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May 30, 2021 9 min read

Take a second and ask yourself if your current workout routine includes pulling exercises. If not, then pay attention because we’re sharing the best pull exercises for each part of your body.

If you want to be at your strongest, then make sure to utilize these exercises.  When you balance them with pushing movements, you’ve got yourself the perfect full-body strength training plan.

man exercising on seated low row machine at gym

The Top Benefits of Adding Pull Exercises to Your Workout Plan

Pull exercises cause concentric contraction of the muscles, which means that your muscles shorten.  They’re extremely important for hypertrophy.  Anyone trying to build muscle mass or involved in bodybuilding should pay extra attention to pulling exercises.

Even if your goal isn’t to build huge muscles, you should still make sure to do pulling exercises because most of them activate the muscles in your posterior chain.  The posterior chain is located on the backside of your body and it includes many of your body’s largest primary mover muscles including in the back, legs, and hips. 

Benefits of having a strong posterior chain, other than having more pure strength, include:

  • Improved body coordination and stabilization
  • Better upper body posture
  • More functional strength 
  • Fewer injuries

Additionally, a strong posterior chain is particularly important in today’s mostly sedentary society.  If you find yourself sitting at a desk for long periods every day, then you may be unknowingly weakening the muscles in your posterior chain. 

As a result, you’ll not only be weaker, but you also experience more body aches and pains.  Therefore, it’s more important than ever that you do pull exercises to strengthen your posterior chain - especially if you’re spending long hours of the day sitting at a computer!

On the flipside, push exercises involve eccentric contraction of the muscles, which is when your muscles lengthen.  It’s important to incorporate both pushing and pulling movements into your training plan.  So, more or less, try to make a weekly workout plan that is both push and pull friendly.

The Best Upper Body Pull Exercises

To kick off your pull day, give each of these upper body pull exercises a try.  Or, integrate them into your existing upper body strength training routine. 

1. Pull-up

Pull-ups are a tried and true bodyweight exercise

They work several different upper body muscles plus your core.  But, most of the work falls on your lats and biceps. To do the proper pull-up, start by standing directly beneath a pull-up bar. 

Grab onto the pull-up bar with an overhand grip.  If you can’t reach the bar with your feet on the floor, then jump up to the bar and dead hang.  If you’re tall enough to where you can grab the bar and still keep your feet on the floor, then bend your knees so your feet come off the floor and dead hang.

From the dead hand, channel strength from your middle back, upper back, and biceps to pull yourself up to the bar.  The goal is to get your chin above the bar.  Once you’ve made it to the top, drop back down to a dead hang and go again. 

If you want to switch things up a bit, you can also do chin-ups.  They’re the same movement as pull-ups except you grip the bar underhand and utilize your biceps more than your back to pull yourself up.

2. Lat Pulldown

Lat pulldowns target your back muscles.  They give your latissimus dorsi the biggest challenge. Start by sitting down on the pulldown seat and adjust the thigh pad so your legs are securely locked in. Reach up to grab the pulldown bar; you want it to be at a height where you can grasp the bar overhand with your arms fully extended. 

Make height adjustments to the bar if it's either too high or too low.  When you’re ready, grab the bar and exhale as you pull the bar down to chin level.  Squeeze your shoulder blades as you pull down and make sure to keep your torso still.  Once you’ve reached the full range of motion, inhale and slowly extend your arms back overhead with control.

Avoid leaning too far back or uncontrollably pulling the bar down during this exercise.  Leaning too far back usually means that you’re taking the tension off of where it should be in your mid-back and re-distributing it to other places where it shouldn’t be such as your lower back. 

And, when you uncontrollably pull the bar down, you lose some of the muscular strengthening benefits of the exercise.  You want to make the movement slow and controlled in order to get the most benefits out of the exercise.

3. Dumbbell Bent-over Row

Bent-over rows, also known as bent dumbbell rows, are another great back strengthening exercise.  They’re specifically good for your lats, trapezius muscles, and rhomboids.

Start by standing up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart while holding one dumbbell in each hand.  Send your hips backward so your upper body gets close to parallel with the floor. 

Engage your core to create a flat back - no arching!  When you’re ready, exhale and pull your elbows back so that your arms create a 90-degree angle.  Once you’ve squeezed your upper back and shoulder blades as much as you can, release the tension and extend your elbows back to straight.

As you pull, make sure that the palms of your hands are facing your body in order to target the correct muscles.  Also, keep your wrists underneath your elbows and pull your arms up along the sides of your rib cage.  If you’re doing the exercise correctly, then the movement will look as if you’re trying to row a boat.  

4. Upright Barbell Row

Upright barbell rows work your traps as well as all three deltoid heads including the anterior, medial, and posterior delts. Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.  Bend down, grab your barbell, and return to standing keeping your arms hanging straight down. 

Fix your hands in the overhand grip and keep them about hip-width apart.  Retract your shoulder blades and pull the barbell straight up along your body until it reaches your chin.  Squeeze your shoulders, then release the pull by dropping the bar back to starting position.

As you lift, make sure that:

  • Your elbows always stay higher than your wrists
  • The bar stays as close to your core as possible
  • You do not arch your back

To help maintain the proper farm, be sure to engage your core as you lift and lower the bar. 

5. Bicep Curl

Bicep curls are a classic pulling exercise.  While they primarily target your biceps, you also get some tension going in your lower arms including in the brachialis and brachioradialis.

Start by standing up straight and holding one dumbbell underhand in each hand.  Lock your elbows into the sides of your body while hanging your arms straight down.  Flex your biceps and bend your elbows to pull the dumbbells up towards your shoulders.  Squeeze your biceps at the top, then slowly extend them back down to starting position.

Muscular man does dumbbell pullovers in a gym

6. Dumbbell Pullover

Ready for an exercise that works your back, chest, triceps, and core all at the same time and you get to lie down while doing it?  Then give dumbbell pullovers a try. Lay down on your back on a flat weight bench and plant your feet firmly on the floor. 

Hold one dumbbell in both hands straight over your head with locked arms.  When you’re ready, exhale and pull the dumbbell from over your head to over your chest.  Do this by channeling strength from your back muscles.  Once the dumbbell is over your chest, inhale and slowly drop it back overhead with control.

Make sure that as you pull the weight up over your chest and then drop it back down that you’re not arching your back.  To maintain a flat back, you need to engage your core muscles.  A solid core will help keep your back nice and neutral on the bench. 

The Best Lower Body Pull Exercises

Next, give each of these lower body pull exercises that target your hips and glutes a try.  They are unique because most leg and glute exercises usually involve pushing rather than pulling.

1. Deadlift

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again now: Deadlifts are the king of all exercises.  Any regular lifter knows that, if you want to build muscle in your whole body while also building up muscular power, then you can’t go wrong with deadlifts. 

Deadlifts primarily target your hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors.  But they also target multiple core and upper body muscles including the:

  • Lower and upper back muscles
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps
  • Abs and obliques

Moreover, if you’re looking for a pulling exercise that works your full body, then opt for deadlifts.  However, deadlifts require a lot of good technique and form.  Therefore, if you’re a beginner, consider consulting with a personal trainer before getting started in order to avoid potential injuries.

Start by placing a barbell on the floor in front of you then standing with your feet shoulder-width apart so the tops of your feet are right under the barbell.  Reach down to grab the bar overhand by bending your knees and sending your hips backward.

Be sure to grab the bar outside, not inside, of your legs.  Your knees should only bend slightly and your chest should drop forward to almost parallel with the ground as a result of pressing your hips back. Keeping your back straight, engage your core, and pull your shoulder blades down to pick the bar up off the ground. 

Then, drive your hips forward to stand up straight.  Squeeze your glutes tight at the lockout, then slowly send your hips back again to bring the bar back to the ground.

2. Leg Curl

You can do leg curls on the leg curl machine or the floor as a part of your home workout.  Whether you do them on the machine or floor, the pulling movement of the exercise will work your calf muscles and hamstrings in the same way. To do them at home on the floor, grab a light dumbbell and lay down on your stomach on an exercise mat. 

Place the handle of the dumbbell in between your feet and hold your feet tight together to keep the weight in place.  Lift your chest slightly by resting on your forearms, then exhale and curl your feet towards your glutes.  Pull them in until your feet align over your knees.

When you’re ready, inhale and slowly lower your feet back to the ground.  Be sure not to let them just slam back down to the ground.  Rather, make the movement slow and controlled by releasing the tension in your hamstrings little by little.

3. Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell swings are another full-body exercise that works several of your body’s major muscle groups at once, including your glutes, core, and shoulders.  They also challenge your cardiovascular endurance. Place a kettlebell on the ground about a foot in front of you. 

Come down to grab the kettlebell by sending your hips back and bending your knees slightly so that your chest gets closer to parallel with the ground.  Pick up the kettlebell, then swing it back in between your legs.  When the kettlebell starts to swing back the opposite way, drive your hips forward to pull the kettlebell up to shoulder height. 

Let the kettlebell swing back between your legs again and keep that fluid swinging movement going. The goal is to make the swinging movement as smooth as possible.  While there is a pull up on the kettlebell to get it to chest height, it shouldn’t be too heavy as the swing should help drive it into the air.

 Man Performing Hanging Leg Raises Exercise

The Best Pull Exercises For Your Core

The great thing about pull exercises is that almost all of them fire up your core muscles, even when they’re meant to target your lower and upper body.  That’s because your core muscles include several important stabilizing muscles that are necessary for just about every push and pull movement.  But, there are several pull exercises that target your core specifically including the following:

1. Bar Leg Lift

Grab on to a pull-up bar and start in a dead hang.  Exhale and pull your knees up and in towards your abdominals.  Your lower body should look like a ball.  Hold in that position by engaging your abs, then release your legs back to a dead hang.  Repeat the knee pulling movement again.

2. Cable Pulls

Cables are a great tool for full-body workouts.  Most exercises you can do with them fire up your abs but there are a few particular ones that are extra challenging for your core, including:

  • Oblique cable pull rotations
  • Palloff holds with rotations
  • Cable crunches

For a great pull workout targeting your core, be sure to take advantage of cables.

3. Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are an ab exercise that we all love to hate.  They’re effective, but they can be a killer for your core. Start by getting into a high plank position on your hands and toes.  Make sure that your spine is neutral and your abs are engaged. 

When you’re ready, pull your right leg in towards your chest, then set it back into plank position.  Switch sides and pull your left leg in towards your chest.  Keep alternating sides and eventually pick up the pace so you’re running your legs in and out of the plank.

The Bottom Line on Pull Exercises

Regardless of your fitness goals and fitness level, you can get a heck of a workout with these pull exercises.  You’ll strengthen every body part by challenging both your major muscle groups as well as your small stabilizer muscles. 

If you want to up your workout game, then make these pulling exercises your go-to’s (but also be sure to balance them out by doing pushing movements as well)!

Bonus tip:  Want to put together an effective push day training routine?  Add some classic push exercises such as the chest press, bench press, shoulder press, and lunges to your push workout routine.