs. Over the years Jacob has significantly increased his strength across the board. He has put on and maintained over 20lbs of lean muscle. Jacob sees one of those “100 pullups a day for 30 days” challenge posts on social media and decides to give it a go.
Now in this scenario doing pull up exercises every day is not okay. Simply doing so many of them, with that kind of frequency is bound to do more harm than good. Firstly, his years of experience in the gym means that doing 3000 odd pull ups in 30 days probably won’t result in any meaningful strength or muscle gains. Secondly, pull ups put significant strain on the shoulder joint and rotator cuff. Add his heavy bodyweight into the equation and it’s an injury waiting to happen.
So in a case like this, Jacob would be far better off strategically using pull ups as part of a dynamic warm-up. Or as part a superset style exercise program in an effort to achieve a progressive overload in his back muscles.
It's ultimately up to your individual exercise goals. However, I personally believe in doing them frequently but not necessarily every day.
Do pull ups reduce belly fat?
This is actually a question we hear quite often. And I think this stems from the fact that more and more people are moving away from doing just cardio to try and lose body fat. So as using weight training as a tool to reduce belly fat starts to become more mainstream, questions like this are popping up more frequently.
But that being said, pull ups on their own do not reduce belly fat. But add them into a circuit style HIIT workout with a few lower body and core exercises, and all of a sudden they become a powerful tool to aid fat loss.
Top benefits of doing pull ups:
- Improved overall upper body strength.
- Improved grip strength.
- Improved shoulder and rotator cuff range mobility
- Simultaneously work out multiple muscle groups with one exercise
- Simple exercise to execute that doesn’t require a lot of equipment
- Improved confidence (because nothing is more satisfying than hitting rep number 10 for the first time!)
All in all, the pull up is actually quite a versatile exercise. Even though there are some cons to doing pull ups, I believe that overall pull up benefits far outweigh them. A pull up can aid in something as intrinsic as improving your grip strength. And at the same time, it has the ability to target multiple muscle groups. So whether you’re a newbie or a 20 year veteran in this crazy gym world we love so much… I believe we all can benefit from doing some more pull ups.