December 12, 2021 8 min read

The wide grip pull-up is an advanced movement that effectively targets your arms, shoulders, core, and back. The wide grip pull-up targets your back more effectively than a chin-up. In fact, one of the prime movers of a wide (pronated) grip pull-up is the latissimus dorsi.

If you are looking to take it to the next level with your back and bicep routine, then then the wide grip pull-up is for you.

fit man and woman doing pull ups in a gym

Muscles Worked

The wide, pronated (knuckles towards you) grip pull up, when executed correctly, puts most of the load on the upper back and biceps.The two prime movers of the wide grip pull-up are the biceps and latissimus dorsi. The benefits of this exercise reach far beyond those two muscles. The wide grip pull-up incorporates strength from the core, forearms, shoulders, and other back muscle synergists. 

Other back muscles targeted include:
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Teres minor
  • Infraspinatus 
  • Thoracic erector spinae

Other arm muscles targeted include:

  • Deltoids
  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis
  • Tricep

Core muscles targeted include:

  • External obliques
  • Transverse abdominis
  • Rectus abdominis

The wide grip pull-up targets more musculature, like the teres major and teres minor than chin-ups or rows, which are shoulder and extension-based exercises. The wide grip pull-up also targets more total musculature than the lat pull-down, making it a simple, well-rounded back exercise that requires minimal equipment.

Pull-Ups vs. Chin Ups

Chin-ups are a great exercise and not a substitute for the pull-up. Both should be incorporated into your training. The chin-up (supinated, palms facing you, grip) is more effective at targeting the biceps, core, and pectorals, but not at all for targeting the brachioradialis (forearm).

A chin-up does target the lats, but to a lesser extent than the pull-up. If you have access to a neutral grip pull-up bar, a neutral grip pull-up is easier all around. It is less bicep and forearm dependent.

The neutral grip bar is great for beginners.A pull-up (pronated grip, knuckles facing you), is less effective for bicep engagement, but better for lats, traps, delts, rhomboids, and forearm engagement.If you're trying to grow your biceps, then the wide-grip pull-up will not be enough. You should include biceps curls with a dumbbell, cable, or barbell, as well as chin-ups.

How to Execute the Wide Grip Pull-Up

 

  1. To execute the wide grip pull-up, grab the bar with a pronated grip (knuckles facing towards you), slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, as your starting position.
  2. Pull your chin up to or just over the bar.
  3. Descend from the bar in a slow, controlled manner. Come all the way down on each rep, but don't fully relax your shoulder blades.

Hollow Body vs. Arched Back Position

If you find yourself asking, "What do I do with my legs?" then you're not alone. There are two main styles of wide grip pull-ups. To maximize your benefit from this exercise, it is ideal to include both of these styles in your training. Hollow body and arched back style pull-ups are effectively two different exercises, as this variation places the load differently on your muscle groups. Regardless of the style you choose, a proper pull-up is a healthy mix of extension and adduction.

Hollow Body Pull Up

The hollow body or straight-legged style pull up targets the anterior chain (front of your body) and core more effectively, but it is not ideal for lat engagement.

To execute the hollow body pull up:

  1. Grab the bar with a pronated grip (knuckles facing towards you), slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
  2. As you pull up for your first rep, point your legs straight, like you're standing, while bracing your core.
  3. Finish your reps with your chin above the bar and your elbows pointed behind you.
  4. Keep your core tight and braced as you descend. Do not relax or come to a dead hang position.
  5. Crossing your legs is optional, but will lead to weaker core engagement, and should only be used as a stepping stone towards a true straight-legged hollow body pull-up.
  6. Suggested repetitions vary upon ability.

Arched Back Position

The arched back style pull-up effectively targets the posterior chain (back of your body), so this is the ideal version for lat engagement.

To execute the Arched Back Pull Up:

  1. Point your chest towards the bar by leaning back slightly.
  2. Grab the bar with a pronated grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  3. Hold onto the bar with your hands, not your fingers.
  4. Pull your chin over the bar while bringing your chest towards the bar on each rep. Attack the bar with your chest.
  5. Stay engaged. Come all the way down on each rep if you can, but do not dead hang or relax your back. Finish your reps with your elbows pointed behind you.
  6. Crossing your legs is optional, and will not affect the movement to the extent that it does in a hollow body pull up.

Form Tips

While one of the most important factors on whether or not you will be able to successfully perform pull-ups is your bodyweight, here are some other form tips besides “get lean.”

Avoid Kipping

For the best results, perform this movement with strength and control, not momentum. You want to avoid a jerking motion, using momentum to carry you through the movement. Yes, sometimes you see cross-fitters doing it, known as "kipping," but if targeted muscle growth in the biceps and lats is your goal, then slow and controlled standard pull-ups, not momentum and repetitions, should be your strategy. Kipping style pull-ups is a controversial but widely practiced in CrossFit.

Kipping refers to swinging your body momentum, in this case, assisting in the pull-up. Critics of kipping claim that this seemingly sloppily style of executing pull-ups is a way for CrossFit athletes to cheat and get more reps in, all the while increasing risk of injury. Kipping may have its place in some people's routines, and it can be considered safe and effective, depending on an athlete's goals and abilities.

In context to executing the pull up in a traditional way, it should be noted that kipping is considered improper form, and many argue that it will significantly reduce latissimus dorsi engagement. Kipping has benefits for strength-endurance conditioning, but standard pull-ups are better for muscle growth.

Crossing your Legs

Crossing legs during a hollow body style pull-up help stabilize movement, but it some takes the load off of your core. It's like adding training wheels to a pull-up. Straight-legged versions are more core intensive. Whether or not you choose to cross your legs is entirely up to your ability and goals. Crossing your legs can be a valuable tool

Don't Dead Hang

It's tempting to try to execute a pull-up from a dead hang position, but it is actually disadvantageous and arguably unsafe to do this. It is possible to get a full extension down from the bar without relaxing your lats. Come down all the way, but be slow and controlled with your movements. Don't relax your back until the set is finished. Do not relax your core either. The last place you want to put the load of your body weight is on your spine. Accept that once you pull your first rep, there is no relaxing of the muscles in between reps.

Focus on Form

The wide grip pull-up requires tremendous energy and focus. It is not an easy movement, so you want to make sure that you get the most out of every rep. The pull-up is an excellent opportunity to capitalize on gains for your back. 

Alternating between push-ups and pull-ups makes for a quick and simple upper body circuit. Aim for half as many pull-ups as push-ups in each of your sets. Try doing 4 sets of back to back push-ups and pull-ups, with one minute rest intervals in between.

To experience the core and back targeting benefits of both versions of the wide grip pull up, try this superset:

  • Set 1: Hollow Body Pull-Ups (8-12 reps)
  • Rest 30-60 seconds
  • Set 2: Arched Back Pull-Ups (8-12 reps)
  • Rest 30-60 seconds
  • Set 3: Hollow Body Pull-Ups (8-12 reps)
  • Rest 30-60 seconds
  • Set 4: Arched Back Pull-Ups (8-12 reps)
  • Rest 30-60 seconds
  • Set 5: Hollow Body Pull-Ups (8-12 reps)
  • Rest 30-60 seconds
  • Set 6: Arched Back Pull-Ups (8-12 reps)

For a well-rounded back and bicep routine, try this superset:

  • Set 1: Chin-ups (supinated grip, shoulder-width apart) (8-12 reps)
  • Rest 30-60 seconds
  • Set 2: Arched Back Pull-Ups (8-12 reps)
  • Rest 30-60 seconds
  • Set 3: Chin-ups (supinated grip, shoulder-width apart) (8-12 reps)
  • Rest 30-60 seconds
  • Set 4: Arched Back Pull-Ups (8-12 reps)
  • Rest 30-60 seconds
  • Set 5: Chin-Ups (supinated grip, shoulder-width apart) (8-12 reps)
  • Rest 30-60 seconds
  • Set 6: Arched Back Pull-Ups (8-12 reps)

Alternatives to the Wide Grip Pull Up

If you can't do a wide grip pull-up yet, then you're actually in the majority of humanity. That being said, there are ways around this problem.

Assisted Pull-Up Machine

If you have access to an assisted pull-up/dip machine, use it to your advantage! Make sure you choose to hold onto a handle that reflects a slightly greater than shoulder-width apart grip. With the assist, the more weight you add, the easier it gets. Subtract the assisted weight to your body weight, and that's what you're pulling. The assist simply makes you lighter.

Resistance Band

 

Take a large, heavy-duty resistance band and tie it in a knot around your pull-up bar. Place your foot into the loop and keep the other foot out. Stepping in and out of the band while holding onto the pull-up bar can be challenging at first, but once you get comfortable with it, the resistance band proves to be an invaluable tool, bypassing the need for an assisted pull-up machine.

Negative Pull-ups

Harness the power of gravity! Perform a negative pull-up by bringing your chin up to the bar (using a step or some other support) and then slowly releasing down in a controlled movement—until you get to a dead hang. You can only do one rep at a time with this exercise. Try to make each rep last at least 7 seconds. 

Partial Rep Pull-Ups

Partial reps are not ideal for the wide-grip pull-up, but if you don't have access to a pull-up assist or band, they are helpful to practice the movement and engage the right muscle groups.

Adding Weight

The obvious progression on this exercise is more pull-ups, but the other progression is to add weight. The wide grip pull-up is already an advanced movement, so be sure to have your form down before adding weight. Bodyweight alone is enough for most people in this exercise, but if you're looking to take your pull-ups to the next level, adding weight to an already challenging exercise can do that.

If low rep strength training is within your program, then adding weight will be beneficial. You should be able to do at least 8 pull-ups with good form, without weight, before increasing the load.To add weight, try using use a "dip belt," a belt with a chain to which you can add plates or a dumbbell onto. Most gyms will have these available. Ankle weights and weighted vests can help too.

Weight Loss Benefits

For those looking to the pull-up for weight loss and conditioning, then the wide-grip pull-up should be an essential part of your back and bicep routine. Bodyweight exercises that rely on compound movements, such as push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups, help turn your body into a calorie-burning furnace. Upper body bodyweight exercises incorporate more synergist muscles, compared to isolated movements that you might do at the gym. More muscles engaged means more calories burned. These kinds of exercise are an investment into your metabolism.

Tremendous Results

The wide grip pull-up is one of many bodyweight back exercises that you can and should incorporate into your routine. Whether or not your goal is hypertrophy, athletic conditioning, or weight loss, proper execution of this simple yet challenging upper body exercise will yield tremendous results in your training.