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Chinups and pullups remain some of the the best performance indicators of your relative body strength, plus they build serious upper body strength and muscle. They also build the upper back strength necessary for keeping a neutral spine while squatting and deadlifting.

And let’s not forget about the role they play in the summertime gun show. But doing the same chinup and pullup variations for more reps or added weight may lead to overuse injuries, particularly with your elbows. Oftentimes it’s better to mix things up to keep you progressing injury free.

So here are four chinup and pullup variations you can begin incorporating into your routine to build more upper-body size and strength.

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Iso Chinup Hold

Isometric chinup holds force you to recruit the muscles of the rhomboids and lower traps to strengthen the entire upper-back area and improve both your posture and thoracic spine extension. All of this helps shoulder stability and strengthens the shoulder area against injury. Holding this reminds you of what muscles need to be doing the work because some get over reliant on their arms and not back while performing these.

Muscles trained: Forearms, biceps, rhomboids, lower traps, and lats

How it helps: Keeping your muscles under tension longer will always help build size and strength. Plus, this variation will help build some serious grip strength.

When to do this: Use this instead of your usual pullup variation and do this at the start of your training when you’re fresh. Three sets of 30-60 seconds will give you all you can handle.

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3-Way Chinup Hold

This variation resembles the iso hold, but you are holding for time in three different positions. This strengthens your grip in three different positions and helps to improve your strength with your regular chin ups/pull ups. This is because you’re spending more time at the common sticking points (lockout, elbows at 90 degrees) of the pullup/chinup.

Muscles trained: Forearms, biceps, rhomboids, upper and lower traps, and lats.

How it helps: Builds functional grip strength in three different positions and helps build bigger and stronger forearms, biceps and back without much movement. This and the iso hold are great options if your elbow or shoulder joints are hurting.

When to do this: Use this variation as an accessory exercise after you’ve already completed your pullups. Hold for 10 or more seconds and lower to just above 90-degree elbow position and hold for 10 or more seconds. Then lower to an elbow slightly flexed position and hold for as long as possible. Two to three sets works well here.

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Towel Pull Up

When you want to progress your regular pullups, the simple act of adding a towel will make this exercise tougher because it’s harder to grip a towel than a bar. This version focuses more on the forearms because of the neutral grip and the difficulty of holding on too and pulling up on the towel.

Muscles trained: Forearms, biceps, rhomboids, upper and lower traps, and lats.

How it helps: Trains your gripping strength like with most pulling movements and crushing grip strength due to the act of squeezing the towel. This has great transfer over to exercises where grip strength is needed.

When to do this: You can use a single towel or two towels. The single towel trains your forearms more while the two towel pull ups focus more on your lats. Use this as a replacement for your regular pull ups and be guided by your grip strength. When it starts to fail, stop.

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Switch-Grip Pullup

If you’re struggling to improve with your chinup or pullups, switching the grip may be the change you’re looking for because you’re training both at once. When you switch your grip up with overhand and underhand you add a rotational element that turns it into an effective core exercise also. The underhand overhand grip trains both forearm extensors and flexors to strengthen both sides of the forearm, to help prevent strength imbalances and improve pulling performance.

Muscles trained: Forearm flexors, forearm extensors, biceps, upper back, and lats.

How it Helps: Alternating grip saves you from overuse injuries, like tennis and golfers elbow that come from using the one grip too much and improves anti rotational strength for sports like golf, football, and baseball.

When to do this: Use the switch-grip in place of your regular variation. Do all your repetitions on one side and the next set do the reverse. Two or four sets, going to technical failure works well here.

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