3 Common Varieties of Pull-Ups

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Written by: Jason Smith, Registered Physiotherapist, MSc(PT), CSEP-CPT, CIDN, FCAMPT


Here are 3 very common varieties of pull-ups that bias slightly different muscle groups. Choose your variety to best tailor your training and rehab to your individual weaknesses and goals.

1. Chin-ups:

Performed in a fully supinated position (palms towards your face), these preferentially recruit the BICEPS more so than other varieties.
WHEN TO USE: – Training underling strength – Training for very steep or roof climbing -training around a BRACHIORADIALIS injury – Can bias hangboard training this way to train wrist and finger strength in wrist flexion. We naturally produce less force in this position due to the length tension relationship of our finger flexors, so there’s certainly value in specifically training this.

2. Pull-up:

Performed in a fully pronated position (palms away from face), this variety more closely mimics the majority of climbing. Here we preferentially load a muscle called the BRACHIORADIALIS, also known as the beer drinking muscle 🍻. This is a big reason why a lot of amazingly strong sport climbers don’t have large biceps. They do however have massive brachioradiali. If you don’t know, now you know!
WHEN TO USE: – For generalized sport specific strength in relation to climbing. Should be default preference for pull strength training for climbers. – Training around a biceps injury

3. Wide Grip Pull-up:

Similar to a regular Pull-up with additional demands on scapular and glenohumeral (shoulder ball and socket joint) STABILITY. Huge demand to scapular stabilizers and rotator cuff muscles. 💪
WHEN TO USE: – Highlight strength asymmetries (when one arm is significantly stronger than the other) – Use to increase shoulder stability for really “shouldery” moves such as long arm spans, wide reaching, iron-cross type maneuvers.


Jason Smith GRSM Kitchener-South Physiotherapist
Registered Physiotherapist

Jay graduated from McMaster University in 2011 with a Masters of Physiotherapy. His previous education includes a Bachelor of Arts in Kinesiology in 2009 from Western University. Jason has obtained his FCAMPT (Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Manipulative Physiotherapy) designation. This designation is internationally recognized, and follows a comprehensive post-graduate training program that solidifies manual therapy skills, teaches advanced clinical reasoning, and allows him to perform spinal manipulation. Jay is also certified in Integrative Dry Needling, which he uses to release muscular restrictions throughout in the body. Jay is also a Certified Personal Trainer with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP-CPT). He enjoys working with high level athletes, especially towards the later stages of their rehab as they approach return to sport. In addition to this, Jay is a certified Sport First Responder, and former team physiotherapist for the Guelph Gryphon’s Men’s Varsity Rugby team. Jay is also certified in ImPACT Concussion Management, and is a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) Specialist.

In his spare time, Jay enjoys rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family.

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