Over several years of training, I have experimented with almost every pulling exercise out there, both gym and bodyweight. Some have worked great, others, not so much, and a handful so useless that I will probably never do them again. Benefit from my own failures and successes and start your workouts right with what I have found to be the best pull exercises, over years of training.
I have also played around with all sorts of different training splits, and the push/pull/legs was the best for me. This type of training means that you only incorporate “pulling” muscles on one day, such as biceps and back, with various pulling exercises. Same goes for “push” day, and leg day. What I love about this routine is that you get to train every muscle twice a week, and still give them sufficient recovery for optimal performance.
Now of course, everyone is different and our bodies respond differently to different types of training and exercises. In this article however, you will a find a detailed list of the generally most effective and powerful exercises, no matter what your body composition is.
The exercises that follow will allow you to build strength, size, and some endurance, depending on how you adapt them to your own training. They will build your biceps, back traps, and more. They are the foundation of great workout, and arguably the best pull exercises.
Most of the exercises here, and the exercises you should probably focus on before anything else, are compound multi-joint movements. These burn more calories, greatly increase the intensity of the workout, and are usually altogether more challenging. They also give a greater central nervous system stimulation, increase testosterone and allow you to build some quality muscle and strength whether you are a beginner, or an elite athlete. You will also find some isolation exercises that can be used to train certain specific body parts to an extended degree.
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Important: Before getting into these exercises, remember to always warm up properly and sufficiently for maximum performance, and to avoid unnecessary injuries. You can find an efficient warm up routine here.
Pull ups/chin ups
They work a wide variety of different upper body muscles; the lats, rhomboids, traps, biceps and more. They improve your posture by preventing forward rounding of the shoulders, and they will allow you to build immense strength and size. This is the first movement on my list due to its practicality and importance. As it is a compound exercise, you will want to prioritize it in your routine. Do this one first, then follow up with your other movements. You can augment the difficulty almost endlessly and therefore have enough resistance for the years to come, with your bodyweight alone. You can however just progress by adding more weight onto the exercise with something like a dip belt. Neglect pull ups and you are missing out enormously.
Why is the pull up arguably the ultimate upper body exercise ?
The deadlift is an entire body compound exercise. When you bend over to pick a weight off of the ground you are using everything from your lower body to your upper body:
- Your posterior chain helps you to “push” the weight off of the floor
- Upper body pulls the weight off the floor
- Forearms hold that bar firmly within your hands’ grip
- Trapezius muscles and shoulders hold the weight and help stabilize everything
- your core needs to be tight to support your spine correctly throughout the entire range of motion
Need I say more ?
Wandering around on the net, you will probably have come across a few clips of people dead lifting with different stances:
- Hex bar
- Snatch grip
These all have their separate pros, cons, and will give you different results depending on what your goals are. The deadlift is a fantastic exercise that has been around since the mid 1700’s. It can do you a lot of good just as much as it can hurt you if you do it improperly. As with any other exercise, and maybe even a little more with this one, you want to be very careful with your form, and always start light. Progressing through the deadlift will allow you to pack on extra muscle mass to your entire body, all the while increasing your pulling and grip strength dramatically.
Once you are strong enough to do several sets of feet elevated ring rows, you can move onto tuck rows, which completely take out the leg support and make the movement even more challenging. I always do this movement straight after pull ups to finish off my back and biceps entirely. As you get stronger, you can gradually work on extending one leg forward, then both, and all the way to full front level rows. The progression would go as follows:
- Tuck rows
- Advanced tuck row ( your legs form a 90° angle with your upper body )
- Single leg extended tuck row ( one leg is fully extended and the other tucked close to the body )
- Straddle row ( both legs are extended but wide apart )
- Front lever row ( fully extended legs, your body forms a straight line )
Progressing all the way to the front lever row should take you a very long time, so once again, you have enough resistance for ages before having to start thinking about adding weight. Nevertheless, if you are that strong and you already need to add difficulty to the movement, you can do that with a weight vest.
Mantle chin up/pull up
This is a great exercise for those who want to develop unilateral pulling strength, and develop the strength to get that one arm pull up. I personally perform this as my “strength” work, before moving on to regular pull ups. Lower the assisting ring to make the movement harder, or raise it to make it easier. You can use bands if you don’t own a pair of rings, and just progress to bands that offer less resistance.
Ring/bar bicep curl
This is an awesome isolation exercise to finish your workout with. It will probably give you the most insane of bicep pumps, too. As the heading suggests, you can do it with rings as well as with a low bar. Make the movement easier by moving your feet away from the ring anchor point, and harder by placing yourself directly underneath it. You can also place your feet on a chair for an added challenge ( if you are super strong ). If you are doing it on a bar, just go lower for added difficulty, or place the bar higher if you want to make it easier.
Best pull exercises – the workout
Now that we have gone over the different exercises you can perform to develop your back, how would these look when integrated into one complete workout routine ?
Exercise 1: Deadlift or mantle chin ups – 3 sets of 3 to 6 reps
Exercise 2: Pull ups – 5 sets of 6 to 10 reps
Exercise 3: Rows – 5 sets of 6 to 10 reps
Exercise 4: Ring/bar bicep curls – 3-5 sets of 10 reps
Remember to warm up properly and perform these exercises according to your current level of strength and capacities ! There is never any point in trying to rush; you will most likely hurt yourself and set your progress even further back. There is pleasure to be found in the long, sometimes monotone road to progress. Move at your own pace, and eventually you will reach all your goals whether they are strength, muscle mass, or anything else related.
Enjoy your workouts; I hope that you learned something from this article in a way and that I was of help to you! If I was, please share this with anybody else whom you might think would benefit from it.