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October 09, 2020 10 min read

By far the best way to prepare for traditional pull-ups and chin-ups is the bodyweight row. It’s almost exactly an upside-down push-up and works exactly the opposite muscle groups, which makes it a great inclusion in any upper body workout. All you need to complete this move is a solid, immovable bar that’s grippable and high enough off the ground for you to fit underneath. Since you’ll be upside down and burning as much energy as a two-pot screamer dancing bat-faced at a bucks’ party, this move is also called an Australian pull-up.

There are tons of benefits to the Australian pull-up. For one, it helps target muscles that aren’t used in standard push-ups. Where the push-up targets upper-body muscles like the pecs, triceps, deltoids, and serratus anterior, Australian pull-ups also work the larger back muscles such as the rhomboid and latissimus dorsi. Regular pull-ups tend to target the muscles on the outside of the mid-back while the bodyweight row activates muscles that help you balance and move your scapular muscles toward the spine. 

Unlike some other exercises with a high-risk potential for serious injury, the Australian pull-up is easy to learn and has tons of variations to add cardio or target different muscles more specifically. Anyone interested in getting their upper body Shredded-AF needs to include these bodyweight rows in their routine if they aren’t already. 

There’s some evidence to suggest that Australian pull-ups improve posture by working on the erector spinae muscle group. In addition to preparing beginners for their first pull-up set, this exercise also builds the key muscles involved in standard pull-ups and many of their variants, so anyone who is trying to increase their pull-up sets can greatly benefit from the Australian pull-up.

Just like other bodyweight exercises, this one makes a perfect addition to a home workout routine. The Australian pull-up is a horizontal pull exercise, which is pretty rare to find in a bodyweight workout. Many people accomplish a horizontal pull using a door or a similar object that they can hold onto in a standing position, but that doesn’t give quite the same workout as a true Australian pull-up. Since you’re closer to the ground and can give yourself less leverage, the bodyweight row gives important back muscles like the trapezius and the scapular muscles

It can be a real challenge to vary your bodyweight exercise routine. Rarely do you come across a new exercise that not only targets unique muscles but can be done in so many variations without the need for any specialized equipment besides a fairly low horizontal bar. You can even add some explosive plyometric motion to this exercise to get your heart rate up. 

If you’re looking to break into calisthenics, the Aussie pull-up is the perfect place to start. Pair them with planks, side planks, lunges, and squat jumps and you’ll have an exercise routine you can do almost anywhere for free. Aussie pull-ups will also help you build strength so you can do more impressive calisthenics like dragon flags and planches. 

Pull-up bar training will work all the large upper-back muscles and improve the range of motion of your shoulder blades. In addition, it builds arm and chest strength. Read on to find out how to do the Australian push-up with perfect form and find out all the benefits it will add to your fitness routine. 

A man doing an Australian pull up.

How to Do a Perfect Australian Pull-Up

There’s no special equipment needed for this bodyweight exercise. All you need to do is find a horizontal bar that you can fit under and you’re good to go. 

A note about the horizontal bar, though. The height of the bar matters for more than just fitting underneath it. As we mentioned before, doing a standing bodyweight row doesn’t give your muscle groups as much of a workout because they have better leverage, meaning it’s easier. The same principle applies to the Aussie push-up. If the height of the bar is greater, you’ll have more leverage and thus challenge your muscles less. If it’s lower to the ground, it will be more difficult. If you’re just starting out, find a bar that’s about waist height. Once you get good at the exercise, you can find a bar that’s closer to knee-level. 

Follow these steps to execute an Australian pull-up the right way:

1. Position Yourself Correctly

The starting pose should be underneath the horizontal bar with the top of your shoulders more or less even with the bar. When you lift your body weight to the bar, it should meet right in the middle of your pectoral muscles. Your heels should be on the ground if the height of the bar is low, but if you’re just starting out it might be easier to keep them flat on the ground. 

2. Grip the Bar

There are a few grips you can use to vary the difficulty of an Aussie pull-up, but for now, let’s just talk about how far apart your hands should be. The best thing for scapular retraction is to place your hands shoulder-width on the horizontal bar. It might feel like it’s more challenging with a close grip, but that’s only because your shoulder blades aren’t able to flex backward when your hands are close together as they approach the sternum. 

Keep your hands shoulder-width apart and your shoulder blades will be able to move. This will create that movement of the scapular muscles toward the spine which is one of the main fitness benefits of the Australian pull-up in the first place. 

3. Maintain a Straight Line

With your feet planted and your grip in the right position, there should be a straight line running the entire length of your body. That includes your neck. Don’t try and lift your head up to look at your body or let it fall back. To help keep your body in a straight line, you need to flex your core and push your shoulder blades back. This will puff up your chest and help keep your shoulders aligned as well. 

4. Pull the Bar to Your Chest

Inhale first. Make sure you’re not pulling your body weight up to the bar with only your arm muscles. If you have the correct form down, it should feel more like you’re pulling the bar down to your chest. With your shoulders pulled back and your body in a straight line, you should feel the muscle groups in your upper back, chest, and shoulders doing the majority of the pulling work. Of course, your arms will be doing something, but they shouldn’t be doing everything. 

5. Get Back Into Starting Position

Exhale and lower yourself back into the starting position by pushing the bar away from your chest. It should be exactly the reverse movement of the horizontal pull you just did and make sure it’s done at the same even pace. Although you might see some guys who drank too many energy drinks before they hit the gym doing pull-ups at a lightning pace, it’s completely unnecessary and could cause injury. 

Benefits of Australian Pull-Ups

In addition to giving you rippled shoulder muscles, the Aussie pull-up variant builds strength in other muscle groups. There are many health benefits to this move, especially if you use some of the plyometric pull-up variations to get some good cardio in or pair it with other bodyweight training exercises such as calisthenics to improve your balance. 

  • Lower Body Workout: Because of the way your legs are positioned when the horizontal bar is beneath a certain height, you can also give your hamstrings and glutes a workout with the bodyweight row. To a certain extent, it can also give some of the muscles in your lower back a quick workout, although it’s not targeting them specifically. If you remember to keep your core engaged throughout the exercise, this pull-up variation can also help you build your abs and increase your overall core strength. 
  • Strengthen Your Grip: Grip strength is important for all sorts of exercises around the gym. Whether you do your Australian pull-ups with a neutral grip, overhand grip, underhand grip, or some other variant, eventually you’ll find that your grip strength has increased. This will help you handle a barbell during a deadlift, a pull-up bar during a pull-up or negative pull-up, and the grip on a row machine, among many others. 
  • Target Your Mid-Back: The rhomboid, trapezius, and latissimus dorsi are on the radar of anyone looking to sculpt and build muscle. Not only are they highly functional in our daily lives, but they’re also some of the muscle groups that are the most obviously ripped once you’ve been working out for a while. People are more likely to notice massive shoulders and a broad back because abs won’t show through a shirt and biceps can take much longer to develop to a noticeable point. 
  • Practice for Traditional Pull-Ups: Surprisingly few people out of a regular gym-going crowd can successfully lift their body weight on a pull-up bar. To say nothing of harder pull-up variations like the one-arm pull-up or negative pull-up, the inability to do a single traditional pull-up haunts many people who persistently work on the necessary skills for weeks or months. The Australian pull-up is the best practice, especially when paired with other exercises that target the latissimus dorsi such as the pull-down exercise. 
  • No Equipment Required: It’s far easier to find a horizontal bar for Australian pull-ups than it is to find or buy a dedicated pull-up bar. You get many of the same benefits with both pull-up exercises, so if you have a bodyweight routine you’re looking to add to, the Aussie pull-up variation could be the perfect solution. Not only is it easy to learn, but it’s also easy to make it easy for newbies and there are many ways to make it more challenging for seasoned calisthenics experts as well. 

Aussie Pull-Up Variations to Muscle Up Fast

We’ve already mentioned how versatile the Australian pull-up is. There are also many pull-up variations that target similar muscle groups in the upper and lower back and can be used to prepare for traditional pull-ups or other pull-up variations that will get your arms, abs, shoulders, and back looking huge and ripped in no time. Down some pre-workout to get Amped-AF and try some of these muscle-building Aussie pull-up variations. 

Negative Pull-Ups

More challenging than the Australian pull-up or arguably even traditional pull-ups and chin-ups, negative pull-ups are a great way to keep pushing your back, shoulder, and arm muscles even after you’ve mastered everything else. You still need a horizontal bar, but you’re going to start from the top position of a traditional chin-up. Follow these steps to complete the rest of the negative pull-up exercise:

  • Get a raised platform and place it underneath a horizontal bar. The distance between the horizontal bar and the raised platform should be close enough for you to jump up and grab onto the horizontal bar and then hang from it suspended without touching your feet onto the raised platform. 
  • Explode through the bottoms of your feet to jump up and grab the bar with a wide grip, about as wide as your shoulders. Your chin should be above the bar so that you are mimicking the topmost position of a chin-up. Your feet should be well above the raised platform. 
  • Keep your back in a straight line. The strain of this advanced move is going to make your body want to bend to accommodate your body weight, but don’t give in. 
  • Slowly, but at a fluid pace, lower your body weight toward the ground. Your chin will pass the horizontal bar. Once your arms are fully extended and there’s a straight line through your elbows, you can drop back down onto the raised platform. 

Give the negative pull-up a try and you’ll see how challenging it is. If you’re just starting, try 3 sets of 10 reps. Your shoulders and back muscles will thank you later. 

Uneven Inverted Rows

If you muscle up enough, you can try doing the Aussie pull-up variation with an uneven surface. Your body will still be in a straight line during this exercise, but it won’t be even. Your head should be lower than your feet. 

  • Find a bench to place far enough away from the horizontal bar that your feet are able to rest on it. Rather than leaving your feet on the ground, place your heels on the bench. 
  • Get underneath the horizontal bar and get a shoulder-width grip on it. Just like you would in a level inverted row, push your shoulder blades together and puff out your chest. Inhale into your belly and then pull the bar toward your chest. 
  • Rather than stopping when your body is completely horizontal, lower yourself until your elbows are straight. Your head should be a little lower than the bench. This increased stretch will help improve your range of motion and give your muscles a bigger workout. It’s a great way to strengthen your core and get shredded abs.

One-Arm Pull-Up

Similar to the traditional pull-up, this advanced variation will build your grip strength and help you muscle up in your shoulders and core. It will also increase the stabilizing capabilities of these muscle groups, which will increase athletic performance and daily bodily function. You can also hold a kettlebell or a dumbbell in your free hand if you’re feeling adventurous.

  • To get into the starting position, you’re going to stand underneath the pull-up bar. At the top of this move, you’re going to bring the shoulder of your unoccupied hand to meet the horizontal bar, so just keep that in mind as you go through the motions. 
  • Get a solid grip on the horizontal bar. It should probably be an overhand grip at first, but you can work your way up to an underhand grip if you’re dedicated enough. 
  • You should be able to do 20 - 30 pull-ups with ease before you attempt the one-arm pull-up. If you’re not able, try doing lat lifts or dead arm hangs. Work your way up. 
  • Pull the bar to your opposite shoulder. It should be one fluid motion, but you can also get momentum with your legs if you’re just starting out. Eventually, you should be doing this move with your body in a straight line and without doing anything besides pulling the bar to your opposite shoulder. 

Plyometric Aussie Pull-Ups

You can add a bit of cardio to your inverted rows by either letting go of the bar at the low point to switch between and overhand and an underhand grip or you can pause halfway through the pull, hold it for a few seconds, and then continue. This will increase the strain on your muscles and encourage hypertrophy. Remember, the faster motions help in plyometric exercise but they should still be fluid motions overall to prevent injury. 

A girl doing an Aussie pull up.

The Aussie Pull-Up Isn't Just for Aussies

The Australian pull-up is a great preparatory exercise for pull-ups and chin-ups. It also builds muscle in your upper back, shoulders, and arms. It can even strengthen lower body muscle groups like your glutes and hamstrings. 

As long as you can keep the correct form, regularly performing this pull-up variation should give you the strength you need to progress to traditional pull-ups and chin-ups. After that, you can use some of the more challenging pull-up variations we mentioned to build some insane muscle.