Building upper body strength can be as simple as focusing on perfecting two important movements, pushing and pulling. These two basic movements allow us to perform many daily functions, not only exercise or sports, including functional tasks such as lifting boxes and pulling doors closed.
In today's article, we're looking at the importance of just one of these fundamental movements: the pull. Pulling exercises allow us to strengthen crucial upper body muscles, including our shoulders, backs, abs, and biceps. Strong 'pull' muscles not only will enable us to simply pull objects towards us but also allow us to focus on upper body strength training goals, such as completing pull-ups or deadlifts. Pull day exercises can be completed using a wide range of gym equipment, including pull up assistance bands, weight machines, and bodyweight exercises.
Keep reading to discover the best 5 pull exercises you can try out at home!
What are pull exercises?
Pull exercises are focused on building strength in the muscles that support us and allow us to complete pulling movements. Pull movements occur every time we use our strength to draw an object towards our bodies.
The simplest way to imagine this movement is to think of pulling a door shut. You grasp the door handle and use your muscles to pull the door towards your body until it closes. In terms of exercise, the most common pull movement is the classic pull-up. This pulling exercise uses a range of vital upper body muscles, primarily involving your different back muscles, as well as shoulder and arm muscles.
In less straightforward terms, pulling exercises can be described as 'concentric contractions.' This means your muscles contract, or shorten, to bring an object closer to your body, or your body closer to an object. You can visualize this when you're watching a pull up in action!
The primary muscles we need to target when performing pulling exercises include the following:
Pulling exercises are opposite to pushing exercises, which move objects away from the body, though the two movements use similar supporting muscles to achieve their goal. Training your biceps or triceps, for instance, will involve both push and pull movements as you raise and lower your forearms. Besides the pull-up, popular pulling exercises include bent-over rows, banded bicep curls, lateral pulldowns, and banded glute bridges.
Best pull exercises for a home workout
The list of pull exercises you can try at home is enormous! There is a fantastic range of chest pull exercises, upper body pull exercises, horizontal pull exercises, and vertical pull exercises that you can practice with minimal equipment and no expensive gym membership.
With a selection of resistance bands, including pull up assist bands and hip circle bands, you can create a comprehensive at-home pull day workout that provides an excellent level of resistance for those pulling muscles.
The exercises we've listed below can all be performed with a resistance band. In the case of the pull-up, the band can assist while you gain the strength to perform a full pull-up, unsupported. For other upper body pull exercises, such as banded bicep curls, the resistance band makes the movement a lot more challenging. As you feel your strength develops, you can switch lighter resistance bands for stronger bands.
Try to perform 10-15 reps of the exercises below, although you may struggle to hit this target when you're practicing pull-ups! You can turn these pulling exercises into a dedicated pull-focused circuit, or add them to your existing upper body workout routines.
Remember to stretch before and after any strenuous strength training exercises!
#1 Band-assisted pull up
Pull-ups are a classic pulling exercise. They really are the best way to target all of the major upper body muscles involved in the movement. If you have ever tried a pull-up, you'll also know that to complete a full-up takes training and strength if you are a beginner.
If you're just starting out or haven't practiced pull-ups for a while, then pull up assistance bands are designed to take the strain and the weight off your muscles. You'll be able to improve your strength significantly faster. As you progress, eventually, you'll be able to pull-up your entire bodyweight unaided.
Here's how to do a band-assisted pull-up:
- Loop a pull-up assist band over your pull-up bar and through itself, so the long end hangs down.
- Grio the bar at slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and place one knee into the resistance band.
- Allow the resistance band to take the weight off your arms, then pull yourself up towards the bar.
- When you've reached your fullest extent, lower yourself back down.
#2 Banded seated rows
Band seated rows are a great way to work your back muscles, with these pulling exercises effectively targeting your rhomboids, lats, and deltoids. You're essentially mimicking the movements of a rowing machine, but you're using a band to create the resistance.
Here's how to do banded seated rows:
- Sit down on the floor, with your legs outstretched and your back upright.
- Loop a resistance band around your feet or sturdy support, like a bedframe.
- Take the ends of the band in either hand and hold them at chest height.
- Keep your back and legs straight as you use your arms to pull the ends of the band toward you.
- Keep pulling until your elbows are behind your shoulder blades, to complete a row.
- Slowly release back to the start point and repeat.
#3 Banded bent over rows
Bent over rows are one of the best pulling exercises that target your back muscles. You can perform a light and focused version of the movement using a long resistance band in your living room!
You can perform this exercise using one or two arms, depending on your workout or how much energy you have left. The instructions below are for two arms.
Here's how to do banded bent over rows:
- Stand with your feet firmly over the center of a long resistance band.
- Hold the ends of the band to either side of your body.
- Bend your back forwards, so you are leaning over your feet at a 45-degree angle. Make sure to keep your back completely straight.
- Pull the band upwards using your arms until your elbows are behind your bac.
- Slowly lower your arms again to complete a row.
#4 Banded standing hamstring curls
Leg muscles are a huge supporting feature of pull movements, so keeping your hamstrings strong for those intense pull day workouts is important.
Hamstring curls, or leg curls, are a classic leg exercise, but you don't need a big wight machine at the gym to do them. With a short resistance band or hip circle band, you can exercise your hamstrings at home. There are several varieties of this exercise you can practice while standing, sitting, or lying down.
Here's how to do banded hamstring curls while standing:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold onto a chair or wall for support.
- Stand firmly on one end of the resistance band with your left foot and loop the other end around your right ankle.
- Raise your right leg slightly off the ground and bend it at the knee.
- Push your foot backward and extend your leg behind you.
- Return to the start point, keeping your foot raised off the ground, and repeat.
- Change feet, and repeat the exercise on your left leg too.
#5 Banded bicep curl
Strong arms are essential for a healthy upper body. To effectively perform pull movements, you'll need strength in your biceps. Again, you don't need dumbbells or a weight machine to start training your biceps; you can do it at home with a long resistance band.
Just like the banded bent over rows we practiced earlier, you can perform banded bicep curls with one arm or with both arms simultaneously. Here's how to do banded bicep curls:
- Stand with your feet together in the center of a long resistance band.
- Hold each end in either hand at your side, with your palms facing upwards towards the ceiling
- Keep your back straight and raise your forearms until your hands reach your shoulders (keep your elbows and biceps locked).
- Lower your forearms slowly until they are at a right angle with your elbows.
- Pull your forearms towards your shoulders again and lower.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Don't forget your push exercises!
Don't forget to include push exercises in your weekly workout schedule. Both types of movements are essential not only for sports and athletics but for functional day-to-day activities, even if it's just around the house.
Push exercises target similar muscles to pulling exercises, but with more of a focus on the large pectoral or chest muscles and leg muscles such as the quads and glutes. For a balanced fitness regime and for balanced muscle development, you should include a push and a pull session in your strength training schedule.
Push exercises should always precede pulling exercises to give your body the best chance for both gains and recovery. Split training routines, such as the popular push-pull or the push-pull legs workouts, are a great way to ensure that you have a varied exercise schedule.
Why not add pull exercises to your exercise routine?
Pull exercises are an essential part of any upper body strength training schedule, whether you're looking to bulk up for your sport or to build functional fitness for everyday activities.
A well-planned pull workout routine can seriously complement your upper body strength and your body's aesthetic, giving you the strength and muscular endurance to hit wider fitness goals. Why not add pull exercises to your upper body strength training circuits?