Update: If you like this article on pull up variations, you will love this kettlebell workout routine.
Pull up exercises are a staple of Underground Gym’s strength and conditioning training program. Unless there is an orthopedic issue in the way, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t incorporate pull ups into your training program. The beauty of pull ups is that there are a ton of variations for every level (beginner, intermediate, and advanced). Add these variations to your workout and you will benefit immensely in the form of increased functional strength, climbing ability, and a noticeably leaner and more athletic body.
Pull Up exercises in various forms are a staple of Underground Gym strength and conditioning training curriculum, unless there is an orthopedic issue on the way, in which case we find a safe and practical alternative. There are variations for every level and at each one you can benefit immensely, in terms of increased functional strength, climbing ability and leaner, athletic body.
Below you will find a video with 30 Pull Up variations and their breakdowns. Enjoy and make sure to include Pull Ups in some shape of form into your training regimen!
1. Top Chin Up Hold
This is a great static hold exercise that builds basic level of strength and stability in the Upper Body Pulling Movement Pattern. Beginners should own the end of the exercise and only than start to connect the dots – they use a similar method in Olympic weightlifting with great success, where Front Squat is taught before the Clean.
It is very reasonable to work up to 30-45 seconds for females and up to a minute for males. At this point one can start adding weight and/or progressing to dynamic pulling exercises.
2. Chin Up Negatives
This exercise also builds foundational strength for Pulling Movement Pattern, just in the dynamic fashion. People are always stronger in the negative part of the exercise and so, even if the actual exercise is undoable yet due to the lack of strength, one can build up to it by performing negatives.
The key here, as with all neuromuscular strength work, is focusing on the quality of the reps, rather than sheer quantity. In this particular case, that means low reps in order to maintain the necessary level of focus and muscular tension, performed in a slow and controlled manner, with pauses at various heights once one’s strength is improved.
3. Timed Pull Up Hang
This is also a superb basic static strength building exercise that not only will help to “connect the dots” for somebody tackling their first Pull Ups, but also build a great level of functional strength and endurance in the grip and upper body in general for climbing, martial arts, tactical movement applications, etc. As with all static holds it also builds mental toughness and removes weakness from the mind, as it teaches you to quiet down the quitting cry-bitch inside J.
4. Chin Ups (1.5 inch bar)
Chin Ups are superb for basic upper body pulling strength. No amount of curls and lat pull downs will ever get one the functionality and muscularity that Chins develop. Chins are a grinding exercise and therefore should be performed for multiple sets of low reps (1-5), unless one desires lots of miofibrilar hypotrophy, in which case you can do them in high reps, but I do not recommend it.
5. Pull Up Top Hold
Similarly to the Chin Up Top Hold, Pull Up Top Hold builds up a nice level of upper body pulling musculature awareness and promotes increase in strength and endurance, as well as allows one to “master” the top position of the Pull Up.
6. Static Commando Pull Up
This exercise is a bit easier than regular Pull Ups and so it allows for another level of progression in working towards Pull Ups. On the other hand, it also works the Pulling Movement pattern from an interesting angle and has many functional real life applications.
7. In & Out Grip Pull Ups
This particular grip variation puts one in a stronger position than when doing regular Pull Ups, which again, on one end helps one to work up to legit Pull Ups and on the other hands helps to hit different angles and promote variety, while training the same basic movement pattern.
8. Pull Up on Gymnastic Rings
Pull Ups on rings are great in general due to their more natural range of motion, as they allow one to supinate and pronate one’s arms along the entire length of the pull. For that same very reason, they are also more user-friendly to those with prior shoulder issues, as they allow one to pick the path that bypasses the trouble zones. Another great thing about them, is that they address each arm individually and help to highlight and address possible neuro-muscular imbalances.
9. Pull Up on Thick Bar (2 inches)
Thick bars help to promote grip strength and generally, make the rest of the body work harder as well. Standard pull up bar thickness is about 1.25 inches and so anything above that is considered thick bars, but the “standards” for thick bars are 2, 2.5 and 3 inches.
10. Pull Ups on Thick Rotating Bar (2.5 inches)
Thick bar is one thing, but when it also rotates freely, like in the case of this 2.5 inch thick PVC pipe, it is a whole another ball game. That rotation forces an additional element of grip control, dramatically increasing the required level of wrist strength. Expect the rest of your pulling musculature to work a lot harder as well, due to the so-called “tension irradiation” effect. I highly recommend this simple to construct pull up bar device.
11. Pull Ups on Thick Rotating Trapeze Bar (2 inches)
So now we have the rotating thick bar that also swings around if one uses too much momentum, which increases the required amount of control and muscular tension. No cheating reps here! My buddy from the US Special Forces, Nate Morrison came up with this amazing pull up bar device and it is a real gem!
12. Commando Pull Ups
This variation of Commando Pull up takes it to the next level by introducing a bigger dynamic into the picture and forcing one to use his/her core stabilization musculature as he/she travels along the bar. It is a great variation for grapplers, fighters, tactical athletes and those who look to introduce new angles to their pull up routines.
13. Softball Pull Ups
The Softball Pull Up Grips from Torque Athletic add a different dimension to Pull Ups by increasing demands on the grip from a different angle. It is very important to develop a diversified curriculum of similar movements within the same movement patterns that target various aspects of the game, keep it fresh, while still practicing similar neural grooves.
14. Thai Clinch Pull Ups
This Pull Up variation performed off the chain-hanged kettlebell is awesome for the grip, wrist, arm and lat development. It also doubles up as an excellent Specialized Physical preparedness exercise for Muay Thai kickboxing, wrestling and MMA. Your strength for the clinch is guaranteed to improve.
15. Fingertip Pull Ups
This Pull Up variation is superb for finger strength development and as such is very useful for climbers, parkour athletes, tactical athletes and martial artists. You are only as strong as your weakest link – make sure that your fingers are up to par with the rest of the body!
16. Two Finger Pull Ups
This finger Pull Up variation is taking finger strength to the next level by limiting the amount of fingers used. Obviously, it is not only limited to the index and middle finger – you should work on and strengthen various finger combinations.
17. One Finger Pull Ups
Single digit Pull Ups test and strengthen your finger strength to the max. Again, strive to be able to perform these with any finger of the hand. Usually, skinny pull up bars or rings are the best for this type of training.
18. Weighted Pull Ups
Weighted Pull Ups are great for raising your maximum strength levels. Speaking of functionality of Pull Ups, most people that have to climb onto wall and such have to wear some sort of gear, for example climbers (backpack), fireman, law enforcement and military professionals. So it only makes sense to perform various types of Pull Ups with loads, such as weighted backpacks, weighted vests, weight belts, etc. It is not unreasonable to work up to half of your bodyweight and more for multiple reps.
19. L-Pull Ups
This Pull Up variation dramatically increases the difficulty of the exercise by not only engaging your grip, arms and lats a lot more, but also by engaging your core quite a bit. L-Sit is a staple core exercise in any serious program for a reason – and if it is not in your core training arsenal, it should be.
When doing L-Sits, initially, it could be extra difficult to lock out your elbows completely – just be patient, work on it and it will come. Make sure that you perform ALL of your Pull Up variation through the complete range of motion – from full lock out to chin over the “bar”.
20. Rope Pull Ups
Rope Pull Ups are tough on the hands and grip and build superior functional hand strength along with the other pulling hardware. Do lots of them, as well as Rope Climbs if you are interested in serious hand and upper body strength development.
21. V-Pull Ups
V-Pull Ups are great for working on your Pulling skills from a different angle. Besides introducing an uncommon plane to regular Pull Ups, they also lead one to more of a unilateral limb work, where one arm works more/differently than the other. When we move outside of the gym environment, things are rarely perfectly balanced or lined up for us – most of the time our limbs have to perform different tasks and have to experience different positions and degrees of tension. V Pull Ups help us to prepare our neuro-muscular system for that.
22. Rotational Pull Ups
I love multiplane strength movements and this one is one of my favorite ones. You can perform regular Rotational Pull Ups, L-Sit Rotational Pull Ups, Fingertip Rotational Pull Ups, etc. They have a great deal of carry over to climbing, clinching and other life activities.
23. Reaching Pull Ups
Reaching Pull Ups are great for developing strength, power and single limb strength skills. It is obviously a superb exercise for climbing, parkour and tactical applications.
24. Pull Overs
Pull Overs in various forms (subject for another video) is another one of my favorite multi-plane pulling exercises. You just get so much benefit out of doing those, including greater Pulling and core strength, special awareness, climbing ability, working your back from three different angles and they are so much fun!
25. Kipping Pull Ups
Kipping Pull Ups are either loved or they are hated. I think that like every tool, they have their place. I consider them a ballistic exercise and as such, they need to be worked up to, in order to avoid injuries. I think they are great when performed in conjunction with strict Pull Ups.
Kipping Pull Ups and Strict Pull Ups are like Snatches and Deadlifts – both have their purposes. I like Kips for sustained power development, total body coordination and power development and, believe it or not, as a specialized exercise for Thai clinch fighting, because I feel they have a nice carry over. Besides, they really work the grip and the arms and allow one to perform more reps, which is great for conditioning, without sacrificing the quality like it would be the case with more strict, high tension versions of the Pull Up family.
26. Grip Switch Pull Ups
This Pull Up variation develops explosive power, coordination, precision, grip strength and mental toughness. Make sure to perform the switch while going up – do not wait till you begin to descend down!
27. Clapping Pull Ups
Clapping Pull Ups are also awesome for explosive power development. There are many variations of these, including Double and Triple Claps, Claps behind the back, etc. One unique feature of all clapping exercises, pulling or pushing, is the quick transition from tense state that is required to produce movement under load to relaxed state that is required to produce fast and precise motions. For that reason alone they are a must for martial artists, tactical athletes and other tough types.
28. Uneven Grip Pull Ups
This variation emphasizes the single limb development and is one of the progressions to One Arm Pull Ups. Uneven Grip Pull Ups are also superb for addressing and fixing neuro-muscular imbalances.
29. One Arm Timed Hang
One Arm Hangs are great for grip and shoulder strength, as well as mental toughness. It is a very good exercise for climbing, especially when performed on various pull up devices, such as boards, finger grips, softballs, etc.
30. One Arm Kipping Pull Ups
This exercise takes your single limb almost to its max potential. Strict One Arm Kipping Pull Ups and One Arm Rope Climbs (yes, there are people out there that are that strong!) are the only exercises that I’m aware of that are tougher than One Arm Kips in the Pulling Movement Group department.