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Sunday 15 July 2012

Pull ups, and their variations. By Stevie spicy Haston.

Pull ups are a great exercise, one of the best, combined with a push type exercise ie basic floor push up, and a bit of running, you can become very fit. That’s the end of the story. But of course it isn’t, not if you want to argue, not if you are a nerd, and not if you want to take it a bit further.

The basic pull up, is a palms away from you hand grip on a bar above your head, and by force of arms, back and shoulders, you raise your body, finishing with your chin above the bar. If you turn your grip so that your palms are facing you this is commonly called a chin up. The difference between these two are that they affect the muscles of your body differently and some people might want to do one or the other because it is more specific to their sport. Ok lets start listing them so we can look at them a bit more closely.

Basic pull up.

Hang from a bar or a ledge or a door frame or pull up board and raise your body till your chin touches the bar or better a little over. If you do this with a timing of two seconds up and one second down and very little to no help from swinging of legs and torso you can call this a,

Bodybuilders pull up,

Bodybuilders and climbers sometimes add a bit of weight and call it a

Weighted pull up, or a Power pull up.

Adding weight makes this exercise very tough, but some athletes, gymnasts and climbers, and more recently urban park athletes can do body weight plus bodyweight, or 2Xbodywieght. When a bodybuilder does this it should be noted he/she already has more weight due to heavier leg and body mass. Historically there are a few accounts of very interesting ‘pulls’, Marvin Edder reportedly did 10 times 2X, if true and I have no reason to doubt it, it is astounding.

Adding weight at the beginning of an athlete progression is fairly easy, just hold a dumbbell between your thighs or a dumbbell between your ankles. Alternatively a weight vest, or tie a weight to a lifters belt or a climbing harness, even a rucksac can be filled, or ankle weights. As the weigh grows so does the danger of aggravating sciatica pain. This will occur if the weight is attached at the front only, as it tilts the hips, so it is prudent to attach it at the back also, or equalize.

Wide grip pull up.

Generally pull ups are done at slightly wider than shoulder width, when done wider still they are called Wide grip pull ups. Wide grip pull ups are thought to hit the top end of the lats more. Some people will encounter Shoulder Impingement the wider they get with the pull ups, be careful.

 Narrow grip pull ups.

These are done with a narrower grip than shoulders, and again Shoulder Impingements  may/will be noticed.

Pull ups to the waist.

These are tough and difficult to do without help from momentum. You start hanging from the bar and as you pull up you tilt your body back and pull aggressively to bring the bar to your belly button.

Planche Pull ups.

These are super tough, and rarely seen. Adopt a front lever position and break the movement at the elbow, raise and lower the torso. If you can really do a genuine Planche Pull up, you might have a chance at doing a Victorian. A Victorian is an flipped over Maltese Cross on rings and is given the highest grade.

Clap pull-ups.

At the top of a quicker than normal pull up raise above the bar by inertia and clap. A clap pull up can also be done lower than above the bar because of the arms length. This pull up although at first looks like a show boat exercise is in fact useful in learning ‘un-weighting’, which is naturally extremely useful in gymnastics and climbing. Shoulder Impingement may be noticed in these. If you find these too intimidating, a similar exercise can be done an, ‘In and out’.

In and out pull ups.

Pull up to the bar, but as you approach the bar un weight, and slide your hands together. On the next pull up slide your hands out. This is less intimidating than clap pull-ups, needs less inertia, and doesn’t attract as much attention, You can still damage equipment if the pull up rig is flimsy.
5 years old Melody doing her pull ups

Alternate, Archers, or Ys,

Adopt a wide grip pull up position and then pull up asymmetrically to one side, then go back to dead hang, and then pull to the other hand. These are very good for climbers.


Adopt a wide grip position, pull up to, lets say left hand, then with chin on bar traverse the bar to right hand and descend to dead hang. Next pull up, ascend to right hand traverse the bar to left hand and descend to dead-hang.

Round the worlds,

 are typewriters that continue around in one direction or the other, and don’t go down to dead hang. They should be done also in the opposite direction to avoid imbalances.  

Un even grip pull ups,

Are a mixed hand position, one hand facing you one not facing you. They will naturally concentrate more work in one bicep and so should be alternated to avoid imbalances. The chin can be to either or both sides of the bar for more variety.

Staggered Pull ups,

Are done with one arm lower than the other to force one arm to do more work. Alternate hands or sets to avoid imbalances. These are often done on a climbers campus board and then are even better as they encourage a turn or twist of the body.

Behind the head pull ups,

These pull ups are very interesting but dangerous to most people. They start from dead-hang but instead of chin over the bar you duck under the bar and pull until the back of the neck touches the bar or even in some rare cases the shoulder blades. They involve the rotator cuff, trapezes, and rhomboids, but these muscles are most probably best and safest exercised through doing one arm dumbbell rows,  unless you have an anatomic advantage.

Deep lock pull ups,

these are pull ups with more than the chin above bar and possible a full stop or squeeze at the top. They are primarily an elite climbers exercise but are used in gymnastics and help with muscle ups especially no kipping or ‘still’ muscle ups. For the above reason you will find them easier in false grip hand position on the rings as well as a bar. If you are trying them on a finger edge a crimped finger position allows you more height. This exercise is super good for boulderers or climbers trying to get that little bit more. 

Kipping Pull ups,

Are pull ups where the movement is helped with an upward movement of the lower torso, this basically cheats, or helps the lats in their work. Although it is not a pure pull up it is an extremely interesting part of pull up methodology and is something that should or might be worked depending on your needs. The ‘Kip’ or un-weighting is taught in gymnastics and aides movement even great gymnasts use it but they can also disguise it. And yes although it makes the pull up movement easier it does so at the sacrifice of using the core to a certain degree. There are some great kipping techniques around including the Butterfly pull up which is more of a swinging lever but is not to be dismissed as an exercise, as it adds core while detracting from the work of the lats. The American Crossfitters use kipping pull ups, and many others also, especially those who do huge volume.

One arm pull up,

this is the so called ultimate  pull up. A genuine one arm pull up is still rare except amoung climbers but is not the dragon tooth it once was. Hang under the bar, control the swing and rotation, and with little or no kipping take your chin over your knuckles on the back of your hand. You can do it over the knuckles palm side too. Examples of good and kipping one arms can be found on the web, very few examples of good weighted one armers are found. Historically the best performance for me was Gilbert Neville with 6 one armers at a body weight of 126 with a charge of 56 pounds.

Chin ups,

Chin ups are pull ups to the bar with palms facing you. Many of the pull up variations can be done with this grip. This grip is supposed to hit the biceps and lower lat more and so is very much worth doing. Some people may find that this grip twists the elbow in a bad way.

Neutral grip pull ups,

These are pull ups are with the palms facing each other, and seem to cause the least elbow or Shoulder impingement. If the grip is turned even more, that is half way between a neutral and a chin up perhaps the greatest range of movement can be had.

Towel pull ups,

These are pull ups or chin ups done on a towel thrown over a bar. They are useful exercise which involves a little bit more grip training than just using a bar. The grip also naturally swings around into a more neutral grip position.


Frenchies are a three part pull ups with isometric or static lock at three position: low lock is just above full hang, middle lock at roughly 90°, and full lock at the top. This an extremely useful climbers exercise because isometric strength ie lock off and locking are not directly related to full range movement exercises. 

Finger tip pull ups

This pull up is very much the bread and butter exercise of climbers but must be approached with caution by non climbers particularly those who are carrying a few pounds extra be it muscle or fat. On very small holds which are for the purposes of this article smaller than the last phalange, injury is very easy. Indeed hyper extension of the last phalange can occur on bigger holds, also there are various tendon and knuckle injuries that can occur with smaller than a bar holds, so caution or avoidance is wise.

One arm one finger pull ups,

Are the circus pull up and are just a one arm pull up done on one finger. They are mainly done on a climbers tape sling but can be done on a one inch bar. They are not that much harder for a climber to do but are definitely very rare when not done on the ‘up yours finger’, while very impressive and occasionally useful there is a big danger of the knuckle becoming painful and deformed.

Forced negatives or negative pull ups.

These are just the negative or down side of the pull up movement. So you either start somehow at the top, or cheat, or kip yourself into position, and lower. This is a great way of learning to do something as your body can always handle much more weight in the negative portion of an exercise. Negatives can be used by absolute beginners to learn ordinary pull ups, and by advanced guys and girls to learn one armers. They can also be used to overcome training plateaus but beware of delayed pain and soreness or DOMs over your rest days.

Pull ups in L sit,

This combo exercise is much harder than doing separate sets of pull ups and sets of just L sits. To maintain good form the pull ups have to be slower and the rhomboids have to be engaged more. Very tough even with light ankle weights.

Pull up complexes

These can be anything you want so the limitations are nearly endless; you just put together say a pull up exercise; and a core exercise together, or a couple of pull up exercises, and a few core exercises together. Try baby 666s for example, 6 front levers, 6 windscreen wipers to each side, and 6 Frenchies.


Here are some records and notable pull up numbers and a few quick thoughts on them. Records tend to be frowned upon if not supposedly official, as in World record, or Guinness book of World records. But there are many records that are a bit iffy even the supposed official ones so please be under no obligation to treat any of these as beyond approach. Many of the ancient climbers pull up records may indeed have been a bit less stringently adjudicated than some of today’s but take it from me some of the climbers records are very near the max or equal of any so called official records out there today. This latter remark is very important when considering one arm pull ups and one arm pull ups on one finger. The other possibility of higher than normal gymnastic strengths might have been from the time of the popular circus. The circus is one of the few places where a continued professional approach to tumbling, high trapeze and recently ‘artistic sling routines, might produce some interesting numbers. Lots of people of course don’t have the time, or can’t be bothered with numbers and are just strong, so be it, these are often called garage records.

Pull ups in a minute.

After about 45 pull ups in a minute the form of the pull up can get a bit sloppy, so the record which is around 60 may not be all correct pull ups in some people’s eyes.
Record is 50 pull ups in 1 minute Jason Petzold and Mathew Bodanowicz

Chin up record in one minute

The record seems to be 67 chin ups in one minute Jason Petzold.
An other record is 60 chin up in one minute Rodrigo Augusto Campus. These were very wide chins, kinda short ROM

Pull ups in three minutes.

The record is 100 by Ngo Xuan Chuyen 1988
The number may seem low and may indeed be low, but this little test might be harder than you think. The lactic build up after the first set, or huge spurt, seems appalling so some tactics have to be thought out. And indeed the likely hood of anybody ever doing 3 mins of continual pull-ups seems slim, but you never know until someone comes out of the garage looking like an orangutan.

Record Chin ups in three Minutes is 105 Jason Pettzold

Record Chin ups in three Minutes is 105  Jason Petzold. As this record is five more than the above record for Pull ups the above record seems about the right number, as Chins are always thought a tadge easier than Pulls. The pull up record was always thought a bit iffy by my friends but who knows, I personally thought it should be much higher, who knows, do you? 

Pull ups in 5 minutes. This is an unknown number, perhaps you could supply one.

Pull ups in 30 minutes is 553 Stephen Hyland.

Pull ups in one hour is 1009 Stephen Hyland.

Pull ups in 6 hours is 3288 Stephen Hyland.

Pull ups in 12 hours is 4020 Stephen Hyland.

Pull ups in 24 hours 4620 Jan Kares.

One arm pull ups. Seems like there is at least one guy out there who can do 10 very good, still lower body, one armers. There are many people who can do 10 with differing amounts of body swing, and leg kick. Historically there are claims of around 20 which may actually be possible with large amounts of swing.

One arm pull up on one finger. It looks like 6 is the number and with very little swing or perhaps the number is 5 if you are being strict.

Weighted pull ups are a bit of a problem as the guys and girls who excel at the big numbers will have a problem hoisting the biggest weight. But it isn’t a problem unless you want it to be, is it? In weight lifting you have different weight classes otherwise all the records would go to very big strong bears. So perhaps weighted pull ups will or should be looked at in the same way.

Gilbert Neville Body w/ 126 lbs 6 one armers with 56 lbs extra. Circa 1918

Harry Rogal Body w/108 lbs 3 one armers with 50 lbs extra circa 1940

These two would seem to beat any climbers weighted one arm that I know of. At least two climbers have done one armers with 50 lbs extra weight, but at body weights of around 150 lbs, and most importantly not from still dead hang.

Weighted two arm pull ups record.

This has to be Marvin Edder with 8 at 200 lbs extra body weight below 190 lbs. Big guys don’t do so well as off season they can be 300 lbs themselves without extra charge weight. I would love to hear what one of the big guys could do, certainly anywhere above 260 extra should be possible.
Good luck I wish you more fun and success.