pull ups, arm, fitness, routine, workout, shoulder

The Pull-Ups You Should Be Doing

These 9 challenging twists will help take your bar game up a notch.

With all due respect to the arm balance, the classic pull-up is making a resurgence as the ultimate power move. Unfortunately, they haven’t really gotten any easier, but the good news is that with every rep, you get a little bit stronger. “It’s a multi-joint exercise that strengthens your grip, biceps, back and abs,” says Lucas Varella, a Tier 4 coach in Century City, California. The only catch is that in order to see results (and avoid injury), you have to do them correctly: Keep your chest open, your shoulders rolled back, your grip strong and your body still (i.e., don’t swing or use momentum to get your chin up to the bar).

How it works: Always start with the basics. Perform one traditional pull-up using good form. Work your way up to 3 sets of 5 reps. Once you can complete those without faltering, you’re ready to move on to these variations. “Some work your grip more, a few focus on your lower body, others really challenge your core and all of them target your upper body,” says Varella. Tackle one of these exercises at a time. Do 2 or 3 sets of 5 to 7 reps, using proper form, and then move on to the next one.


1. Mixed Grip Pull-Up
Get into a hanging position on the bar, with underhand grip on right hand, palm facing in on left hand, hands shoulder-width apart, elbows bent by sides, legs extended. Keeping abs engaged and body still, slowly extend arms, lowering body toward floor, then bend elbows by sides, pulling chin back up to bar. Do 5 reps; switch grip to other side and repeat.

2. Single Towel Pull-Up
Drape a small towel over the bar, and grab one end with each hand. Maintaining a strong grip on the towel, bend elbows by sides to lift yourself up toward bar, extending legs out to hip level in front of you* as you do. Slowly extend arms to lower yourself toward floor. Repeat, pulling yourself up until chin reaches bar. (*If this is too difficult, bend knees in toward chest every time you pull-up instead.)

3. Sandbag Pull-Up
Position yourself at the bar with an underhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart, holding a sandbag with your feet (one handle on top of each foot; if wearing shoes, you can use kettlebells). Keeping feet flexed and legs stiff, bend elbows by sides to pull yourself up, until chin reaches bar. Gently lower back down; repeat.

4. Wide-grip Pull-Up
Position yourself at the bar with an overhand grip, hands more than shoulder-width apart, shoulders down, abs engaged, legs extended. Bend elbows, slowly pulling yourself up, and then duck head forward as you bring shoulders to the bar; gently lower back to start; repeat.

5. Side Extension Pull-Up
Position yourself at the bar, holding onto grips, palms in, knees bent, calves parallel to floor. Bend elbows to pull yourself up, and before you reach the top of the movement, extend right arm, shifting body weight over to left, keeping gaze to right. Reverse motion back through center and gently lower to start. Alternate sides with each rep.

6. Double Towel Pull-up
Drape two small towels over the bar, shoulder-width apart. Position yourself at the bar, grabbing the ends of one towel in each hand. Maintaining a strong grip on each towel, bend elbows by sides to lift yourself up toward bar, extending legs out to hip level in front of you* as you do. Slowly extend arms to lower yourself toward floor. Repeat, pulling yourself up until chin reaches bar. (*If this is too difficult, bend knees in toward chest every time you pull-up instead.)

7. Parallel Pull-up
Position yourself at the bar with an underhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart, legs extended at hip level in front of you. Keeping feet flexed and legs stiff, bend elbows by sides to pull yourself up, until chin reaches bar. Gently lower back down; repeat.

8. Straight Leg Pull-up
Position yourself at the bar with an underhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart, legs extended. Keeping feet flexed and legs together, bend elbows by sides to pull yourself up, until chin reaches bar. Gently lower back down, until heels almost touch the floor; repeat.

9. Stability Ball Pull-up
Position yourself at the bar with an underhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart, legs extended at hip level in front of you, squeezing a stability ball between your feet. Keeping feet flexed and inner thighs engaged, bend elbows by sides to pull yourself up, until chin reaches bar. Gently lower back down; repeat.

Photographed by Mike Rosenthal; Art Direction + Styled by Ashley Martin Heckman